Because a goalkeeper can play for such a long time at the same club, they can often be overlooked in terms of planning for recruitment. A goalkeeper’s playing-style is more important than ever in the modern game. When recruiting a new goalkeeper, it’s essential to make sure they’re comfortable either passing the ball long, short or a mixture of both. We’ve seen at Manchester City how important keeper recruitment can be after Pep Guardiola deemed Joe Hart not good enough with the ball at his feet. They subsequently brought in Claudio Bravo and Ederson.
Although Everton has enjoyed a great start to the 2020/21 season, it has somewhat been overshadowed by Jordan Pickford’s performances. The England number one has been scrutinised, particularly since the start of the previous season for his poor mistakes. A prime example was when Pickford cost his team a point in the Merseyside derby versus Liverpool because he panicked under a high ball.
This data analysis will look for a suitable replacement for Pickford. First, we will look at certain criteria to look within and then identify goalkeepers that have a similar playing style. Keepers with a similar passing style will be able to adapt to Everton faster. Then, after selecting the players that are most similar to Pickford, we will compare each of their goalkeeping stats to decide the best players. After picking out the best players, we will create a three-man shortlist for Everton.
Why does Pickford need to be replaced?
Everton was not confident of Pickford expelling the errors out of his game, hence why they brought in a good back-up keeper to challenge him. They brought in former Roma goalkeeper, Robin Olsen. The recent mistakes that Pickford has made have been outright silly mistakes rather than technical errors.
Against Brighton this season, Pickford made a bad error that luckily was not costly for his team. As a high ball goes up within his box, he’s in a great position to deal with it; he’s also under no pressure at all. However, Pickford drops the ball straight to Neal Maupay, who easily taps the ball home. Pickford’s incompetence under the high ball is proving to be a reoccurring problem. This is an example of an error that isn’t a technical fault. Much like the below example too.
Here, in the cup against Fleetwood Town, Pickford receives the ball under pressure. Whilst this isn’t the easiest situation for the Englishman, there are much better ways he could deal with it. Pickford should either clear the ball first time without taking a touch or pass the ball out for a throw-in. Instead, he tries dribbling around two Fleetwood players and is subsequently tackled.
Sweden international Robin Olsen was brought in to put pressure on Pickford in an attempt to eradicate these silly errors from his game. However, as is evident above, this has not worked. So before we go into a recruitment analysis, would Everton be better off choosing Olsen between the sticks? The Swede was on loan at Cagliari last season and is only a temporary solution for Everton.
The above graph compares Olsen and Pickford’s stats from the 2019/20 season. As we can see, Pickford played behind a much better defence, facing fewer shots and conceding fewer goals. However, Olsen had a better save percentage by 1.28%. Pickford did face tougher shots and opted to punch the ball far more than Olsen. Overall, Olsen was the better shot-stopper with Pickford being superior in the sweeping department.
To begin a recruitment analysis, we must first identify a realistic sample. The most important criteria to consider were goalkeepers of a high standard and with good experience at playing at the top level. Therefore, our data only contained goalkeepers from Europe’s top five leagues.
We wanted to look for a permanent replacement for Pickford rather than a temporary one. To ensure this, we considered the goalkeeper’s age. We only considered goalkeepers under the age of 32. A goalkeepers peak ends at roughly 34-years-old, so we need a goalkeeper that can play within their peak.
As Everton wouldn’t want to spend too much money to upgrade their goalkeeper and taking into consideration that Pickford is valued at £27million, we have set a market value limit of £40milion.
To ensure that the statistics we analysed were accurate and not misleading because of the playtime that certain goalkeepers had we only included goalkeepers that played over 1,600 minutes during the 2019/20 season.
We will create a shortlist of the players that show up most in the following graphs. This will show us which keepers are most similar to Pickford in terms of playing style. Those who are similar in one field are orange whilst those who are similar in both fields are marked green.
The above graph has looked at passes made per 90 and their completion percentage. Although passing accuracy is important, it doesn’t reflect a players play-style, so we’ve only looked at players who have similar passes per 90. Pickford makes 18.66 passes per 90, completing 81.51% of them.
