The Matz Sels Project
Newcastle signed Belgian Goalkeeper Matz Sels in the summer of 2016. He was seemingly brought in as a replacement for Dutch international, Tim Krul. Sels arrived with something of a reputation, winning Goalkeeper of the year over in Belgium in his last season at Gent.
There seemed to be a large degree of interest from the Belgian media when Newcastle played their first friendly, a 6-0 win against Irish side, Bohemian. Sels got through the game, without any great hardships, keeping a clean sheet.
Then came the first seed of doubt in Sels’ Newcastle career. A 2-2 draw in an away, pre-season fixture against Doncaster Rovers. In which Sels made a calamitous error, for the first goal, in which he mis-controlled a ball with his feet before jumping on the opposition forward and conceding a penalty, which was comfortably dispatched.
Pre-season went on with two games against Lokeren and Southend, both of which the team won to nil, before a home game with Vitesse Arnhem. The home side were winning 3-0, looking comfortable, with Sels only being called into action a couple of times, although one was a very impressive save.
However, Vitesse went on to score twice and while neither goal was directly the fault of the goalkeeper, this game highlighted arguably Sels’ greatest weakness, his ability to deal with crosses. Newcastle did though go on to win the game and continue their impressive run in the friendlies, off the back of last season’s relegation.
So the season started with an away game at one of our bogey grounds, Craven Cottage. Needless to say our torrid record at that ground continued, Matt Smith heading in from a corner after slack marking from captain Jamaal Lascelles.
Next up was the visit of Huddersfield Town to St James Park. Huddersfield grabbed a 2-1 win, with Dwight Gayle opening his account for Newcastle. It was the second Huddersfield goal that the fans appeared to take exception to. After a series of errors, first from Chancel Mbemba, then from Lascelles, before Matz Sels appeared to let a weak shot past him with surprising ease for a goalkeeper held in such high regard within the European football community.
Sels failed to keep a clean sheet against Reading but the side won 4-1. Next came Bristol City, away. A game for which Sels has received a great deal of criticism, not of all it, in my opinion, is fair. Sels may have continued to look somewhat shaky when dealing with high balls, knocked into his penalty area, but this is something very common amongst foreign goalkeepers in their first season in England.
Even David De Gea and arguably the greatest ‘keeper in Premier League history, Edwin Van Der Saar, had this problem.
During the game against Bristol City, Sels exhibited many other fine traits, which have somewhat been disregarded by much of our fan base. He seemed to be growing into his role as a footballing goalkeeper, distributing well throughout, both long and short, as well as killing the game with the pace of his distributions, both in open play and from dead ball situations as City got more of a hold on the game.
We went on to win the game 1-0 and Matz Sels can certainly feel that he has played his part in that.
One of the main problems that the fans seem to have against their new goalkeeper is that he is not Karl Darlow, who impressed under Rafa Benitez at the back end of last season. Darlow had his chance to play in the cup game against Cheltenham and didn’t disappoint, keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 win, while looking every bit as intelligent as Sels had with his distribution, in the previous game, but also looking more than competent and claiming crosses.
Sels will no doubt continue to be first choice, but he is under pressure, there is obviously ability there and lots of it, but he must start to show this soon if he is to convince all Newcastle fans that he is the answer.
It should not be ignored that many top class Goalkeepers have encountered this problem. De Gea and Van Der Saar, as previously mentioned, but I am also led to understand that our very own Pavel Srnicek was nothing short of shaky in his first season here.
If given time, Sels shows every sign of developing into a special goalkeeper who could excel here as the number one, for a very long time.
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