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Goalkeepers may be the difference between winning and losing this February

January 23, 2012

February is a make-or-break month in the course of the European season, with teams quickly getting submerged in the deep-end of domestic and international campaigns. The Champions League returns at the knockout stages, whilst in England the big-boys go head-to-head to determine the destination of the Premier League title. Fans investment in football tickets can quickly become a waste of money if your goalkeeper does not play to the highest standard.

Chelsea vs. Manchester United – Sunday 5th February

Andre Villas Boas’ men are on the verge of being too far cut adrift of the pace-setters to challenge for top spot, and come Sunday 5th February they simply must get three points against Manchester United or settle for challenging for third place. United are locked in a cross-town battle with rivals Manchester City for local and national bragging rights, and will be keen to avoid slipping too far behind Roberto Mancini’s side.

Despite being two of the best sides in the country, both clubs have had problems between the sticks. Chelsea’s once-unflappable Petr Cech has had a wobble in form and is no longer the steady hand that steered Carlo Ancelotti to domestic glory in 2010. The Czech Republic international seems to have lost confidence and seems prone to error.

United meanwhile are still to decide who the long-term successor for Edwin van der Sar will be, with Anders Lindegaard and David de Gea both being used by Sir Alex Ferguson. The Dane seems to have the edge over his younger team-mate, and has shown both good and mediocre performances this season. De Gea had an extremely nervy start to his time at Old Trafford, but has also showcased exceptional shot-stopping ability. Lindegaard is deemed more dependable, with De Gea the more able; neither have instilled a Schmeichel/Van der Sar sense of confidence in the Premier League champions’ supporters as yet this season however.

Arsenal vs. Tottenham - Sunday 26th February

The second North London derby of the season has a bit more riding on it than in seasons past, as Tottenham look to continue their good early season form and finish above rivals Arsenal. Spurs’ attacking play has been much admired this season, whilst The Gunners have recovered from a shaky start and are now back in contention for a top four finish.

Wojciech Szczesny has established himself as Arsene Wenger’s preferred option in goal ahead of countryman Lukasz Fabianski and Manuel Almunia, but is susceptible to a mistake that could cost Arsenal points. The Polish stopper was beaten from long range by Kyle Walker in Spurs’ 2-1 victory in the corresponding fixture at White Hart Lane earlier this term, and although talented, does not possess the commanding presence of other keepers in the league.

Brad Friedel has played his part in Tottenham’s success this season, as Harry Redknapp looked for a safe pair of hands following Heurelho Gomes’ ill-fated spell in the team in 2010/11. The American is a solid option for the White Hart Lane outfit, but with the 40-year-old approaching the end of his career, a long-term successor is needed. Friedel’s consistency has been a welcome addition this term for Spurs however, and the veteran will need to be at his best to stop Robin van Persie and co on Sunday 26th February.

CSKA Moscow vs. Real Madrid -  Tuesday 21st February

The Champions League is down to do-or-die time, with the contenders looking to build up a run of good form and performances to push towards this year’s final in Munich. Barcelona are certainly the team to beat, with Clasico rivals Real Madrid determined that this is the year that they will rise above their great enemies. Jose Mourinho’s men face a tricky trip to Moscow in the last 16 however, with the away leg sure to test the Spaniards resolve.

With Madrid firing on all attacking cylinders in La Liga and on the continent, CSKA will need to be at their very best to stand any chance of competing. Central to their chances is goalkeeper and captain Igor Akinfeev, who has matured into a top player. The Russia international will have one eye on Euro 2012, and the 25-year-old has become integral to club and country. His shot-stopping ability and organisation of the eastern European outfit’s defence will be crucial in this tie.

Amongst the multi-million dollar signings at the Santiago Bernabeu stands a home grown superstar in the form of Iker Casillas. Spain’s number one is Mr Dependable at the capital-city side, and continues to play his way in to the club’s folklore with commanding and impressive performances. The likes of Vagner Love, Seydou Doumbia and Alan Dzagoev will test Casillas, especially in Russia, and the 30-year-old will be eager to keep up strong form to hold onto his international jersey ahead of Barcelona’s Victor Valdes.

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