January Break Report: Victor Valdes

David Ramos

With the season at about the halfway point, European football is on holiday break. This gives us time to assess the players. Today we start by looking at the first choice keeper, Valdes, in the current campaign.

A routine backpass, that's all it was. Valdes tried to control it like he had thousands of times before, except this time, Angel Di Maria swooped in, nicked the ball, and put it in the net. A convincing 3-1 Clasico win was whittled down to 3-2. Real Madrid would win the Supercopa return 2-1 and, despite a 4-4 aggregate, the cup was for Los Blancos due to the away goals rule.

Valdes had always been a bit under-appreciated at the club, but after that silly mistake - and after another one against Real Madrid in which he gifted possession last year - the fury and scorn of millions of people was fully on him. You can forget the 19 titles, the record Zamora Trophy (best keeper in La Liga) wins, and all of the past. The past is the past. Right now, is he any good?

It's quite difficult to judge keepers. It's easy to forget their best moments and only remember their worst. And even their best moments are a bit hard to remember. If a keeper is in great position, he will make a dangerous situation appear straightforward with a simple save. And a poorly positioned keeper will stretch himself mightily to parry the ball to a corner in what could have been an easy save.

Valdes's greatest attribute is how good he is with the ball at his feet. He probably could have been a pretty good outfield player. By helping maintain possession by putting himself in risky situations, he actually saves the team from having to deal with potential attacking plays. But you don't really see that - you'll just see the blunders.

Michael Cox of ZonalMarking.net wrote a very insightful piece on the similar philosophy of Swansea City. "Swansea may concede two or three goals a season," by an attacking player stealing the ball from a defender or keeper, he says. "These examples will be compiled and highlighted as an example of stupidity and negligence. But Swansea will save more goals than they lose through this strategy."

So while it's true Valdes was wrong in both cases, he is usually saving goals, not conceding them, by playing the ball instead of blasting it into row Z.

Unfortunately, he's not been at his best regardless. Partly, it's that the team has not had proper depth at the CB position. a young prospect making his first starts (Marc Bartra), a player new to the team (Alex Song) and a guy who has not played the position before (Adriano Correia) are not the people you want to be lining up with often.

He's conceded 28 goals from 24 matches, significantly worse than his usual return in the past years. But according to NBC Sports, he's facing more shots overall and saving only about 6% less of them compared to last year. He's also had better luck with penalties.

He's never been the world's best shot-stopper, and set pieces are his clear weakness. Yet he remains a great 1v1 stopper and has a command of the defense and influence on the team.

Quickly, what's his latest mistake? Maybe my memory is failing me but it's hard to recall. The last goal he conceded was actually only after he made a save from point-blank range. His harshest critics will say he should have held it, I guess.

But let's be clear, Victor Valdes is very good. When he's at his best there may not be a keeper like him. At the moment, he's recovered from a shaky start into a better patch of form. It's not quite his best yet, but with any luck he's getting there.

Lowest point:

Obviously, he must feel really bad any time he thinks of his mistake in the Supercup. Let's hope it'll stay in the past.

Highest point:

Clean sheets have been unusually hard to come by, so Valdes must have been quite irritated that Levante got a dodgy penalty in the dying minutes of what was then a 4-0 win

Valdes dove to his right to save the penalty, and followed up by diving back towards the middle to make an astonishing double save.

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