Finding the best goalkeepers in the Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

In the summer of 2018, a new goalkeeping transfer record was set. Liverpool bought Alisson Becker from AS Roma for € 62,50 million. Just a few weeks later Kepa Arrizabalaga transferred from Athletic Bilbao to Chelsea for € 80 million, setting a new transfer record.

Seeing these astronomical amounts of money you would think that the goalkeeper position hasn’t been underappreciated. But normally he is the first one who gets the finger pointed at when the team concedes a goal. In the past, this was even more so because the keeper had a limited set of tasks. These consisted of catching the ball and reacting quickly on shots.

Nowadays it’s an all-inclusive role. Shot-stopping and reflexes remain as important ever, but new dynamics, such as distribution, sweeping up, aggressive positioning, and improved athleticism, are more important than ever.

In this data analysis, we will be looking at the statistics of each goalkeeper in Ligue 1 during the season 2019/20. Then we will look at the candidates that could make a move to a bigger club or to underline the performance of one already there. We will be analysing goalkeepers who have played at least 1500 minutes in Ligue 1 during the season 2019/20. The data used will be broken down into three categories, shot-stopping, passing and aerial dominance. This will give us a well-rounded analysis.

The golden glove

At the end of every season, the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets wins the award of the best goalkeeper in their respective league. This statistic is based on if the team/goalkeeper didn’t concede a goal in a game. Although this a very global stat because it also depends on the team performance. It still gives an indication of how good a goalkeeper performed over a season.

In the below image the clean sheet count of every goalkeeper in Ligue 1 who played over 1500 minutes. This gives already some surprising names. Mike Maignan of LOSC Lille and Predrag Rajković of Stade Reims tops the list with 12 clean sheets last season. And some honourable mentions go out to Steve Mandanda, Keylor Navas and Ludovic Butelle all ending just one clean sheet behind the leaders.

Finding the best goalkeepers in the Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

Best shot-stoppers

As stated above data can mislead the analysis of a goalkeeper when it comes to goalkeepers preventing goals, as the defence and the way of play also plays a part in preventing goals. A goalkeeper who faces more shots will obviously have more chance of conceding a goal.

This first section will look at PSxG. This metric is similar to the normalised expected goal but doesn’t take into consideration blocked shots or shots off target. Meaning it gives a more clear picture of the quality of shots faced.

The below graph looks at the quality of the shots each keeper faces per 90 minutes and how many goals they have conceded per 90 minutes.

Finding the best goalkeepers in the Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

The keepers who are positioned more to the left conceded the least amount of goals per game. And those who are positioned higher to the top have faced the more difficult shots.

Here, Stade Brestois 29 ‘s Gautier Larsonneur and OGC Nice’s Walter Benitez stand out. Larsonneur has 1.43 PS xG per 90 minutes and only concedes 1.2 goals per 90 minutes. As for Benitez, he has 1.51 PS xG per 90 minutes and only concedes 1.29 goals per 90 minutes. These stats are remarkable when keeping in mind that both goalkeepers are not playing their football at one of the top four clubs in Ligue 1.

Also in the graph, it is shown that Alexandre Oukidja, of FC Metz, comes close to the top performers in the French league. Although his team is positioned in the bottom half of the league table. This graph suggests that his team’s season would’ve been a lot worse if it wasn’t for his ability to save difficult shots. His PS xG per 90 minutes is 1.09 and he only concedes 1.24 goals per 90 minutes.

The graph above gave us an idea of the quality of shots each goalkeeper faced. The next graph will analyse the number of shots each goalkeeper faced.

Finding the best goalkeepers in the Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

This image clarifies that the more one is to the right, the more shots one has faced. And the higher one is placed, the more shots one has saved this season. Rajkovic has the highest save percentage at 81,25 per cent. But in comparison with the others, he has faced a rather low amount of shots. He faced a total of 96 shots this season. This underlines the compact, defensive playing style of Reims.

On the other hand Benitez, Oukidja, and Larsonneur are again up there facing a high number of shots. Benitez and Larsonneur both faced 138 shots while Oukidja collected a total of 132 shots. Despite all three goalkeepers facing the most shots in the league, they still have a high save percentage. Benitez ended on a 73,91 save percentage. Larsonneur has a slightly higher save percentage of 75,36 per cent. Oukidja ended the highest of the three at 76,52 per cent.

