Walter Benítez 2019/20 – scout report
Our latest data analysis, which focused on the best in Europe’s top five leagues, was dominated by shot-stoppers in Ligue 1. The likes of Gautier Larsonneur, Predrag Rajković, and Walter Benítez were revealed as some of the best keepers in Europe.
This tactical analysis will focus on Benítez. The 27-year-old has been instrumental for OGC Nice this season, helping them to a fifth-place finish. The Argentinian, now hitting his peak, has been at Nice since 2016. However, only in the past two seasons has he secured himself as their number one goalkeeper. His form under ex-Arsenal man Patrick Vieira has been nothing short of incredible.
We will analyse his importance to his team, and what makes him stand out amongst the best keepers in Europe.
Hitting his peak?
Only in the past two seasons has Benítez found some consistency. His ability to save shots that he isn’t expected to makes him one of the best keepers in the league. To compare goalkeepers effectively, taking into consideration the quality of their team, we will use PS xG +/-. This stat measures their performance above expected.
Excluding Larsonneur, Benítez has been the best performer in Ligue 1. The Nice shot-stopper was expected to concede 42.3 goals this season, however, his performances meant that he only conceded 36. To put this into better context, he was expected to concede 1.51 goals per 90, but he only conceded 1.29. But has the Argentinian always been this good?
The above graph shows Benítez’s past three seasons. It’s clear that the 2018/19 season was his best in terms of playing above his expected, but his defence was much stronger than the 2019/20 season. In the second graph, we can see the increase in shots faced per 90, from 4.03 to 4.96 – meaning his defence has been significantly weaker this season. His saves per 90 have gradually increased, meaning he is improving.
Reflexes and reach
A goalkeeper that plays with a weak defence needs to be on high alert at all times. This means having great reflexes. Benítez stands at 1.91m tall, a good height for a goalkeeper – he has a great reach, but is also nimble enough to adjust his feet quickly.
The Argentine has conceded 36 goals this season, 1.29 per 90. Conceding this many goals means that he won’t instantly be a stand-out, but delving further into the stats, makes for interesting reading.
Although he faces an above-average amount of shots per game, he is able to save the majority of these. Benítez saves 73.91% of shots that he faces. His superb agility and reflexes help him stop shots he isn’t expected to save.
In the above example against Montpellier, he uses his reflexes to save a certain goal. The cross comes in from the left and the Montpellier striker volleys it towards goal with his left foot. This means that the shot is going away from Benítez. He is able to use his agility to get down low and use his footwork to quickly move across the goal, palming the ball to safety.
The 27-year-old makes 3.54 saves per 90, the most in Ligue 1 this season. Above we can see how he is able to make saves when he isn’t favoured. As the striker receives the ball in front of goal all of the keeper’s weight and momentum is on his left side, meaning that any shot to his right would be extremely difficult to reach. Using his great agility he quickly changes direction, falling to the floor and getting his fingertips to the ball. Saves like this are the reason that Benítez has saved 8.3 more goals than he was expected to this season.
Benítez’s reflexes and reading of the game means that he can anticipate difficult shots. His height, reach, and footwork means that he can save these shots. These attributes help him make 2.75 saves before he concedes, on average.
Against Bordeaux, he makes a great save using his reach. Benítez reads former Manchester City youngster Josh Maja’s strike early, meaning that he can start using his footwork to move towards that side of the goal. As Maja strikes the ball, and as the keeper starts his dive, he realises that the shot is going higher than anticipated. Benítez uses the power on the shot to help the ball on its way over the bar. He uses his right hand, as he can get it higher than his left.
Against Angers, we see a similar situation. The way Benítez can anticipate roughly where the shot will go allows him to get his body behind the ball. This means that he can use his hands to react after performing the dive, instead of moving late on. Although this is a great save, he struggles to push it to safety. This is an occurrence that proves to be a weakness in his game.
In this instance against Brest, he gets a good two hands on the ball, meaning he has full control over where his parry goes. He saves the shot straight into the path of an attacker, who finishes well into the top corner. He should ensure sav gets to safety.
How does Benítez’s shot-stopping compare to the rest of the league?
He ranks towards the middle of the pack for saves per goal and save %, this is due to the frequency of shots that he faces. He faces the third-most shots per 90 in Ligue 1 and makes the most saves per 90, showing how valuable he is to Nice.
Pressureising and intimidating
Goal-keeping has evolved from dominating their line to dominating their box, to now, dominating the defensive third. Benítez commands his area extremely well but often refrains from venturing outside. His aggressive movements and braveness mean that he is very efficient at saving in one-on-one situations.
Benítez averages one exit per 90. He prefers to rush off his line and close down the attacker’s angle at goal, rather than waiting and reacting to the shot.
Here we see how he likes to react when he faces a one-on-one situation from a wide-angle. With the ball under the attacker’s control, he can’t commit to the save straight away. Instead, he engages the striker and spreads himself to close down the angle. He stretches both arms out, bending one leg and outstretching the other. This is the best body position to prevent a goal. His fairly big build and great technique mean that he saves the ball well with his chest.