Alban Lafont appears very close to Pickford. The Fiorentina man on loan at Nantes makes 18.34 passes per 90 with an 82.09% completion rate. Lafont is one of the youngest players within this sample at just 21-years-old. The youngster is developing well at Nantes and already has nine caps for France u21s.
Bartlomiej Dragowski, who also plays for Fiorentina, has similar passes per 90 stats with 18.87, but he has a slightly lower completion percentage with 78.14%. The Polish international was one of the best young goalkeepers in the 2019/20 season.
Sampdoria’s Emil Audero is a much better passer than Pickford. He completes a similar amount of passes per 90 with 18.51 but completes a lot more of his passes (87.90%).
Atalanta’s Pierluigi Gollini and Lyon’s Anthony Lopes both make a similar amount of passes and complete a lot more than Pickford. Lopes’ pass completion percentage is very impressive with 92.54%.
The next graph will look at how often each goalkeeper launches the ball and how long their average pass is.
Coincidently, Olsen is closest to Pickford here. Pickford launches 55.60% of his passes, compared to Olsen’s 55.40%. Whilst Pickford’s average pass length is 45.80 metres, and Olsen’s is 45.10 metres. Everton appears to have recruited Olsen because of his passing style; however, they could have just been lucky.
Paul Bernardoni is also very similar in terms of these two stats. However, the 23-year-old recently transferred from Bordeaux to Angers in search of more regular football. Therefore, Bernardoni is not a realistic transfer.
Alessio Cragno appears on the edge. The Italian’s 2019/20 season earned him his first cap for the Italian national team. The Cagliari shot-stopper launches 51.60% and has an average pass length of 40.70 metres.
Rubén Blanco of Celta Vigo and new Nîmes keeper Baptiste Reynet appear very close to Pickford. Blanco launches 53.90% of his passes and Reynet 57.30%.
This graph measures each goalkeeper’s passing tendencies. 32.42% of Pickford’s passes are lateral, and 47.64% are short or medium passes.
A familiar player is Reynet who has a lateral pass tendency of 31.56% and a short/medium pass tendency of 48.81%. Pickford’s Premier League peer Martin Dúbravka has a similar passing style. 50.84% of his passes are short or medium, and 34.25% are lateral. Dúbravka has been one of the most underrated goalkeepers in the Premier League in recent seasons.
Aitor Fernández of Levante is a new name in this analysis. The 29-year-old has been one of the best performers in Europe this season and has a similar pass style to Pickford. The Spaniard’s passes were 51.39% lateral and 29.90% short or medium.
A goalkeeper that is perhaps too good to join Everton is RB Leipzig’s Peter Gulácsi. The Hungarian has had a great rise since leaving Liverpool, and he has a similar passing style to Pickford. 27.47% of his passes are lateral whilst 51% are either short or medium.
Matz Sels, Juan Musso and Luigi Sepe are all very similar to Pickford too.
The best performers
In this section, we will look at which goalkeepers highlighted above performed the best throughout the 2019/20 season. We have looked at numerous shot-stopping and sweeping stats to decide the best options for Everton.
The first graph will look at how many goals each goalkeeper saved above/below expected per 90 (PS xG +/-) and how difficult the shots they faced were (PS xG per shot on target).
The Premier League duo stand out in this graph. Dúbravka faced fairly difficult, he had a PS xG/SoT of 0.34, and he saved 0.26 goals per 90. Newcastle’s weak defence meant that he had the chance to make plenty of great saves throughout the previous season. Meanwhile, Southampton’s Alex McCarthy faced more difficult shots (0.36) but saved slightly fewer goals per 90 with 0.23. The pair have been influential in keeping their clubs in the league in previous seasons.
Villarreal’s Jordi Masip is an experienced La Liga keeper, and this shows in these advanced stats. The 31-year-old faced shots that were above the average difficulty and ended up saving 0.18 goals per 90. His performances helped his team to a fifth-place finish. Gulácsi and Sels also had above-average stats in both.
