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Analysis: Why have goalkeepers in the Premier League been so poor this season?

Trong Nhan Doan writes a detailed statistical analysis about why goalkeepers have been performing poorly this season.

Premier League goalkeepers are certainly not having a season to remember. The league-wide 60.1 percent save success is a significant drop comparing to the past four seasons, when the No.1 reached the 63 percent mark.

To indicate how much goalkeepers are struggling, we have evidence for you:  Five stars from this season have made the list of 10 goalkeepers with the worst save success since 2009-10, per Opta:

One of them, Claudio Bravo is the scapegoat of the low-light goalkeeping performances this season. Brought to the Etihad under controversial circumstances, Bravo is a perfect fit for the build-from-the-back style that Pep Guardiola applies to his team. However, he looks to be distracted from his main priority, conceding an astonishing six goals from the last six shots on target and 16 out of the last 24 he faced at the time of writing.

So what is happening to the goalkeepers? This article will analyze the problem, using data collected from whoscored, Squawka, Michael Caley and Paul Riley.

Facing more difficult shots

The rise of the possession-based style of football has changed the course of the game. Managers like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp employ a high defensive line to execute their trademark ball-playing and pressing. They will ask their players to patiently wait for an opening before playing a killer pass into the 18-yard box, rather than having a Hail Mary shot from out of nowhere, which in terms of efficiency, poses is four times less dangerous than the former.

On the other hand, managers who look to punish their opponent on the break like Jose Mourinho or Claudio Ranieri definitely want their players to make the most out of their rare time with the ball. Furthermore, teams are looking to exploit from the high defensive line by utilizing the quick long ball passing combination, like the way Jamie Vardy ran riot last season.

With both factors combined, we have seen the decline in terms of shots and goals scored from outside of the box. Facing more and more difficult shots, goalkeepers are struggling to keep up with their save percentage.


Conceding the easier shots

One thing that raises eyebrow when you look at the shot map this season is the number of goals scored from wide positions.

via Paul Riley

Now, let look at the infographic shown above. In theory, goalkeepers should be comfortable dealing with the shots from wide areas, which has the same save percentage as shots taken from outside of the box.

In reality, the number is nowhere near impressive.

Goalkeepers have conceded 60 goals out of 232 shots from the wide position, achieving a save percentage of 74,2 percent. That is about 10 percent short of the ideal figure, or 23 goals.

Therefore, it is not surprising to see that goalkeeping efficiency stats have gone down the drain this season:

In defense of the goalkeeper: More prolific strikers in the league

Clubs are cashing in on multiple record breaking television deals. Except Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free) and Harry Kane (academy), the “Big 6” sides have spent huge sums of money to retain the services of the likes of Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Aguero, who have been regular candidates for Golden Boot Award.

Meanwhile, even the teams who enter the season just to live for another day like Sunderland or Swansea have decent strikers on the roster. Those like Jermain Defoe, Alvaro Negredo, Viktor Fischer, Fernando Llorente or Christian Benteke are a good fit for Europa League-bound sides rather than a relegation battle. It is a different picture compared to a few years ago, when supporters looked for a hero from the likes of Hugo Rolladega, Bobby Zamora, Jozy Altidore or Franco Di Santo.

Premier League goalkeepers are definitely tasked with a more difficult job, considering that nearly every team is employing a striker who can make the most of the slightest opportunity.

Case study: Forster vs Bravo

Fraser Forster and Claudio Bravo are not having a remarkable season. The latter is a scapegoat thanks to the saga from last August, while the former is simply underperforming. The similarity between the two: their less than ideal positioning.

Take a look at Forster: The England No.2 is collapsing against close-range shots, which consists of 12 out of his 26 goals conceded so far. It is his early settle for near-post cover and passive movement that costs his team some stoppable goals, demonstrated in the following video, courtesy Paul Riley:

Fraser Forster’s shot faced map (source: Paul Riley)

Meanwhile, for Claudio Bravo, it is his inability to cover the far-post during the one-on-one situations that causes troubles for the Chilean. A couple of drops when dealing with routine crosses have greatly diminished his confidence between the posts as well. Furthermore, he does not have the greatest defenders around either, who are having a hard time adapting to their new manager’s style.

Claudio Bravo’s shot-faced map


For goalkeepers, the numbers sometimes lie. It was hard to grade the goalkeepers’ performance based solely on the statistics alone, because of how special this position is.

With the help of some advanced statistical data, we can finally have a look at how goalkeepers are faring day-by-day, season-by-season. This season, the No.1s are definitely coming up short of their best.

Trong Nhan Doan

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