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The Numbers Don't Lie When It Comes To Ranking Premier League Goalkeepers

Traditional stats just don't do justice to the modern goalkeeper.

Thinking back over the first six months of the Premier League season, it has seemed like an unusually poor year for goalkeepers. This has been evident from the opening weekend, when a plethora of minor goalkeeping errors led to a forgettable start to the season.

David de Gea has been sensational, but aside from the Man United keeper, who has stood out between the posts this year?

The Brazilian duo of Alisson and Ederson has been impressive as always, and Edouard Mendy has been solid for Chelsea, but there have been few impressive performances from the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Hugo Lloris, Emiliano Martínez, nor from anyone else in the league (except maybe José Sá).

So how do we measure this perceived underperformance?

Here is where a great stat called Post-Shot Expected Goals minus Goals Allowed comes into play (PSxG+/- for short). The first part — Post-Shot Expected Goals — calculates the likelihood a goalkeeper saves a shot based on variables such as shot placement, velocity and distance (among others), with each shot represented by an expected goal (xG) figure.

For instance, a shot with an xG value of 0.6 — which represents a 60 percent chance of a goal being scored — would be more difficult to save than a shot worth 0.2 xG (20% chance of going in).

Total up the xG values from all of the shots a keeper faces, subtract the number of goals they have allowed, and you get PSxG+/-, which represents how a goalkeeper performs relative to the shots they have faced. 

In simplified terms, a positive PSxG+/- value means a keeper has prevented more goals (or, allowed fewer goals) than expected, a negative value indicates more goals allowed (underperformance).

Advanced stats show that through about 60 percent of the season, EPL goalkeepers have allowed 7.9 more goals than expected based on the shots they have faced. By comparison, EPL keepers in 20/21 allowed 31 fewer goals than expected — thus confirming the poor play by Premier League shot-stoppers in 2021/22.

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Luck can still come into play over a short period of time, but during the course of a season or two, we can expect a good goalkeeper to have a positive PSxG+/- and a worse goalkeeper to have a negative value.

Too often in the past, stats like goals against or save percentage were used haphazardly to evaluate goalkeepers for years, and they failed to paint the whole picture because these stats are dependent on factors outside of a keeper's control.

If a goalkeeper plays behind a good defense they will be expected to allow fewer goals; conversely, if opposing teams keep hitting top-corner screamers, the keeper allows goals that they can do little to prevent.

By combining old-fashioned visual analysis, alongside PSxG+/- and the advanced comparison tool developed (seen below) by FBref and StatsBomb (which allows us to see how a goalkeeper compares to every player in "Big 5" European Leagues over the past 365 days), we can get a pretty good idea of how good each goalkeeper is.

FBref.com Logo Illan Meslier Scouting Report Table
Statistic Per 90 Percentile
PSxG-GA -0.04
42
 
Goals Against 1.58
28
 
Save% 70.7%
62
 
PSxG/SoT 0.27
20
 
Save% (Penalty Kicks) 20.0%
66
 
Clean Sheet Percentage 19.4%
24
 
Touches 41.53
86
 
Launch% 32.5%
25
 
Goal Kicks 8.36
84
 
Avg. Length of Goal Kicks 35.5
22
 
Crosses Stopped % 12.4%
97
 
Def. Actions Outside Pen. Area 0.86
68
 
Avg. Distance of Def. Actions 14.5
45
 
Provided by FBref.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/15/2022.

EPL Goalkeeper Rankings 2021/22

Not Ranked This Year: Rui Patricio, Sam Johnstone, Mathew Ryan, Alphonse Areola

New To Rankings: José Sá, Álvaro Fernández, Ben Foster, David Raya, Tim Krul, Daniel Bachmann, 


26: Karl Darlow (Newcastle United)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: 21st (out of 24)

Given the difficult job of toiling behind Newcastle's porous backline, Darlow does not inspire much faith among Magpies supporters.

