I've seen a few tweets and stories pop up today saying that Sky Bet, the gambling subsidiary of Sky Broadcasting, has suspended betting on Shay Given moving to Aston Villa. I can't figure out their website well enough to confirm this fact, but I think it opens the window for discussion. Obviously, even if it is true, this really doesn't mean much. For one, just because people are throwing enough money at a proposition to make a sports book close it does not mean that it is indeed an guarantee. In fact, betting was closed on several managerial candidates for Villa, and they did not turn out to be the right answers. Additionally, looking at betting lines is a terrible way to judge things. Unless Randy Lerner is speaking directly to bookies (he's not), the information for lines and the like is based on speculation and the amount of money being thrown at something. So caveat emptor, here. Rather than the usual grain of salt, I'd recommend you take this news with one of these.
With all of this said, however, I think this allows us to focus on an aspect of Villa besides the wings and defense. With Brad Friedel gone, it's obvious that Aston Villa need to find themselves a new top-flight keeper for the coming season. Bradley Guzan is a good keeper, and I'm excited to see him in the future with the USMNT. But I don't think he's quite ready to be starting yet, at least not if Villa want to be confident in at least one position on the pitch. Given was a solid keeper for Manchester City before injuries put him on the bench this past season and he got his job (rightfully) stolen by Joe Hart. If we could land Given, Villa wouldn't be doing too badly, I don't think.
The other name I've heard bandied about is West Ham's Rob Green. Now, Green is the source of one of my favorite soccer moments ever, and he's gotten a bit of a black eye because of it. But realistically, Green is one of the best keepers in the Premier League. If we compare him to Brad Friedel (who I think we can all agree had a fantastic season), we find that Green actually comes out ahead in a few categories. Green allowed more goals per game than Friedel, but it appears that they came from a far higher number of shots. When you look at the shots on target/goal, you'll see that Green took more than half a shot more than Friedel to allow a goal.
I'm not certain that this is the best statistic to illustrate my point, but to my eyes it tells us that the fact Green allowed more goals was due more to West Ham's defense than his skills as a keeper. Neither Green nor Given are best-in-the-world type keepers, but they are both solid. Neither would represent a significant drop from Brad Friedel, and both have an age advantage.
And I think it's important to get the keeper situation settled quickly. Defenders, wingers, and any other outfield players have a significant impact on how a team can play. A keeper, however, seems more binary. Either they are good, or they are not. The keeper will probably affect neither the shape of Aston Villa, nor the tactics. So let's hope that Villa go for the "good" side of the keeper switch. Either Given or Green would fit that spot.