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Martin Dubravka set to leave Newcastle United as Steve Bruce bottles obvious decision

5 months ago
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Martin Dubravka is by a significant distance, the second(***) best Newcastle United goalkeeper I have seen.

On Friday morning, Steve Bruce has been asked why the Slovakian hasn’t been restored to the first team having been fit and available again, since December 2020.

Steve Bruce replying that Karl Darlow ‘deserves’ to have stayed in the side and indicates that will continue to be the case, the NUFC Head Coach referencing: ‘All season we have said how well he has done’ as the reason why Martin Dubravka won’t replace him.

For many Newcastle fans the situation is getting ever worse, feeling it is inexplicable that Steve Bruce can’t see he should be playing his number one goalkeeper, the one who stands the most chance of keeping the ball out of the back of the net and help NUFC pick up the necessary points to at least avoid relegation.

When making any decision you would base it on a mixture of stats / facts and opinion, based on what you see (and have seen in the past).

Karl Darlow continues to make a lot of saves BUT is also conceding a lot of goals, only three Premier League clubs have conceded more than the 40 Darlow and NUFC have leaked in 24 matches.

In the first 11 PL games this season, 16 were conceded in 11 games at an average of 1.45 goals per match.

In the next (last) 13 PL games this season, 24 were conceded in 13 matches, at an average of 1.85 goals per game.

It often happens when you put a squad player in, they raise their game when getting the opportunity and play to near their maximum. However, the longer you leave them in the side, it is all but inevitable that as the adrenaline fades, tehri form will return to a level that tells you why they are squad players and not first choice.

With goalkeepers it is perhaps the most difficult to judge, many of the goals conceded by Karl Darlow you tend to think he had little chance of saving them…BUT with a better goalkeeper might they have saved some of them, especially if having more ability when it comes to positioning as well as basic shot stopping.

Just because you are battling against relegation towards the bottom, it doesn’t always automatically follow that your goalkeeper will be letting in a lot of goals, as Martin Dubravka proved…

In eight of Newcastle’s last ten games, Darlow has conceded two or more goals. When that is happening you don’t tend to win many matches, or even draw them in Newcastle United’s case, when you have a team that scores so few goals at the other end. A situation that appears all but certain to get worse in Callum Wilson’s enforced absence.

Amongst the numerous problems with Steve Bruce’s woeful and weak management, is that he is bottling such obvious decisions.

A pat on the back for Karl Darlow for sure but Martin Dubravka ‘deserves’ to be back in goal because he is a better goalkeeper, the fans deserve him to be back in as well.

It is difficult not to compare the current situation with that of February 2018, when Martin Dubravka first got into the Newcastle United first team.

Rafa Benitez making what at the time looked a reckless decision to throw Martin Dubravka pretty much straight in after he arrived on loan.

Dubravka had only played in small weak leagues and at the time had been playing that season in the Czech Republic.

Newcastle fans a bit shocked as the current incumbent hadn’t been doing too badly and no massive blunders. Indeed, the previous six Premier League matches had seen a 3-1 defeat at Man City but only three goals conceded in the other five.

That goalkeeper was Karl Darlow.

In a relegation battle and playing Man Utd, throwing in Martin Dubravka for ‘no good obvious reason’  looked madness.

One brilliant man of the match debut win and clean sheet later, Dubravka had shown why, the bravery of Rafa Benitez rewarded because he knew he was making the right move, no matter how reckless it had seemed to outsiders.

Rafa Benitez felt he needed a better goalkeeper if Newcastle United were to have the best chance of staying up and finishing as high as possible.

Here are two Premier League tables from the 2017/18 season, the first is all the stats from the opening 26 matches when either Karl Darlow or Rob Elliot were in goal, the second is for the final 12 matches when Martin Dubvraka was put in the team.

2017/18 Premier League season first 26 matches:

2017/18 Premier League season final 12 games:

Over the course of the opening 26 PL matches, Newcastle United with the fifth worst form and conceding an average of 1.38 goals per game.

Then in the final 12 PL games, Newcastle with the sixth best form and only conceding an average of 0.92 goals per game with Martin Dubravka.

You couldn’t put all the improvement down to Dubravka BUT it was obvious to anybody that he was a better goalkeeper than Rob Elliot or Karl Darlow and that he had helped make a difference in terms of getting better results.

