STATS’ European ‘Big Five’ Goalkeeper Rankings: April 5

By: Paul Power | April 5, 2019

In our previous post, we introduced a new model that allowed goalkeepers to be swapped with each other to determine how they would cope facing another goalkeeper’s shots. This novel technique allows us to ask, “What if Alisson had been in goal for Liverpool last season? How many goals would he have prevented?” (The answer is 7 by the way).

In this post we introduce our rankings for the ‘Big Five’ leagues in Europe.

Creating the Rankings

To create the league rankings, we take all shots faced by all goalkeepers to date in their league. As explained in the previous post, we learn a set of embeddings which captures the different skillsets of a goalkeeper, which we can then swap in order to simulate their performance. This gives use the total number of goals each goalkeeper would have been expected to concede (xG) if they faced every shot. To make this more interpretable, we first standardise the xG’s from a season total to per game, and then take this from the league average. This final value is the number of xG’s a goalkeeper would have either prevented or conceded compared to the league average. For example, if we look at the English Premier League ranking, Liverpool’s Alisson and Manchester United’s David De Gea are expected to save 0.33 more goals than the league average. At the other end, Bournemouth’s Asmir Begovic is expected to concede -0.32 more goals than average. This means De Gea and Alisson would be expected to save an additional 0.65 goals per game versus Begovic. Finally, we only show goalkeepers’ who have played in 10 or more league games.

Premier League Rankings

One of the biggest debates in the English Premier League is, “Who is better, De Gea or Alisson?” If we compared both purely on goals conceded, Alisson would comfortably be the best goalkeeper, having only conceded 19 goals to De Gea’s 43. However, we know that this method of comparing goalkeepers is flawed and does not take into account the difficulty of shots faced. Based on our simulations, we find that both are neck-and-neck, with both goalkeepers being ranked joint first in the league (+0.33 per game).

Despite being prone to errors, Hugo Lloris is still one of the best shot-stoppers in the game, ranking third (+0.22 per game). Interestingly, in spite of both teams’ struggles this season, Crystal Palace’s Guaita (+0.17 per game) and Burnley’s Tom Heaton (+0.16 per game) both rank highly for their shot-stopping ability. Guaita appears to have been a shrewd signing by Palace with the new man expected to save 0.2 more goals than Hennessey, keeping six clean sheets out of 14 appearances in the process.

At the other end we can see that a larger reason for Bournemouth’s -15 goal difference this season is Begovic’s form. He is expected to concede a further -0.32 per game. Huddersfield’s Lossl (-0.3 per game) is the second most porous goalkeeper in the league.

La Liga Rankings

Since our last analysis on La Liga, four further games have been played. Santamaria has since dropped from first to sixth in the rankings, but is still expected to save an addition +0.12 goals per game. Oblak (again) positions himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, being expected to prevent an additional goal every other game (+0.66 per game). Ranked second is Valencia CF’s Brazilian Neto. As with Oblak, he’s expected to prevent one goal every other game (+0.55) keeping 10 clean sheets in 28 games.

As highlighted in the previous post, Courtois has had a tough start to his Real Madrid career and would be expected to concede one goal every 10 games more than average (-0.1 per game).

While having an excellent start to the season since the new year, Pau Lopez has had a drop in form. Two other young Spanish goalkeepers could be challenging him for the national team in the shape of David Soria (+0.26) and Fernando Pacheco (+0.16), who are having excellent seasons for Getafe CF and Deportivo Alaves, respectively, and are both battling it out for the final Champions League spot.

Ligue 1 Rankings

PSG brought in Buffon in a high profile signing during the summer, however it is possible they didn’t need to. Based on our simulation, Areola is head and shoulders above the league average, being expected to save an additional +0.3 goals per game, while Buffon (who is still elite) is ‘only’ expected to prevent a further 0.12 than average.

Interestingly, bottom club Dijon’s Bobby Allain is ranked second (+0.18 per game) while the player he replaced, Runar Alex Runarsson, is ranked bottom (-0.65 per game). Since being brought into the starting line in December, Allain has performed heroics helping to keep the score lines down in certain games. However, like Santamaria in La Liga, it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his form.

Bundesliga Rankings

Whilst injuries, loss of form, and a recent mistake in the Champions League exit has again questioned Manuel Neuer’s position as Germany’s No. 1 goalkeeper situation, the question arises if Neuer is still the best German goalkeeper, or if he is even still the best German goalkeeper playing in the Bundesliga. Based on our simulations, we found Germany’s current third-choice stopper Kevin Trapp ranked as the second-best shot-stopper in the Bundesliga this season (+0.31 per game). Neuer came in at seventh place, mainly due to his drop in form around the start of the season (+0.13 per game).

The expansive, attacking style of Frankfurt this season often leaves them exposed for the opposition to exploit, and generally resulted in them conceding more chances. This is shown in Trapp having faced the fourth highest number of shots in Bundesliga this season – making his shot-stopping stats even more impressive.

Peter Gulacsi of RB Leipzig tops the Bundesliga rankings (+0.54 per game), which is no surprise given his record of the most clean sheets and best save percentage currently in the Bundesliga. Despite his recent forgettable Champions League night in Manchester, 04 Schalke’s goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann is currently ranked fourth in the Bundesliga based on his general shot-stopping abilities this season (+0.19 per game). Whilst 04 Schalke sit just above the relegation zone, it’s thanks to Fahrmann that their situation isn’t a lot worse.

Serie A Rankings

Serie A has played host to some legendary goalkeepers in years gone by, and a new crop of young, exciting talent is now emerging from this league. Firstly, Napoli’s Alex Meret (+0.46 per game), despite a fractured arm in his first week in Naples, has gone on to establish himself as Napoli’s No. 1, keeping seven clean sheets in just 12 Serie A games. Strakosha of Lazio is also high up the rankings in fourth place (+0.23 per game). Already, the Albanian is showing a matured progression in only his second season of top-flight football.

At the other end of the scale we have AS Roma’s Robin Olsen (-0.12 per game), who is ranked 20th on the Serie A list. When a team’s last two goalkeepers are a man that replaced legendary Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus and the other is currently one of the best performing goalkeepers in Europe, filling this void would be no easy feat for any goalkeeper in world football. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been a great debut season for the Swedish stopper – conceding 42 goals in 27 league games and his four clean sheets are currently the second-fewest in Serie A among the regular starters. This has led to the inevitable, with Ranieri replacing Olsen in their last game against Fiorentina.