25: Alex McCarthy (Southampton)

19/20 Ranking: 14th

20/21 Ranking: 19th

McCarthy has been below average in expected goals prevented four of his five seasons with Southampton, and the Saints have been 0.55 xG better with him off the pitch during his current two-plus month injury layoff.

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24: Daniel Bachmann (Watford)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: N/A

A long-time understudy, the 27-year-old has played like the inexperienced keeper he is. The Austrian was poor at the Euros last summer, and with Watford, the club has been 0.36 xG better per match with Ben Foster in goal this year.

23: Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea)

19/20 Ranking: 21st (out of 23)

20/21 Ranking: 24th

Kepa's struggles are well-documented, but over the last two years, the Spaniard has actually been serviceable as a cup keeper for the Blues. 

22: Tim Krul (Norwich City)

19/20 Ranking: 11th

20/21 Ranking: N/A

The wily vet and savvy penalty-saver is faced with the tough task of leading a newly-promoted team but has been benched for Angus Gunn in recent weeks.

21: Jordan Pickford (Everton)

19/20 Ranking: 20th

20/21 Ranking: 23rd

One of the biggest questions in modern English football has to be "What if Jordan Pickford performed for Everton at the same level he does for England?" Everton Pickford and England Pickford are almost two different keepers.

At the international level, the lefty exudes confidence and makes stunning saves. Domestically, Pickford is a mistake-prone athlete who plays down to the level of his teammates. He might be the most explosive keeper in the league, but inconsistencies caused him to be dropped from the Everton starting XI three times last year.

Specifically, his two biggest weaknesses are claiming crosses and 1v1 decision-making. Playing behind the likes of Harry Maguire for England, Pickford rarely has to come out for aerial balls, allowing him to focus solely on his shot-stopping. But at Everton, a leaky backline highlights the troubles he has with deciding when to come off his line.

Since joining Everton in 2017, Pickford has experienced two average seasons (17/18 and 20/21), one good season (18/19) and two poor years (19/20 and 21/22). Combine that with two strong showings at international tournaments (2018 World Cup and Euro 2020), and it points to a keeper still struggling to find his best form well into his career.

20: Ben Foster (Watford)

19/20 Ranking: 13th

20/21 Ranking: N/A

Back in the top flight at age 38, YouTube's favorite keeper is playing as well as you would expect from the oldest Premier League regular. He gets bonus points though for being a surprisingly proactive sweeper.

19: Illan Meslier (Leeds United)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: 13th

The youngest player on this list by a full two years, the 21-year-old Frenchman is experiencing growth pains after a promising first season in the EPL. He has allowed 5.6 more goals than expected this season, the worst mark in the league. Meslier is good with his feet and is solid in the air, meaning his stop-stopping struggles are likely only temporary.

18: Álvaro Fernández (Brentford)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: N/A

A relatively unknown loanee from LaLiga2 side SD Huesca, Fernández has been solid as a replacement for the injured David Raya.

17: Vicente Guaita (Crystal Palace)

19/20 Ranking: 7th

20/21 Ranking: 10th

After a fantastic 19/20 campaign in which he trailed only Dubravka and Lloris in terms of outperforming expected save percentage, the Spaniard has posted two below-average campaigns in a row.

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16: Dean Henderson (Manchester United)

19/20 Ranking: 7th

20/21 Ranking: 12th

The young Englishman was set to become the United starter this year, but a COVID bout in August allowed David de Gea to regain his spot between the sticks — a role the veteran has not relinquished. Still a promising keeper, Henderson's drop in the rankings is a product of his decreasing playing time rather than his ability.

15: Łukasz Fabiański (West Ham)

19/20 Ranking: 12th

20/21 Ranking: 18th

A solid keeper, Fabiański has quietly put up above-average shot-stopping numbers in four of the past five seasons. Only his hesitancy to come off his line keeps Fabiański lower on this list.

14: Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)

19/20 Ranking: 6th

20/21 Ranking: 5th 

A stalwart in Leicester's goal for many years, the Foxes captain has actually cost the club 9.8 goals over the last five seasons. Decent years in 19/20 and 20/21 helped deflect his decline, but Schmeichel's struggles this year are a big reason Leicester currently sits in 11th place.

