Newcastle United: Harper, Krul or Forster, Who Will Be the No. 1 Keeper?
This preseason will see an unprecedented three-way fight for the goalkeeping jersey at St James' Park.
Steve Harper, Tim Krul & Fraser Forster all staked their claims last season. Who will get the nod to be first choice? Who will be stuck on the bench? Who will miss out and will they be sold or loaned out?
It's going to be a key decision for manager Alan Pardew to make. If he gets it wrong, he may disrupt the dressing room or risk losing a massively talented young goalkeeper!
Let's look at the contenders and see who is most likely to be wearing the shirt against Arsenal on the first day of the season.
Steve Harper: Has the Experience.
Steve Harper has been a loyal servant to Newcastle United since 1993. Arguably, his best years were wasted on the bench, unable to dislodge first choice Shay Given. When Given was sold in January 2009, Harper made the step up.
Harper played 45 matches during Newcastle's season in the Championship, breaking the Newcastle United record by keeping 21 clean sheets. He started last season as first choice but suffered an injury in September and had an operation near the end of the season, limiting him to just 18 appearances.
Harper has proven himself a safe pair of hands in the Premier League and certainly won't let anyone down if he is selected as first choice keeper. He is, however, limited in his ability: A solid, reliable goalkeeper, but not spectacular.
At 36, he certainly isn't the future for Newcastle but would he really be willing to end his career where so much of it has been wasted—on the bench?
Tim Krul: Has the Shirt.
Tim Krul ended last season as first-choice keeper with Harper unavailable. Krul made his Newcastle debut in 2006 against Palermo in the UEFA Cup and immediately impressed.
After loan spells at Falkirk and Carlisle, Krul returned to Newcastle where he made 8 appearances in the 2009-10 season. Injuries to Steve Harper finally presented Krul with a good run in the first team last season, allowing him to make 25 appearances in total.
Tim Krul is an immense talent, and the 23-year-old now has two full caps for the Dutch national side in addition to being a very popular figure with the Newcastle fans.
Last season, he performed pretty well but outstanding performances like the one against Manchester United at home were tempered by occasional mistakes like the one at Chelsea which cost Newcastle a goal. This is to be expected from a young goalkeeper and he will only learn by playing regularly.
Fraser Foster: Has the Talent?
Fraser Forster is a local lad and, at 6' 7", an imposing presence. The 23-year-old has yet to make his first-team debut for Newcastle but has had very successful loan spells at both Norwich and Celtic.
There is a chance that Forster may develop into the most talented of the three keepers given time and his size offers him a natural advantage over both Harper and Krul.
His lack of Premier League experience is a factor though and while there is a huge appeal to having a home-grown player as the first choice at St James' Park, some fans have been annoyed by what many have seen as attempts by Forster to engineer a permanent move away from Newcastle United.
Fraser's poor performance against Leeds United in preseason is likely to count against him when Alan Pardew picks his starting lineup against Arsenal this Saturday.
And the Winner Is?
So who will Alan Pardew pick? I have no doubt that Tim Krul will get the goalkeeper's jersey for Saturday's match against Arsenal. Forster's performance against Leeds and an injury to Steve Harper seem to make that a certainty.
Assuming Krul performs well in the first few matches before the transfer window closes, then he will be first choice for the season.
Pardew will be keen to keep a hold of Steve Harper for at least another season. He is an important senior voice in the dressing room after Nolan's departure and with the Barton situation ongoing, Newcastle need experienced and respected figures more than ever.
Unless Krul or Harper pick up a serious injury, I suspect Fraser Forster will be sent out on loan until January at least. Selling Forster would be a mistake. Harper is approaching the end of his career and even if Forster's future isn't at St James' Park, he will be worth a lot more than the 2-3 million pounds Newcastle could get for him now if he goes on to fulfill his undoubted potential.
Next summer may well see Harper moved into a coaching role with Krul and Forster battling it out for the No. 1 one jersey again. This is one area at least where Newcastle possess true depth.