Benítez is very versatile when it comes to dealing with one-on-one situations.
Against Nantes, he is put in a very different position. Compared to the last example, the ball is much more central, meaning the striker has more of the goal to aim at. The ball is also bouncing which means Benítez cannot commit instantly. Instead, the keeper engages the ball, coming towards the edge of his six-yard box. He then spreads himself as the opponent strikes the ball and saves it with his outstretched foot. If the keeper spreads himself too early, he risks getting chipped.
As well as pressuring strikers who are in on goal, he is very intelligent in the way he deals with crosses into his box.
From the map above we can see that he has only conceded one goal directly from a cross. He is very selective in terms of intervening with crosses. If the ball is close to him, he is likely to take the ball, taking pressure off his defence. He averages 0.32 aerial duels per 90, winning 100% of them. He stops 7.1% of his opponent’s crosses.
Although Benítez is confident leaving his line to deal with attacks within his box, he can be reluctant to leave his box. The Nice goalkeeper only averages 0.35 out of penalty box defensive actions per 90. But with his team’s tactics to play such a deep defensive line, this is understandable, making it a weakness of his.
During a Bordeaux counter-attack, a through ball is made into space within the defensive third. Benítez, misjudges the weight of the pass and attempts to win the ball. The attacker is first to the ball and touches it past him, leaving him an empty net to put the ball into. A better decision would be to stay inside his box and use his powerful one-on-one ability to stop the attack.
Reluctance to go long
Benítez has the shortest average pass length of all the keepers in the top five European leagues with 27.6 metres. A goalkeeper’s passing style is central to how his team advances up the field. Nice’s tactics line up well with the Argentine. Nice average the third-highest possession in the league with 54.2%, with the second-highest pass accuracy with 87.1%.
How teams set up from goal-kicks are key to their style of passing. This season, Nice has taken advantage of the recent rule change that receiving players are allowed in the box. Below is a typical setup from their goal-kick.
The two centre-backs drop either side of the six-yard box, with the full-backs offering width should the ball need to go wide. The defensive midfielder dropping deep causes a three-on-five scenario.
On this occasion, Benítez gives the ball to Dante who is able to beat the opposition press with a chipped ball to the left-back. The Nice goalkeeper has a goal-kick launch percentage of 34.4%, and the occasions he does launch it he seeks out the width of the full-backs or wingers.
We can see Benítez has a high completion percentage, with most of his goal-kicks being received within and around his box, or out wide. Very rarely does he kick it long into the opposition half.
His passing style from open play is very similar to his goal-kick setup. The first option is to pass short, if he can’t do this, or is under pressure then he will clear it. His pass accuracy is 92.97% and he makes 16.28 passes per 90.
Above we can see a scenario that is in a similar position to a goal-kick, but the defenders are putting pressure on him. After he receives a pass from the right-back, he plays a well-weighted pass into Dante. The latter then plays it back to the right-back who plays it to Benítez. With his options seemingly closed off, and being put under pressure, he plays an excellent left-footed pass into the midfielder.
Although Benítez’s strength is passing short, when it comes to it, he is able to accurately hit the ball long. He only makes 3.15 long passes per 90, with an accuracy of 68.18%. When the Argentine is under pressure, he is most likely to clear the ball with no receiver intended, but when he has time, he is able to find his man.
After claiming a loose ball here there is potential for a counter-attack. Benítez angles his body well and finds a low, driven pass to his winger.
However, one weakness of his game is not knowing when to go long. Sometimes, when he’s under too much pressure from the opposition, he can be reluctant to clear it. This can sometimes harm his team within his own third.
After receiving a pass from Dante in his own six-yard box, and being pressured from a defender, he needs to get the ball upfield as fast as possible to avoid being dispossessed.
Instead, he takes time on the ball to assess his options. Whilst trying to find his full-back at the bottom of the picture, he is put under physical pressure by the striker. This causes him to kick the ball straight to the opposition player, luckily nothing comes of it. But against better opposition, these mistakes will be punished.
How does his passing stats compare to the rest of the league?
Benítez’s passing is way more dominant within Ligue 1 than his shot-stopping. He has the second-lowest goal kick percentage, he has the shortest average pass length and the highest pass completion percentage. In terms of long passing accuracy, he ranks fairly average.
Below is a graph comparing the most well-known keeper in Ligue 1, PSG‘s Keylor Navas, with Benítez, to put his stats into context.
Both keepers appear to be at the top of their game this season. Both have similar stats, but the Nice shot-stopper just edges the Costa Rican in most aspects. There is an obvious difference with exits, with Benítez being a lot more adventurous inside his box.
This scout report has highlighted Benítez’s greatest strengths and what he needs to improve if he is to become a better keeper. The Argentine has been one of the best goalkeepers in the world this season, albeit under the radar. His incredible reflexes and reach, along with his ability to use his frame to close down attackers in a one-on-one situation make him one of the most reliable keepers worldwide. However, it’s his passing that makes him stand out. His accurate short passes would make him a great asset to any team that prefers to play out from the back. With his contract coming to an end this summer, he looks set to leave France.