Can Friedel Survive Villas-Boas at Tottenham? Compared to Petr Cech


Brad Friedel is a survivor. The American international has started every Premier League match for his club side since the start of the 2004-05 season with Blackburn Rovers and holds the EPL record for most consecutive appearances – a run he maintained  through moves to Aston Villa and Tottenham. He played for the United States Men’s National Team 82 times before his retirement from International football in 2005.   Born May 18, 1971, Friedel will turn 42 at the end of the 2012-13 career, only weeks before the end of his two-year contract at White Hart. However, the appointment of André  Villas-Boas likely brings his time as the first choice ‘keeper at White Hart Land to an end.

For Friedel, AVB represents his 8th manager since his streak began playing under Graeme Souness and then Mark Hughes at Blackburn.  Brad left Rovers when Paul Ince took over in 2008, joining Aston Villa. At Villa Park he saw rampant managerial changes, playing the 2009-10 season for Martin O’Neill and spending the 2010-11 season under O’Neill, Kevin MacDonald, Gérrard Houllier and Gary McAllister. Out of contract after the 2010-11 season, he joined Harry Redknapp’s Spurs side on a two-year deal and will now have his second manager in as many years in London.

Friedel’s streak may be an impressive feat, but it is unlikely to matter to his new gaffer.  Famously, Villas-Boas has no sacred cows and was reportedly willing to sacrifice Petr Cech had he remained at Chelsea until this summer’s transfer window:

André Villas-Boas’s sacking at Chelsea may have saved Petr Cech’s career at Stamford Bridge after it emerged the goalkeeper was among the players the Portuguese manager wanted to move on in a summer of rebuilding…Rui Patrício, the Sporting Lisbon goalkeeper, was one possible replacement and Villas-Boas also wanted to bring back Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea’s 19-year-old Belgian, from a loan spell at Atlético Madrid in which the teenager has excelled.

With Villas-Boas comes his system. Cech, long regarded as a top goalkeeper in the Premier League and on the short list for top ‘keeper in the world, was deemed unable to play in Villas-Boas system.  As expertly deconstructed by our own @TPiMBW  in his hypothetical “What Would An Andre Villas-Boas Tottenham Look Like“, AVB’s system will closely mirror Tiki-Taka.  This is the reason Villas-Boas wanted to replace Cech, preferring a sweeper keeper in the mould of Rui Patricio:

Zone 1 – ‘the sweeper goalkeeper’ – This specialised zone is expected to take charge of a much larger zone in Tiki-Taka football compared to the more direct approach. The emphasis is on the goalkeeper to play with the ball at his feet and play far more short threaded passes than usual. Characteristics in this role include: good stature, efficiency with balls in the air, bravery, agility and willingness to play on the deck without fear – the keeper is expected to act as a pressure relief for under pressure team mates.

This side by side comparison of Friedel to Cech illustrates precisely the problem that faces the American in maintaining his position under the new manager, putting his career at White Hart and his consecutive starts streak in jeopardy.

Friedel does not play the ball well from the back, and actually plays the ball with less accuracy, and often longer, than Petr Cech. Not once in the past four seasons has Friedel completed a higher % of passes, or open play passes, than Cech.  Using just the numbers from this past season we can see that not only is he significantly less accurate passing than Cech, but the volume of balls that he play long make up a larger % of his total passes than his Chelsea counterpart.

Carrying those numbers over and comparing them to Michel Vorm in Brendan Rodger’s Swansea side we can see that the volume of passes required of the goalkeeper in a similar system is significantly higher, with the number of passes made in open play of particular interest.

Comparing Vorm’s Open Play Passes we can see that he had the ball at his feet nearly 50% more than Friedel did over the same period. In fact, the passes per match skew farther in favour of Vorm as Friedel played all 38 EPL matches for Tottenham while Vorm played in only 37 for the Swans.

The 8% discrepancy in accuracy is also not insignificant. Considering the greatly increased volume of passes that Friedel would be expected to make in Villas-Boas system, that would mean several hundred more inaccurate passes over the course of the season. Friedel averaged fewer than 18 OPP per game, for Cech it was slightly higher – 22 OPP per game in 34 games. Michel Vorm made 27 OPP per game over his 37 games. If Petr Cech was not able to match the expectations of AVB’s system – and presuming his system will in fact match the tiki-taka or Total Football system – it is highly unlikely that Friedel will.

While Brad Friedel is undoubtedly a solid goalkeeper despite his advanced age,  the reality of the current situation is that his style of play does not suit the tactics which André Villas-Boas typically implements.  Tottenham have already confirmed the arrival of Gylfi Sigurdsson, expect the next move to be replacing their American ‘keeper.


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