The Premier League is a very special league. Everybody knows that. Its special status is not just the overall quality, or the intriguing and very exciting title challenges, nor the fact that any team can beat any other. There is one more reason that makes the Premier League quite unique: goalkeepers. Compared to other top leagues in Europe, one would struggle to find a single weak keeper in the Premier League, with quality coming from the Championship every year as well. Just think of David Marshall’s and Allan McGregor’s saves last year or the stops Robert Green has pulled out of his locker this season. You would think twice before describing either as ‘weak’.
Goalkeepers are simply different to all the outfield players. Not only because of the way they play or the fact their kits have different colours, it is mainly the way they think. Goalkeepers are extremely underrated in general opinion. That is mainly because people do not fully understand what they do and how difficult it is to be a goalkeeper at such a high level. The amount of pressure on them is incredible. On average, a goalkeeper gets two, maybe three moments a game, which define his performance and ultimately the match result. Every time he fails to deliver on those moments, he concedes a goal, which may cost his team a victory. Goalkeepers’ saves are as important for the result as goals are for a striker. What many people do not realise is that goalkeepers have to be mentally stronger than any other player. They are not constantly involved in the play, which means they have a lot of time to think, and during this time, they cannot allow for negative thoughts to creep in. Keepers know that a single mistake means almost a certain goal, and quite possibly them being ridiculed and mocked for a good few days. If any other outfield player makes a mistake, there are still others behind, covering, to save the situation. If keepers make a mistake, they let a goal in and more often than not cost their team points, it is as simple as that. The pressure on them to produce mistake-free performances is enormous. Goalkeepers are not really football players with their silky skills, sweet touches and incredible finishes, they are football players with their mind and extreme focus.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Premier League goalkeepers have been doing so far this season. Thibaut Courtois and David de Gea are without doubt two of the finest young goalkeepers in the world and will eventually be battling for the position of the world number 1, presumably with the young German Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Both De Gea and Courtois have proven their class on many occasions in two of the best leagues in the world. While Courtois still seems to be settling into his role at Chelsea after his more than impressive spell at Atletico, De Gea has cemented his position at Manchester United and is arguably their most consistent performer.
De Gea and Hugo Lloris are two of the best shot stoppers in England, who are called upon to produce world class saves in a majority of their games. These two are closely followed by Joe Hart, who has improved enormously in this aspect of his game over the past couple of years, and Chelsea’s Courtois.
However, defenders these days rely on their goalkeepers to do way more than just shot stopping. Coming for crosses is a big part of the English game, something De Gea struggled with in the early stages of his Manchester career. This is where Thibaut Courtois and Fraser Forster come into play, both being more complete goalkeepers and both using their 2 metre height to the very best advantage. It is not surprising to find them at the top of the list for crosses collected. They collect them like apples from a tree. Joe Hart has been coming for crosses far more often as well, and he leads the list with punches.
In terms of clean sheets this season, Forster has an advantage over all the other keepers. As well as himself, this goes down to the quality of the defence in front of him, which has kept strikers at bay quite successfully this season, with Forster ‘only’ having to contribute with 27 saves – the second fewest of all the keepers. In fact, Southampton have conceded only three goals in ten games against teams out of last year’s top seven! But they have conceded nine in five against Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, losing all of those fixtures.
The statistic of clean sheets reflects in goals conceded, with Forster conceding an impressive 12 goals, which ties him in first place with his England rival Joe Hart. In contrast, Hugo Lloris has conceded 21 goals, but has been forced into the most saves out of all keepers (36), which gives a hint at the state of Tottenham’s defence. De Gea has allowed 17 goals this seasons (5 against Leicester), which will much more likely go down to the struggle of United’s defence, which has played with 12 different centre-back partnerships since the season has started, rather than to the Spaniard’s inability to keep the ball out of the net. Out of the 12 goals Hart has conceded so far, two were shipped in by his own team mates. Some of the 28 saves he produced were sensational, especially in games against QPR, Southampton and most recently against Everton with his one handed effort to deny Lukaku. He has saved Manchester City some valuable points in the title race. That is a very desirable quality for any keeper and the England shot stopper certainly has it, as does unquestionably his Manchester rival David De Gea. In Hart and Forster, England have a very strong pair of goalkeepers they did not have for a long time.
While Courtois is still settling in at Chelsea and has not quite matched his Atletico heights yet, there is no doubt he soon will get there. Also, Chelsea have not had to rely on him heavily so far this season. Lloris and De Gea are both being let down by the defensive qualities of their teams and it is too early to call Forster the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. But on current form, Joe Hart is the best goalkeeper in England with crucial saves in every game. Manchester City have two people to thank for being only three points behind Chelsea now: Joe Hart and Sergio Aguero. And it is the Argentine that gets most of the praise, which he fully deserves as his goals are keeping City in the title race and he is currently the most in form striker in England. But equally have City been kept in their title bid by Joe Hart’s saves, which is something many tend to forget. After he sit out for a period last season and the transfer of Willy Caballero, he has only got better this year. Now, with Aguero injured, City will turn to Hart to pull them through games and keep them in the title race. You should ask Roma players how the Englishman has taken on his new responsibility.
Hart is very closely followed by his Red Devils rival, who produces equally staggering and important saves at the other end of Manchester, and it is mainly thanks to him that United now find themselves third in the league. His saves against Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton stand out in particular. Usually a goalkeeper gains his team about eight points every season, but both De Gea and Hart have gone beyond that number and we are only just over a third into the season! It is no wonder that Real Madrid are trying to lure the Spaniard to Bernabeu. He is agile, has unbelievable reflexes and his positioning on the goal line is always spot on.
Wojciech Szczesny had his best season last year, but failed to carry his great performances into this season, as has the whole Arsenal team, with the only player keeping them within distance to the top 4 being Alexis Sanchez, who has been in sensational form of late.
Tim Howard is without doubt another top keeper in the league and has shown his class at the World Cup in the Round 16 against Belgium.
Another pair of keepers who sometimes don’t get the recognition they truly deserve are Asmir Begovic of Stoke City and Brad Guzan of Aston Villa. The pair of them are very consistent in terms of their performances and have kept their teams above water many times. Guzan has kept 5 clean sheets and conceded 19 goals – two less than Hugo Lloris for Spurs – and produced 36 saves, the joint best with the Tottenham keeper. That is very impressive.
Lukasz Fabianksi meanwhile has stepped out of the shadow of Szczesny and is showing his true qualities in Wales.
Allan McGregor from Hull City also deserves to be mentioned here. He has given some cracking performances himself and this season could be the difference between remaining in the top flight and relegation for Steve Bruce’s side. He has saved all three penalties he has faced in the Premier League since Hull’s promotion last season. The Tigers’ fans should pray that the Scot avoids any further injury this season.
Now take a moment and ask yourselves, where would your teams be without the saves from your goalkeepers the same way you ask yourselves where would you be without goals from your strikers?