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Hart or Foster – who should be England’s first choice? | Stats Comparison

England Keepers

The emergence of Joe Hart has given English national team what they lacked since David Seaman’s best years – a proper goalkeeper. Manchester City’s shot stopper proved he’s a world-class footballer with his last season’s impressive form that helped the Citizens win their first league title in forty-four years. Hart’s form has dipped this term, though. This, combined with good performances from West Bromwich Albion’s Ben Foster, raises a question about which one of those two goalkeepers should be England’s number one.

It seems a silly question to ask but Joe Hart has had a few dips this season whilst Ben Foster has had some impressive performances – especially at Anfield as he kept out Liverpool’s onslaught.

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As you can see from the table above, Joe Hart has played much more than Ben Foster this term, with the difference being 540 minutes – 6 full games of football. He has also kept more clean sheets than his WBA counterpart, and his goals conceded per game ratio is lower.

Looking at those numbers, you could say that picking the better goalkeeper should be pretty easy – Joe concedes less and finishes his games without letting even a single shot end up in the net. The decision isn’t that easy, though. Hart and Foster play different roles in completely different teams. Joe is a part of dominant City team, while Ben is a goalkeeper for much defensively weaker West Brom side.

That reflects on their minutes per save ratios, with Foster being much busier than Hart. WBA player is forced to save a shot every 60.88 minutes, over 30 minutes more frequently than Hart. That obviously explains the difference in goals conceded per game ratios and underlines, that checking this stat isn’t the best way of comparing those two goalkeepers shot stopping ability.

That’s why I’ve decided to take a look at the percentage of the shots on target they saved. Ben Foster saved 83 of 112 shots on target he has faced so far, which means his save % is 74.1%, while Joe Hart stopped 47 of 75 shots on Manchester City’s goal with his save % ratio being 62.67%. Foster seems to be a better shot stopper then, though his goals conceded per game ratio is worse than Hart’s.

Saving one of the two penalties he faced, Joe Hart looks better than Foster, who stopped one of four spot kicks. Though calling a winner may be a bit unfair here as the number of penalties they (especially Joe) faced is quite small, it’s safe to say that both those keepers know how to save a penalty.

When it comes to aerial ability, Ben Foster seems to be on top again. Joe Hart has missed 2 and caught 21 crosses, while Foster missed just 1 and managed to intercept 45 of such balls. The punching stat is really interesting here too, as Joe punches the ball much more often than Foster. WBA keeper has made 9 punches so far and his City counterpart made this kind of challenge 22 times. Of course it may just mean that Hart had to deal with the balls that were much harder to catch. I’d rather say that this stat is more affected by how confident those goalkeepers are when it comes to facing crosses and how good in  the air they are, as being weaker aerially makes you punch ball more often instead of trying to catch it.

It is obviously important for the goalkeeper to commit as little mistakes as it is possible, and Hart seems to be less error-prone than Foster. Both players committed the same number of defensive mistakes (5) but Joe spent more time on the pitch, which means he, statistically, needs more time to make an error. As shown in table above, Hart’s mins per defensive error ratio is 522 compared to Foster’s 414, so the difference isn’t small.

Because Hart and Foster play in completely different teams, the look at those two goalkeepers distribution can’t be just a simple comparison of their passing accuracy. It’s not only the question of how good is their passing, but also how do they do it and where do they address their balls.

The simple comparison of passing accuracy ratio seems to show once again, that Hart is the better player here, as the difference between him and Foster is more than 10%. The closer look at the compared goalkeepers’ distribution stats show us that West Bromwich goalkeeper is not worse here, he’s just different (or, more accurately, the way he’s supposed to pass the ball is different from Hart).

As the stats above show, Hart sends most of his passes into his own half, and just 12% of the passes he makes into the opposition’s half are directed into final third. It’s completely different with Foster, who directs vast 76% of his passes into the attacking half, and 42% of those passes are addressed into final third (many more long-ball punts than Hart). It’s obvious that passing into your own half is much easier, as you and your teammates are under less pressure, and the passes you make are shorter. Passing into opposition half, especially the final third means you are sending the ball into the area full of opposition players (Editors Note: This is also dependant on philosophy – City wish to keep the ball whilst WBA are trying to find their front me with longer balls).

The number of total long balls and final third entries made by the compared players also showcases the difference in the roles they play in their teams. Foster has played more long balls than Hart, and made enormously more final third entries (long balls into the final third), achieving the same long ball accuracy of 41%.

Given all those stats, it’s hard to say which goalkeeper’s distribution is better. Hart’s passing accuracy is higher, but Foster is playing in completely different, much more direct system and making him play shorter, safer passes (or making Joe play more direct) could make the difference disappear. It’s also worth noticing that West Brom stopper’s familiarity with the long balls would fit Roy Hodgson’s style.

It’s really hard to choose from those two goalkeepers. England is really fortunate to have two great goalkeepers in their squad at the moment and some competition is always great as it makes the players do their best to show they deserve starting place. Joe Hart is a magnificent goalkeeper despite a dip in form compared to his last season, but personally I’d give Foster a chance. He’s in a very good shape at the moment, his shot stopping and aerial ability seem to be better than Hart’s and I wouldn’t worry about his distribution and penalty stopping ability. The only real concern may be that Foster’s more error-prone than his City rival. One thing English fans can be sure about – whoever starts the Montenegro game, their goal is in good hands.


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I'm a law student, Liverpool supporter and English football worshiper, who likes to analyse his beloved sport. You can follow me on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/PawelWolecki
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