13: Emiliano Martínez (Aston Villa)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: 7th

From late 2020 until the start of this season, the Argentinian was one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League. This year, uncharacteristic mistakes have led to a run of bad form. A small sample size keeps Martínez from dropping too far though.

12: David Raya (Brentford)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: N/A

If you want a modern keeper who can come off his line, claim crosses, play with the ball at his feet and make saves, then you want David Raya. And to think Brentford bought him from Blackburn Rovers for less than $4 million.

FBref.com Logo David Raya Scouting Report Table
Statistic Per 90 Percentile
Save% 73.7%
78
 
Touches 47.73
96
 
Crosses Stopped % 9.9%
83
 
Def. Actions Outside Pen. Area 1.55
99
 
Avg. Distance of Def. Actions 15.7
82
 
Provided by FBref.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/15/2022.

11: Aaron Ramsdale (Bournemouth)

19/20 Ranking: 16th

20/21 Ranking: 20th 

After two inconsistent years with relegated sides, Ramsdale has been a different player at Arsenal now that he has decent talent around him. His long-range 1v1 decision-making is still questionable at times, but Ramsdale has still made considerable strides in all areas of his game this year — especially with claiming crosses.

10: Robert Sánchez (Brighton & Hove Albion)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: 16th

Before the the 20/21 season, Sánchez had never played above the League One level. But in a little over a year as a starter, the Spaniard has been nothing short of exceptional. He has the best cross-claim percentage in the EPL and ranks among the leaders for number of sweeper actions per 90 minutes.

As he plays more games, Sánchez's ranking on this list will continue to improve.

9: José Sá (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: N/A

Any keeper would have been an upgrade over the aging Rui Patrício, but few expected Olympiacos transfer José Sá to make such a big impact in the EPL. The Portuguese goalkeeper ranks second in the EPL (trailing only David de Gea) with 7.4 fewer goals allowed than expected.

And unlike his declining predecessor, José Sá is adept at coming off his line, ranking in the 79th percentile among European keepers in terms of percentage of crosses stopped, and the 92nd percentile for actions outside the penalty area per game.

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8: Martin Dúbravka (Newcastle United)

19/20 Ranking: 9th

19/20 Ranking: 9th

Arguably the most underrated keeper in the Premier League, the Slovakian shot-stopper is finally healthy again and preventing goals at an elite rate. Dúbravka has prevented 0.15 more goals than expected per 90 min since the start of 17/18 — better than the likes of De Gea and Ederson

7: Nick Pope (Burnley)

19/20 Ranking: 15th

20/21 Ranking 6th

Listed at 6 feet 3 inches, Pope looks like a giant between the posts with the way he commands the Burnley penalty area — claiming the highest percentage of crosses of any EPL keeper over the last three years. He's adept at using his big frame for shot-stopping too. The Burnley keeper can still improve his distribution, but the Clarets are lucky to have a player of his caliber in goal.

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6: Edouard Mendy (Chelsea)

19/20 Ranking: N/A

20/21 Ranking: 14th

I was hesitant to label Mendy a star performer last year, as his impressive clean sheet percentage was boosted by the fact that he made fewer saves per match than every EPL keeper aside from Ederson. Chelsea fans would dissent, but I still wouldn't label him as a star quite yet.

Yes, he has been solid and relatively mistake-free (when other EPL keepers this year haven't), but advanced stats show that Mendy's shot-stopping in the Premier League has been right in line with expected figures. Compared to Kepa though, Mendy was exactly what the Blues needed.

5: Bernd Leno (Arsenal)

19/20 Ranking: 4th

20/21 Ranking: 4th

Nearly six months after Leno was benched for the talented yet inconsistent Aaron Ramsdale, I am still puzzled by Arsenal's goalkeeping change.

Sure, Ramsdale is touted as the future England number one and he has been fantastic during his short stretch at Arsenal, but Leno was easily a top five keeper for the entirety of his Gunners career. 

