Goalkeeping specialist are few and far between in mainstream punditry circles. So much so that current and past goalkeepers have publicly stated their frustration in regards to this subject. As a result, goalkeepers often come under scrutiny for their mistakes, rather than praise for their all-round influence in matches.
Ex-EPL goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, provided a more extensive analysis, highlighting the significant areas of a goalkeeper’s performance back in 2018. It still sticks today, see below.
“Manuel Neuer is the best because he is the complete keeper. He is exceptional on his line, brilliant at dominating his penalty area and awesome at playing a high line.”
Therefore, this data analysis recognises the reactive roles that Goalkeepers play. It understands that their opposition directly influences their statistics. Therefore, it will attempt to contextualise the data as best as possible in an endeavour to determine the conclusion. It will critically examine the data to suggest who are the best goalkeepers currently competing in the Scottish Premiership. It’s important to state that every player in this article has played a minimum of 1000 minutes in the 2019/20 campaign.
When Schwarzer refers to a keeper that’s good on the line, it’s in reference to their shot-stopping ability. The skills that one measures in this department are as follows; reflexes, one-on-ones, composure, concentration, positioning and anticipation.
The graph above includes every goalkeeper that recorded at least a thousand minutes in the SPFL. The dots depict each goalkeeper, labelled with a name and number of clean sheets. Furthermore, represented on its axis’ are Save% and Shots against per 90. It’s relevant to consider the context. Therefore, teams that concede more shots against (not necessarily because of poor goalkeeping) are least likely to achieve clean sheets. With that in mind, the best shot-stoppers from the graph above include Fraser Forster from Celtic, Laurențiu Brănescu Kilmarnock’s loanee from Juventus and Hibernians goalkeeper Ofir Marciano.
With a clearer understanding of the shot-stopping data, let’s look at what it all comes down too.
The bar chart above includes every goalkeeper that recorded at least a thousand minutes in the SPFL. The bars depict goals against. The dots provide a reference to the xG against statistic. Consider Zander Clark, he conceded the most goals last season, 46 to be exact. It would be unfair to label him as the worst goalkeeper because of that statistic alone. Why? The players around him may be considerably weaker than other teams. Therefore, if we compare his total goals against to the xG against we can get an objective look at his ability to prevent chances. In this case, Clark underperformed because he was expected to concede 40 goals. Using this reasoning we can identify the best keepers in this department. They are Alan McGregor from Rangers, expected to yield six more than he did, recent Newcastle United signee Mark Gillespie and Luke Southwood loanee from Reading, both expected to concede three more than they did.
Command of the 18
According the Schwarzer, goalkeepers need to dominate and command their box. To evaluate the keepers’ ability to dominate his 18-yard box, this report will consider catch success, aerial reach, rushing out, communication and decisions.
The picture above includes the top five goalkeepers at punching. The bars depict their punching success. The dots illustrate the percentage of aerial duels they won throughout the season. The goalkeepers above succeed in both of these elements. As a result, it indicates who is the best at commanding their box when the ball is in the air. By far the best in the league is Ross Laidlaw from Ross County.
As mentioned, the decision and action to run out with success is another skill filed under the commanding ability. Let’s examine that next.
The scatter graph above not only displays which keepers attempt to come off their line often, but succeed in doing so. PAdj interceptions considers ball possession, it reflects how many attempted interceptions would be made if the ball possession statistic was even. Claims per 90 includes the average number of both ground and aerial duels a keeper makes per game. Important? Yes, but more crucially to understanding who performs the best is their succession per action, in this case, defensive duels won percentage. It is displayed by colour, with the most successful appearing on the graph in blue and the least successful as red. Using this logic to try and determine the best sweeper keepers in the league, it would appear that Gillespie and Branescu top the list.
Contentious in its importance, but regarded as significant for Schwarzer is distribution. Regardless of your teams’ style of play, a goalkeeper that displays a great technique and accuracy when distributing is and can be an extremely significant quality, especially at the highest level. Therefore, it will be included and evaluated in this report. It includes skills such as kicking, passing, vision, throwing, first touch and technique.
Broken down above is passing accuracy in it’s most simplistic form, accuracy. The bar chart displays passing accuracy as a whole, then split into distances; short, medium and long. The six shown above are the most accurate passers of the ball. Each keeper succeeds in making 80% of their passes per game, as well as completing at least 95% of their short to medium ranged passes. Separating the pack is the long ball success. Joel Pereira of Hearts and Laidlaw excelled at long passing, completing at least 70% of them. Why is this important? Currently, the most successful teams in world football utilise speedy wingers and counter-attacks. If you’re blessed with a goalkeeper that can distribute play over longer ranges, one can expect to create chances on the break.
In a vastly increasing demand to play out from the back, keepers are expected to be involved in the progression phase of the build-up stage. They will act as a buffer for the centre backs, creating another angle for switches across the back. As a result, a keeper that can spot openings and accurately deliver passes into these positions are a valued asset. Let’s look at the top five from the SPFL this season.
The graph above displays three types of passes. They include accurate progressive passes, accurate lateral passes and accurate forward passes. Each goalkeeper above completes at least 80% of their progressive passes, 94% of their lateral passes and 70% of forward passes. However, some included above did not appear in the previous graph. Therefore, the new additions don’t complete enough passes to be regarded as the best distributors in the league. With that in mind, this report identified Laidlaw and Pereira as the SPFLs best ball-playing goalkeepers.
- Mark Gillespie
This report found that Gillespie displayed the best all-round keeping performances throughout the season. He displays a sound passing technique over a range of distances. The statistics favoured his ability to command the box, showing he could compete in the air as well as on the ground. Furthermore, he conceded less than his xG against statistic.
- Fraser Forster
There was little to separate Forster and McGregor this season. Both achieving 14 clean sheets and maintaining an exceptionally large passing accuracy. However, the significant difference found in this report was the aerial superiority. Forster is the more commanding of the two.
- Ross Laidlaw
A surprise addition for some, Laidlaw deservedly gets a mention as one of the standouts from this season. This report found he was the best keeper in the air and possessed a natural technique with his feet. Despite only achieving three clean sheets, he faced many shots per game and managed to overachieve in this department evident in his xG against statistic.
This piece looked to objectively determine the best performers from the 19/20 campaign. It found that Gillespie tops the list because of his well-rounded ability. However, special mentions are extended to Forster from Celtic and Laidlaw from Ross County.