And lastly, a keeper that also deserves a mention because of his performances is Geronimo Rulli. The Argentine ended this season at a save percentage of 77,87 per cent. And facing a rather high amount of shots at 122.

Force in the air

When the opposition delivers a cross in the box, the defenders of a team are under pressure and have to find a way to deal with that. The goalkeeper can relieve this pressure by leaving his line and dealing with the cross. He can do this by punching or claiming the ball.

The graph below explains how many times one comes off his line and is successful in doing that. Keep in mind that these numbers are quite low because the defenders deal with most of the crosses.

Finding the best goalkeepers in the Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

There are a few goalkeepers who have a 100 per cent success rate in coming off their line. Oukidja is the goalkeeper of all who least fears an aerial duel. As he attempts 0.91 aerial duels per game. Stephane Ruffier is the keeper who has the least success in dealing with crosses.

The eleventh outfield player

A goalkeeper is mostly dependent on the playing style of the coach in regards to utilising his passing ability. Meaning that a goalkeeper’s passing ability is an integral part of the way his team plays. An extreme example is, of course, Ederson Moraes at Manchester City.

Below a graph that examines the passes every goalkeeper attempts on average per 90 minutes and the accuracy of these attempted passes.

Finding the best goalkeepers in the Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

Goalkeepers towards the right have more attempts of passing the ball. Goalkeepers positioned more at the top are more accurate with their passing.

Here again, Benitez stands out with a passing accuracy of 92,97 per cent. Although he does attempt fewer passes than his colleagues in Ligue 1. He averages 16,28 passes a game.

Lyon’s Anthony Lopes stands out with the second most accurate passing stat at 92,54 per cent. On average the Portuguese international attempts 18,72 passes per game. This stat is definitely a representative of Lyon’s attacking approach to the game.

Lastly, Larsonneur tops the list by attempting the most attempted passes at an average of 22,96 per game. But his success rate isn’t as high as others at 84,18 per cent.

Above we discussed the attempted passes and pass accuracy of the goalkeepers. But we have to put these stats in perspective. Obviously, a five-metre pass is easier than a 35-metre pass. The pass accuracy stat doesn’t take this into account. With this in mind, let’s have a look at the pass length of each keeper.

Finding the best goalkeepers in the Ligue 1 - data analysis statistics

Again here, Benitez stands out with the shortest pass length at 24,6 meters. This shows Patrick Viera’s attacking intent at Nice and of course the belief he has in Benitez acting as an extra option on the ball. And in second shortest pass length is Paris Saint Germain’s Navas at 27,61 meters. Yet again a goalkeeper that plays in a team that likes to build from the back.

The longest passing range is from Oukidja. This makes perfect sense as his accuracy in the previous graph was the lowest of all goalkeepers.

The ones to watch

After this data analysis, we have found two keepers that stand out from the rest.

Walter Benitez

Benitez has had a great season with Nice and this shows in his stats. Based on his PSxG stat Benitez has saved 8.3 more goals than he normally should have had. The Argentine faces 4.94 shots per 90 minutes. This just underlines his abilities. The 27-year-old has proved in this data analysis that he is an overall very good goalkeeper. For a keeper, he is still fairly young and can make up the step to a team that competes for the UEFA Champions League places.

Gautier Larsonneur

The Brest goalkeeper also impressed in this data analysis. Based on his PSxG stat the Frenchman has saved 8.2 more goals than expected of him. And before conceding a goal, he makes 2,79 saves on average. For a goalkeeper playing at a mid-table team, this is very impressive. At only 23 years of age, there lies a bright future ahead of Larsonneur.

Conclusion

This data analysis has shown that the goalkeeper position has indeed evolved. Nowadays goalkeepers are judged on a wide variety of measurements. This means that these days a keeper cannot survive on only being a good shot-stopper.

The data analysis also gave a good indication of the talent that can be found between the posts in Ligue 1. With Larsonneur, Maignan, and Rajkovic the French league possesses three very talented goalkeepers under the age of 25 years. All three of them are great examples of how a modern keeper looks like.