Our favorite analyst John Harrison highlighted Ramsdale's strength when it comes to 1v1s — the one area where the Englishman has a leg up over Leno — but is that really enough to warrant replacing the incumbent German?

At the moment, Arsenal looks like they've made the right choice, as Ramsdale has impressed over a small sample size. Meanwhile, Leno had a few mistakes at the end of last season and struggled during his three EPL starts in August (albeit with every newspaper in England essentially replacing him before Ramsdale even arrived).

Even if the Ramsdale experiment works out for Arsenal though, Leno undoubtedly was sold short by the North London side, where he was elite for three years. The German (who is still only 29) deserves to be starting at a top European side.

4: David de Gea (Manchester United)

19/20 Ranking: 5th

20/21 Rankings: 8th

In terms of pure shot-stopping, De Gea is putting up a season unlike anything seen in the Premier League in recent years. Through 24 starts, the veteran has prevented 9.1 more goals than expected (and that's even with his injury debacle against Arsenal), equal to 0.38 goals per 90 min. This number is the highest mark of any EPL keeper since FBref started tracking expected goals in 2017-18. De Gea has also made more saves than any goalkeeper this year, and United's current spot in the top four is very much a product of their Spanish shot-stopper.

But de Gea is far from a perfect keeper. While he excels at staying back and protecting his goal, the United man struggles at coming off his line. De Gea has claimed just seven of 195 crosses sent into the penalty area — the second-worst rate in the Premier League. The Spaniard's reluctance to command his area has cost United 1.71 xG this season, while his hesitancy when it comes to sweeping has cost the club a further 0.88 xG through the first half of the season.

In the words of goalkeeping analyst John Harrison, De Gea, "is unwilling to face contact & it makes his technique really sloppy at times as he contorts himself away from the optimal shapes." His hesitancy to come out is especially evident in close-range 1v1 situations, where de Gea has allowed 8.18 more goals than expected since the start of 18-19.

This leaves us with a conundrum: we have a four-time EPL keeper of the year who is preventing goals better than any shot-stopper in Europe, yet, at the same time, has serious flaws that are often exposed. Despite his technical issues, I can't think of many clubs where De Gea wouldn't be an upgrade to their current keeper.

3: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

19/20 Ranking: 3rd

20/21 Ranking: 2nd

Lloris has faced harsh criticism at times for his errors in goal, but in terms of pure shot-stopping, possibly only David de Gea is better than the World Cup-winning Frenchman. Lloris has established himself amongst the EPL's elite, outperforming his expected save percentage five years in a row. If he has one weakness, it is dealing with crosses, as he ranks in the 22nd percentile among European keepers for claiming balls in the penalty area. 

De Gea has been better this year, but Lloris has consistently been the better keeper over the last half-decade.

2: Ederson (Manchester City)

19/20 Ranking: 2nd

20/21 Ranking: 1st

Brazil's No. 2 has been an EPL star since joining from Benfica five seasons ago, conceding less than a goal per game each season and leading the league in clean sheets over this span. He is known for his inch-perfect distribution and daring actions away from goal. Plus, Ederson's athleticism allows him to regularly pull off top-bin saves.

City's infallible backline has ensured that Ederson's jersey stays clean, but the Brazilian always comes up big when needed.

1: Alisson (Liverpool)

19/20 Ranking: 1st

20/21 Ranking: 3rd

The sure-handed Brazilian has consistently been a phenomenal shot-stopper during his four seasons in the Premier League. Alisson's decision-making and sweeping abilities allow Liverpool to play the high-pressing defense it thrives on, while he also is a superior claimer of crosses. A couple of uncharacteristic mistakes held him back last year, but Alisson is back at the top of his game for the Reds in 2022.

It feels like Alisson and Ederson fluctuate between first and second every year, but one thing separates the pair of international teammates: Over the last four seasons, Alisson has prevented 6.8 more goals than expected when compared to Ederson — cementing the Liverpudlian in first.

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