He helped raise Newcastle United up to having the seventh best defensive record in terms of goals conceded in 2017/18.

Then just to prove that was no fluke, when playing every game of the 2018/19 Premier League season, Martin Dubravka was seventh best in terms of number of goals conceded, despite battling relegation and eventually ending up thirteenth in the league.

An excellent run of 88 consecutive Premier League starts from Martin Dubravka giving Newcastle United such a solid base in the Premier League, even last season when Steve Bruce’s chaotic management style came in, with some clueless tactics and team set ups, despite Mike Ashley allowing him a £65m+ net spend in summer 2019. Dubravka left so exposed due to Bruce’s tactics, a great effort still by the Slovakian to have the fourteenth best defensive record in terms of goals conceded.

Top work by Rafa Benitez, bringing in such a quality goalkeeper for only £4m, in an era where you see such fantastic sums paid for not such fantastic keepers (Chelsea paying £72m for Kepa, only five weeks after Martin Dubravka made his move permanent to NUFC for £68m less).

Martin Dubravka last started a Premier League game on 26 July 2020, the 3-1 home defeat to Liverpool, final match of that very long season.

Despite being back in the first team squad since the end of December 2020, Dubravka hasn’t been able to get back in the PL team, only playing in that 2-0 FA Cup defeat at Arsenal.

Martin Dubravka Premier League record:

His average goals per game conceded for Newcastle being:

2017/18: 0.91 goals per game (11 in 12)

2018/19: 1.26 goals per game (48 in 38)

2019/20: 1.53 goals per game (58 in 38)

An overall NUFC record of 117 conceded in 88 PL matches, an average of 1.33 goals per game.

What about Karl Darlow though?

Karl Darlow Premier League record:

2015/16: 1.22 goals per game (11 in 9)

2017/18: 1.50 goals per game (15 in 10)

2020/21: 1.66 goals per game (40 in 24)

An overall NUFC Premier League record of 66 conceded in 43 PL matches, an average of 1.53 goals per game.

Steve Bruce speaking today (Friday 19 February 2021) to BBC Newcastle:

“Well he [Martin Dubravka] has been very, very professional about it and understands.

“That doesn’t mean to say he’s happy, which I wouldn’t expect him to be.

“I have got a situation, we’ve got another very very good young goalkeeper down at Swansea, who is doing very well too.

“So, in that area of the pitch, we are extremely…we are extremely good.

“Of course, with a goalkeeper you can only pick one of them.

“You know, at the minute I have stayed with Karl [Darlow] because I think he deserves to be (playing).

“All season we have said how well he has done and the one thing I need to have, is to create that competition.

“Karl has got the nod at the moment but as we have seen in football, things can change very quickly.”

Martin Dubravka will turn 33 next season (January 2022) and having had a career playing league football in Slovakia, Denmark and the Czech Republic, there is no way he will be hanging around as a reserve at Newcastle United.

He arrived in the big time and has shown in his 88 consecutive Premier League matches just how good he is.

So long as Steve Bruce remains in charge and Karl Darlow isn’t throwing the ball in his own net, Bruce will not play arguably Newcastle’s best player, never mind goalkeeper.

He deserves to play week in week out and could / should easily be getting a game at one of the ‘big six’ or similar club abroad.

However, if nothing changes, I can see Martin Dubravka getting picked up by somebody ambitious such as Leeds or Everton or similar.

If Steve Bruce is still here, I wouldn’t bet against it ending up with Freddie Woodman deciding to leave permanently as well, losing not one but two potentially top quality goalkeepers.

Karl Darlow is a very decent keeper and a very good number two, seems a good bloke as well, BUT he is not as good as Martin Dubravka.

I can see the weak management continuing and negatively affecting this Newcastle team in other areas as well.

Jamaal Lascelles has been far below the form he showed under Rafa Benitez, especially this season. Federico Fernandez has been far better than Lascelles, yet from next weekend when Fernandez is due to be fit and available once again according to Bruce, I bet that only injury would see the Head Coach play the Argentine international ahead of the NUFC Captain.

The top managers make these tough and ruthless, but essential, big decisions.

Steve Bruce is like a rabbit caught in the headlights, failure to make these big calls could be fatal.

(***Shay Given obviously the greatest Newcastle United goalkeeper any of us have ever seen)

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