The Premier League has always been renowned for attacking flair and intensity. The recently ended season saw the teams score a total of 1034 goals with an average of 2.72 goals per game. This suggests that the Premier League goalkeepers have to be on high alert all the time. There is a widespread notion that the best strikers, midfielders and defenders play for the best teams; but it can be argued that it may not always apply to the goalkeepers.
The following analysis focused on the number one choice goalkeepers of all 20 Premier League teams for the 2019/20 season. The goalkeepers were evaluated based on the two main metrics: shot-stopping and passing.
Overrated and underrated Premier League goalkeepers – what the data tell us
Assessing a goalkeeper’s shot-stopping ability in an objective way can often be quite tricky. Good goalkeepers can be let down by poor defences and vice versa – average or bad goalkeepers can look “good” because of solid protection from their defenders and woeful opposition strikers. As a result, it is vital to find an optimal relationship between specific metrics that would provide the most accurate and objective assessment of a goalkeeper’s performances.
A metric of the number of shots saved alone is not a complete measure of a goalkeeper’s shot-saving ability. Therefore, we combine it with the expected goals (xG) per shot saved indicator to evaluate the quality of the shots saved. In the graph displayed below, we can see four green dots on the top right corner. Martin Dubravka, Vicente Guaita, Alex McCarthy and Mathew Ryan are the four goalkeepers who make a decent number of saves per game from shots of higher quality. Dubravka is the main standout here, averaging 4 saves per game from the shots with an expected goal (xG) ratio of 0.14. It means that, on average, Dubravka saves the shots that have a 14% probability of resulting in a goal.
In contrast, three of the top four, and two of the most expensive goalkeepers in Alisson and Kepa, are bottom of the graph. It means that, on average, they make fewer saves; but most importantly, the saves they make are from lower quality shots. However, the latter statistical metric can be justified by the fact that the top teams face the opposing teams with less capable strikers. Subsequently, a more comprehensive metric needs to be assessed for more optimal evaluation.
Expected goals (xG) per goal conceded is a complementary metric that can enhance the above explained analysis. We can see right away that Dubravka, Guaita and Ryan are once again worth mentioning. They concede goals from very high-quality shots but at the same time, they save a good number of shots, indicating that they are reliable shot-stoppers when the shots they face are not beyond their limits. Hugo Lloris, Tim Krul and Tom Heaton fall into the same category.
Conversely, the two-star goalkeepers of the two best teams in the Premier League are found at the bottom of the scatter plot again. Both Liverpool and Manchester City dominate possession in most games, therefore preventing the opposition from entering their final third very often. This explains the reason why Alisson and Ederson on average make fewest saves; however, a low expected goals value from the goals conceded indicate their fragility in goal. Alisson, on average, conceded a goal from a shot which had a 48% probability of resulting in a goal and Ederson 46%. It implies that the goals they conceded were not the most incredible strikes and could have been prevented in some cases. Rui Patricio is also worth a mention.
The next metrics’ relationship looks further into the goalkeepers’ shot-stopping ability. Here, the emphasis is on the goalkeepers who concede a fair number of shots on target but concede a relatively fewer number of goals. Krul, Heaton, Dubravka, Lloris, Leno and Guaita are the main standouts, conceding, on average, a lower number of goals compared to the number of opposition shots that hit the target. Ederson, Alisson, Rui Patricio and Kepa can be mentioned on a negative side. On average, the number of goals they concede is proportionally larger to the number of shots they concede on target when compared to the remaining goalkeepers.
The last, and probably most important statistical metric that truly reflects a goalkeeper’s shot-stopping ability is goals prevented (expected goals conceded – goals conceded). Dubravka (15), Guaita (15) and Henderson (14) prevented the highest number of goals in the 2019/20 season. All three also shared one of the best shot saving percentages in the league last season.
In contrast, Kepa, Rui Patricio and Ederson remain in the list of goalkeepers who would not be regarded as world-class shot-stoppers.
Finally, the modern game requires the goalkeepers to be good with the ball at their feet. In some teams, the goalkeepers are even more valued for their distribution than shot-stopping. Manchester City’s Ederson is the standout performer with the second most foot passes from open play (52% accuracy). His overall passing accuracy, including dead ball situations, is as high as 91% with only Liverpool’s Alisson above his Brazilian teammate with 92%.
Overrated vs Underrated
Overrated: Alisson (Liverpool); Ederson (Manchester City); Kepa (Chelsea); Rui Patricio (Wolverhampton); Pickford (Everton)
Underrated: Guaita (Crystal Palace); Dubravka (Newcastle United); Henderson (Sheffield United); Lloris (Tottenham); Leno (Arsenal