This article first appeared on The Tomkins Times on 9th June 2011
Earlier in the season, I wrote a piece about Liverpool’s defensive struggles. Although that side of the game (like all others) picked up under Kenny Dalglish, the Reds still finished with 44 goals in the against column, their worst posting since 1998-99 (interestingly, that was the last season that also featured two managers).
It could have been worse: extrapolate Roy Hodgson’s defensive record to a full season, and Liverpool would have conceded 51 goals. This would have been their worst figure in a 38 game season in the Premier League era.
Part of this article looks at the form and performances of Pepe Reina, and now that the season has ended, I thought it would be interesting to see how his form varied between the management spells of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, as well as how that compares with his record under Rafa Benitez.
Clearly Pepe was performing better under Dalglish than under Hodgson. Of course that’s partly because the team was also performig better overall too – just as a goalkeeper isn’t solely to be praised for a clean sheet, he’s rarely wholly to blame for goals conceded.
I thought it would be interesting to compare Reina to the other first choice goalkeepers in the Premier League on various aspects, and rank them to see who has been the best this season.
Please bear in mind that this is not a particularly scientific analysis in any way; I have simply devised some measures of goalkeeping success based on the statistics I have available, and would be happy to hear suggestions on how to refine and improve it. I hope to update this once I have obtained more statistics for starters.
For the analysis I have selected the keeper that made the most appearances for each Premier League side. The one exception is Arsenal: they utilised no less than four goalkeepers this season, and none of them even made the 19 appearances required to constitute half a season. I have therefore included both Szczesny (15 appearances) and Fabianski (14) as they both reached double figures. This gives us 21 goalkeepers to assess.
Make a note of Reina’s average figures for a season under Rafa, it will prove rather interesting.
Clean Sheet Ratio
An obvious one really; the more clean sheets they record, the better a goalkeeper must have done. Clearly the players in front of the ‘keeper play their part here, but it’s too important a measure to ignore. The top five for this season are:
No surprising names in amongst that lot. Notice from above how Reina’s average under Benitez (51.65%) would put him top of this chart. Even just using his figures under Dalglish would push him up to 2nd place, with 44.44%.
Goals conceded per game
All goalkeepers concede goals, it’s inevitable. But who conceded the least in respect of how many games they played? There’s no guarantee that this will correlate directly to clean sheet ratio, as the number of goals conceded in other games could vary wildly. Again, the credit and blame don’t lie solely with the goalkeepers for this measure.
Another win for Joe Hart in this category, albeit tied with Chelsea’s Petr Cech. It’s interesting to see Asmir Begovic make the top five, as he only ranked 9th in the clean sheet ratio rankings. Clearly he didn’t concede too many goals on the occasions when he did concede, and it shows what most people would tell you about Stoke (after the throw-in thing at least) – they’re a difficult bunch to play against, and don’t take many heavy beatings.
Once again, Reina’s average under Benitez would see him top this year’s standings, and once again his figures under Kenny’s management would see him higher in the list (3rd with 0.94).
This measure is probably the most important of the ones I have devised, as more responsibility lies with the goalies themselves.
No goalkeeper can save every shot; some efforts are just too good, and some will deflect past them through no fault of their positioning or handling. But obviously you want your ‘goal tender’ (thanks for that phrase, Mr Gillett) to save the majority of shots that they face. Who came out on top here?
This is where Reina has struggled most on the various rankings, though surprise surprise, his average performance for Liverpool prior to this season would see him top yet another chart. Apologies for sounding like a stuck record, but his figures for Dalglish’s tenure would again lift him up to 3rd on this list, with 75.36%.
Perhaps not such an obvious measure of the quality of a goalkeeper, but I feel it’s an important one. A goalkeeper can often be the starting point of an attack (especially a counter attack following an opposition corner or free-kick for example), and it’s no good saving the majority of the shots you face if you hand possession straight back to the opposition; sooner or later you will come unstuck.
This area has Reina’s best ranking for this season, and that’s despite spending half of the season being told to hoof it long, thus lessening his chance of a successful pass than if he just played it short to one of his defenders.
Kudos to Richard Kingson of Blackpool for making the top five. I can only assume their commitment to playing decent football has helped with his stats here, as he has probably been encouraged to play out from the back rather than go long too often.
Unfortunately I don’t have Reina’s passing statistics for the Benitez era, but as he was encouraged to generally play it short from the back, it’s fairly safe to assume he would rank well on this chart.
There were only 14 penalties saved this season in the Premier League, and some were saved by goalkeepers who didn’t play enough games to qualify for this study.
As I can’t therefore really rank the keepers, I have awarded five points (a purely arbitrary figure) for every penalty saved. Heurelho Gomes and Jussi Jaaskelainen lead the way here with two saves each.
So how does the final table look? I ranked the goalkeepers from 1 to 21 on each of the four main categories, and then assigned points (1st place got 21, 2nd got 20 etc) to make the total. Where two keepers have the same score in a column, their stats were identical.
Congratulations to Joe Hart, an impressive achievement considering this has been his first full season as the established number one at Manchester City. Having a very expensively assembled team in front of him helps of course, but he tops three of the four categories, so it’s hard to argue with him as the winner.
It will be of little consolation to him, but Ben Foster is the ‘keeper who over-achieved most in relation to his team’s league standing. It’s clear where Birmingham’s troubles were though, and it wasn’t between the sticks (at their end at least) – 13th in the league for goals conceded, but 20th for goals scored.
At the opposite end of the scale, Scott Carson (formerly of Liverpool of course) finished both bottom of these rankings, and the furthest below his team’s league position. A clean sheet ratio of just 6.25% tells it own tale, so it was thanks to West Bromwich Albion’s attackers that they did not suffer a similar fate to Birmingham (they scored 56 league goals, only three less than Liverpool).
Perhaps a 6th place finish is a slightly disappointing result for Pepe Reina, though as I have alluded to throughout this article, his average performance under Rafa Benitez would likely see him top these rankings. Even solely under Dalglish, he would pick up an extra 16 points, and a respectable 3rd place finish. Coincidentally, he would have earned 16 less points based on his figures for Roy Hodgson’s tenure, and so finished 13th.
So a mixed season for our Spanish custodian, but Dalglish appears to have both he and the whole defence back on track. Let’s see if Senor Reina can top these standings next year – if he does, Liverpool have a very good chance of having a successful season.