Liverpool fans generally do not find much fault with Rafa Benitez but some like me do feel that he should have signed David de Gea on the summer transfer deadline day in 2015 for Real Madrid. That he didn’t, has troubled Liverpool big time.
In the last five league matches between Liverpool and Manchester United, de Gea has put in 17 saves (3.66 per game) and since his move to Real Madrid fell through, he has put in 9 saves (3 per game), which is still respectable. In those five league matches between the sides, he has allowed Liverpool to score only twice. That is a phenomenal save to goal ratio of 8.5. That means that Liverpool would have needed 9.5 unblocked shots on target to score even one goal during these matches. Even for Klopp’s current Liverpool team, that would be a difficult task to accomplish. It is not just the quantity but also the quality of the saves also that has hurt Liverpool. The two brilliant saves on Monday, were preceded by efforts like this and this in the previous fixtures.
So after watching Liverpool’s myriad frontlines fall flat so many times against de Gea’s prowess, I had started this piece with the assumption that he must be the best goal keeper in all of premier league, especially as across the league goal keeping has been underwhelming. So I was quite surprised to see that there are at least two other goal keepers putting in performances almost as good as de Gea and one who has been surpassing even these three.
Hugo Lloris, Tom Heaton and Kasper Schmeichel put in more saves per game than de Gea, while Petr Cech puts in the same number of saves. But when we look at saves per goal per game, Lloris leads the pack by a mile. Opponents need to put in 6-7 unblocked, unchecked shots on Lloris’ goal to get one goal, while for de Gea, Cech, Heaton, and Schmeichel this number is between 3-4 such shots. Though in both these cases, the quality of defenses protecting the goal keeper is also significant and Lloris, de Gea, and Cech have all faced between 10.4 to 10.9 shots per game.
Lloris’ distribution is more accurate, due to Tottenham’s playing from the back strategy, while de Gea’s average distribution length is highest among these, possibly as he is kicking the ball out to Zlatan or Fellaini on most occasions. Cech and Heaton punch the ball more than their peers, while Lloris reduces chances for opponents by catching 3.33 times every match.
So de Gea fares pretty well among his peers but he is not the best. The best performing goal keeper in premier league this season is Hugo Lloris.
Now let us look at their current performances versus their own past performances and see if one has improved or worsened a lot.
Current Season Vs Past Seasons
The United shot stopper has seen reduction in the number of saves, punches, high claims, and passes, while increases in catches and accurate long balls. But perhaps more important is the slight increase in errors leading to goals.
The stats from Premier League website are slightly different from Squawka, possibly due to slightly differing definitions and interpretations of raw metrics. However, since I am not comparing one with the other, I was comfortable using them here.
Lloris on the other hand has seen improvement in no. of saves, clean sheets, errors, passes and accurate long balls but seems to be punching and claiming the ball fewer times compared to his own premier league history.
For the other goal keepers, the most notable increase is in saves for Tom Heaton and in sweeper clearances for Cech.
So the original premise that I started with, given de Gea’s performance against Liverpool on Monday, is sort of disproved. While de Gea is a brilliant shot stopper and has more than respectable stats this season but his performance this season is neither an improvement over the past nor much better than his peers.
The best performing goal keeper in Premier League this season is Hugo Lloris. He is really difficult to score against and it is proven by goals conceded this season – only four in eight games.
Coming back to de Gea, while statistically his performance might not be a great improvement over his past or peers, it is undoubtedly true that without him (and Herrera) on Monday, United would have struggled to keep out Liverpool and that Liverpool would have scored a bit more in the past had it been someone else in the United goal.
Why Rafa, why couldn’t you ensure de Gea’s move to Real Madrid on time?