Two goalkeepers, we have previously mentioned impressed in terms of goals saved above expected, but faced shots below the average difficulty. Aitor Fernández faced shots with a PS xG/SoT value of 0.27 and saved 0.23 goals per 90. The Spaniard helped his side to an unexpected mid-table finish. But the question remains whether he can replicate this form. Cagliari’s Cragno saved the same amount of goals per 90 but faced slightly easier shots (0.26). However, it was the frequency of these chances that hindered Cragno’s stats.
Sepe, Musso, Olsen, and Maignan all saved more shots than they were expected to; however, the quality of shots faced was below the sample’s average.
This graph measures each keeper’s save percentage and the number of shots on target they face per 90. Dragowski stands out the most with both stats a lot higher than the sample average. The Pole faces 6.33 shots on target per 90 and saves 76.79% of these. Only Gulácsi has a higher save percentage. Sepe faces the second-most shots per 90 with 5.62, but he still manages to save 73.42% of these.
Cragno shows how good of a shot-stopper he is by showing up once again here. The Italian faced 5.17 shots on target per 90 in the 2019/20 season, and his anticipation and good reflexes helped him save 74.41% of these. Musso has very similar stats to him. The Argentine faced fewer shots on target per 90 (5.05) and therefore has a better save percentage by 0.11%.
Fernández and Masip appear above both averages once again too. Lafont and Gollini both have above-average save percentages but play behind much better defences, meaning they don’t face as many shots as those previously mentioned.
Sweeping is now an important skill that modern goalkeepers should possess, so who out of the sample dominates?
Atalanta’s Marco Sportiello dominates this graph. The Italian stopped an incredible 12.1% of crosses he faced during the 2019/20 season, and he was also extremely confident outside of his box. He made 1.2 defensive actions outside of his penalty area per 90. Gulácsi also impresses as he has the most OPAs per 90 with 1.5.
Lille’s Maignan is the only other player that stands out here. The Frenchman is very confident at claiming crosses, but not leaving his box. The 25-year-old stopped 11.5% of crosses he faced, but only made 0.32 OPAs per 90. Maignan is good at using his 6’3 height to dominate crosses into his area.
Gollini and Reynet also have very good stats here. The former is just on the cusp of having above-average stats in both areas. He stopped 7.2% of crosses he faced whilst making 1.15 OPAs per 90. Reynet stopped 6.5% of crosses and left his box to make a defensive action 1.06 times per 90.
Deciding which players are of a high standard and similar to Pickford
The below graph contains the best performing keepers from the previous section and compares how similar they are to Pickford’s current style of play.
Although all goalkeepers included having the same style of play of the current Everton number one, they have been put in order of most similar to least. Lafont is most similar to Pickford, whilst Cragno is the least similar.
We will use this graph to decide our three-man shortlist of who Everton could sign to replace Pickford.
Mike Maignan – This young French goalkeeper has been a staple between the sticks for Lille since the 2017/18 season after joining from the PSG academy. The 25-year-old is performing well and isn’t in the goalkeeping peak yet, so he will only improve from here. Maignan gained his first French cap in 2020 in a friendly against Ukraine. In the current season, Maignan has played eight games, conceding just three goals. Valued at just £18million he could be a real bargain to either replace or challenge Pickford for the number one spot. He’s a great shot-stopper and very confident at claiming crosses as well as playing out from the back.
Pierluigi Gollini – This 25-year-old goalkeeper was guarding the goal for one of the most exciting teams in 2019/20, Atalanta. The Italian had a failed spell at Aston Villa from 2016 to 2018; however, he has turned the corner and earned his first Italian cap in 2019. Gollini would have a little experience of the English leagues, and this could be a bonus over the other two keepers in the shortlist. Gollini is valued at £15.30 so would be a relatively cheap option for a goalkeeper who has not yet hit his peak. This option would provide Pickford with strong competition rather than a direct replacement. The Italian is a decent shot-stopper and is very confident in defending the space behind his defensive line.
Alessio Cragno – Highly rated Cragno has recently been linked with Italian giants Roma and Inter. The 26-year-old was injured for the first half of the 2019/20 season. However, his outstanding reputation and good recent performances earned him his first Italian cap in 2020. Cragno is valued the same as Maignan at just £18million, so is another affordable option for Everton. Cragno plays behind a weak defensive line, and with the keeper just about to enter his peak, he will be eager for a move to a stronger club.