Samir Handanovic (Udinese and Slovenia) **
The best defensive record in Serie A at the half-way stage belongs to Udinese and no man has played a larger role in their success at the back than Handanovic. Agile and a superb shot stopper he has frequently been the difference between victory and defeat. As with so many of Udinese’s best players, their superb scouting network is again reaping dividends and so far this season there has been no better keeper in Europe.
Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany) **
While his arrival in Munich was not universally welcomed he has already set about proving any lingering doubters wrong. By setting a new club record of over 1,000 minutes without conceding a goal the German No. 1 demonstrated quite why Bayern were so keen to take him to the Allianz Arena. Many would point out that his form has not yet been as good as he displayed at Schalke, but he remains among the Bundesliga’s finest.
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy) **
Not yet back to his all-conquering best, but with a prolonged spell of fitness Buffon has again been one of the finest keepers in Serie A. Consistently reliable he has provided the foundation for Juve’s superb early season form and, as ever, instils tremendous confidence in those ahead of him. If he could improve yet further (and return to his very peak) Juve’s defence would look impregnable.
Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain and Italy) **
With the likes of Javier Pastore and Kevin Gameiro grabbing the headlines for their move to PSG, the arrival of Sirigu rather crept under the radar. Yet in his first few months at the French giants, the former Palermo man has proved to be among the bargains of the summer. Consistently strong performances early in his PSG career have marked him out as a resounding success and if a few more of his calibre are brought to the Parc des Princes then it won’t be long before the capital club find themselves challenging Europe’s elite.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Moenchenglabach and Germany) *
With Marco Reus so outstanding at one end of the pitch, Gladbach have been heavily reliant on their keeper at the other. Fortunately ter Stegen has not let them down with a string of top class goalkeeping performances in his first full season with the first team. Possessing a superb command of his defence and the penalty box, ter Stegen displays the authority of a veteran, rather than a player of such tender years. If this form continues Manuel Neuer is likely to face a strong challenge for his place in the German national team.
Michel Vorm (Swansea and Holland) *
Of all the transfers of the summer in the Premier League, few gained less press coverage than that of Vorm to Swansea. The man who arrived for just £1.5m from Utrecht though quickly announced himself in his new surroundings with a series of superb goalkeeping displays. For all of Swansea’s excellent passing this season, the man they owe most to for their strong early season form is unquestionably the Dutchman.
Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain) *
Thoughts of Victor Valdes this season are likely to centre on the goal he handed to Real Madrid in the first 30 seconds of December’s Clasico. Despite that catastrophic error he kept his cool and remained true to the Barca philosophy. So rarely called on due to the overwhelming dominance that the Catalans enjoy, he has proven himself among the game’s finest keepers and remains one of the most improved players in the world over the last five years. If he was any other nationality he would surely have enjoyed a glittering international career as well.
Joe Hart (Manchester City and England) *
Manchester City have regularly been grateful this season for the superb reflexes of Joe Hart. In many games he has had little or nothing to do for long periods, only to suddenly be called upon and he has rarely disappointed. For England he maintains a record of having never lost in his 16 senior appearances, a sequence he will be looking to extend at Euro 2012.
Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany) *
The season so far has seen Leno enjoy a meteoric rise to prominence on the back of some superb performances in the Leverkusen goal. After signing on loan from Stuttgart in August the young German only made his Bundesliga debut this campaign and quickly demonstrated a maturity beyond his years. Following a string of impressive displays (including in the Champions League) the transfer was made permanent in November. A great start to such a young career.
Roberto (Granada and Spain) *
Few keepers have been subject to such tough examinations and come through with flying colours like Roberto this season. He has regularly had to face shot after shot behind a shaky Granada defence but has consistently proven to be up to the task. At 32 some might think he was entering the latter years of his career, but if anything it appears that he is maturing nicely. He will have to maintain this form or Granada are sure to find themselves in a good deal of trouble.
Tim Krul (Newcastle United and Holland) *
Early season pace-setters Newcastle surprised many with their excellent displays in the first quarter of the season. At the heart of their success was a consistent back five, with Krul the key presence in the defensive unit. Acrobatic and dominant in his area, there are not many keepers who are able to pull of the remarkable saves that the Dutchman has demonstrated this season. When Shay Given left for Manchester City in 2009 few expected Newcastle to find such an accomplished replacement quite so quickly.
Alexis Thebaux (Caen and France) *
When assessing goalkeepers it is sometimes difficult to decide whether it is preferable to play for a side with a strong defence or a porous one. Certainly Caen have afforded Thebaux much chance to shine as he faces a barrage of shots on goal each match. Fortunately for him, he has (largely) been up to the challenge and were it not for his ability they would be likely to sit far worse in Ligue 1 than their current14th position.
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain) *
This season has already seen Casillas overtake Andoni Zubizarreta as Spain’s all-time most capped player, and at the age of 30 he appears to have many more years ahead of him. No longer the world’s unquestioned No. 1, Casillas remains a supreme shot-stopper (albeit one prone to minor lapses in concentration) and is Real’s undisputed leader in the dressing room. The key question for the year ahead is whether he can captain Spain to a third international trophy in succession.
Artur (Benfica and Brazil) *
After arriving from Braga early in 2011, Artur has rapidly set about making himself a fan favourite in Lisbon. For so long it looked like his career in Europe might be a flop, as he struggled to establish himself at Siena and Roma, but at the Luz he has found his feet. Indeed his long limbs and penalty area dominance are among the key reasons why Benfica sit atop the Portuguese Superliga at the mid-season break. No wonder then that the Benfica fans have christened him “King Artur”.
Javi Varas (Sevilla and Spain) *
Any reflections on the season of Varas so far will naturally focus on his remarkable performance in a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp. Although it only yielded a point for Sevilla, the contribution of their goalkeeper demonstrated quite why he is so highly regarded. Having made a string of saves throughout the match he denied Lionel Messi with an injury-time penalty save to ensure he walked away with a clean sheet. That game typified a series of fine performances from the keeper who has proven a worthy successor for Andres Palop.