finding-the-best-goalkeepers-championship-data-analysis-statistics

The role of the goalkeeper is definitely the most important role in league football. His evolving role in the game went from premier shot-stoppers like Manchester United‘s Peter Schmeichel to playing as an extra passing option to circulate possession in high-tempo setups like Barcelona‘s Victor Valdes. Nowadays, the goalkeepers need to be an amalgamation of being the last wall in defence and being the first passing option, as said by Johan Cruyff: “In my teams, the goalkeeper is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender.” 

In this data analysis, we will be finding the best goalkeeper in the Championship this season so far using data and statistics. While this gives us a good idea of the great goalkeepers in this division, there are a lot of external factors that affect these metrics like the quality of the defence in front of them.

Data analysis

The only limiter here is the minutes in this analysis. The goalkeepers we will be looking at should have played at least 3000 mins so far this season.

Lee Camp Birmingham City
Kiko Casilla Leeds United
Jack Butland Stoke City
David Marshall Wigan Athletic
Brice Samba Nottingham Forest
Daniel Bentley Bristol City
Rafael Reading
Freddie Woodman Swansea City
Bartosz Białkowski Millwall
David Raya Martin Brentford
Christian Walton Blackburn Rovers
Simon Johnstone West Bromwich Albion
Declan Rudd Preston North End
George Long Hull City
Dillon Philips Charlton Athletic

 

Before looking at individual goalkeepers and their statistics, we will be looking at the goals conceded by each goalkeeper individually this season:

finding-the-best-goalkeepers-championship-data-analysis-statistics
Goals conceded by each goalkeeper this season

Evidently, the worst keeper here is George Long of Hull City in terms of goals conceded. He has conceded the most goals at 74 this season, which has put Hull City in the bottom of the league. Kiko Casilla of Leeds United, who recently got promoted to the Premier League, has conceded the least goals at 30. 

One thing that is clear is a correlation between the positions of the teams in the table this season and the number of goals conceded. The teams higher in the table like Brentford and West Bromwich Albion have lower goals conceded (with David Raya at 35 goals conceded and Sam Johnstone at West Brom conceding 41 goals this season). The teams lower in the table like Hull City and Birmingham have more goals conceded. This shows two things. Firstly, the quality of goalkeeping at these teams is low, but secondly, it shines a light on the poor defensive capabilities of these sides.

Now, we shall be looking at the goalkeeper’s shot-stopping abilities in this graph, which shows shots on target per 90 against goals scored against per 90:

finding-the-best-goalkeepers-championship-data-analysis-statistics

The graph here tells a whole different story. The three goalkeepers of the top three teams face the lowest number of shots, so they concede the least amount of goals. This shows that the defensive tactics of the manager like the high press implemented by them and an overall larger defensive quality in front of the goalkeeper, with players like Ben White and Pontus Jansson as centre-backs for Leeds United and Brentford respectively. Three good keepers in this list are Samba, Rafael, and Białkowski. 

Nottingham Forest, for who Samba plays for, employ a low block, similar to Atletico Madrid. The defensive and midfield lines are mostly in front of the goal and cover the goal well. Thus, the opposition players need to attempt a lot of long shots to score. Thus, the shots against per 90 are quite high at 3.85 but the goals conceded are only at 0.92, which is the 4th best in the league.

Rafael from Reading excels in this aspect, conceding only 0.97 goals, which is higher than Samba, but facing more shots with 4.36, which is the second-highest in the league. This shows more of individual brilliance as he also has one of the highest clean sheet counts in the league. 

Seeing that many teams have a system of building out from the back, goalkeeper distribution is very important. So, we will be looking at the passes made per 90 and the average distance of each pass so that we can find the style of play for each goalkeeper:

finding-the-best-goalkeepers-championship-data-analysis-statistics

David Raya Martin makes the largest volume of passes per 90 in the league by quite a large gap, making 27.79 passes per 90 in a game. This establishes Thomas Frank’s tactics where Brentford play with passes between the goalkeeper and the centre-backs as they play from the back. This is an exploitation of the new goal-kick rules, where two centre-backs are allowed in the box. 

finding-the-best-goalkeepers-championship-data-analysis-statistics
Brentford exploiting the goal kick rule

Here, against Stoke City, one of the two centre-backs in the box play short passes with David Raya and then draw the attackers, as shown above. This leaves space for the full-backs or the central midfielders who get the ball and can find a lot of room to manoeuver. 

On the other side of things is Białkowski. He has one of the longest average pass lengths, which spans half the pitch. He also plays the lowest volume of passes per 90. This is a testament to Millwall’s tactics, which involve playing the ball high up the pitch and getting the ball to the attacker. This shows that the goalkeeper’s main role in this team is as a shot-stopper and not as “the first attacker”. 

finding-the-best-goalkeepers-championship-data-analysis-statistics

The metric xG against or PSxG is defined as such by FBRef: PSxG is expected goals based on the fact that the shot is on target. xG totals include penalty kicks, but do not include penalty shootouts (unless otherwise noted). If a goalkeeper concedes lesser goals per 90 than his PSxG per 90, he is performing better than expected. This metric removes the influence of the defence in front of the goalkeeper to an extent as well. Dillon Phillips, Brice Samba, Sam Johnstone, David Raya Martin, Rafael, Kiko Casilla, Bartosz Białkowski and Woodman concede lesser goals than expected. These are players that have shown up on our analysis frequently, and these metrics confirm our findings that these goalkeepers are of good quality.

The Shortlist

After looking at the goalkeepers above, I have come up with a list of the best goalkeepers in the Championship using data and statistics. 

1. Rafael

Rafael Cabral is the Brazilian goalkeeper that plays for Reading FC. He signed with Reading in 2019/20 from Sampdoria, after featuring prominently in the Napoli side that won the Italian Cup and the Italian Super Cup in 2014. His roots are from Santos however, where he won the Brazilian Cup and Copa Libertadores in 2010 and the Recopa Sudamericana in 2011/12. His stats below show his quality in between the sticks:

finding-the-best-goalkeepers-championship-data-analysis-statistics
Rafael this season

He has conceded 0.97 goals per game so far this season but is expected to concede 1.15 goals in a game on average. This shows his exemplar quality as Reading do not have a relatively great defence covering the goalkeeper.

Two other metrics that exemplify his quality are his clean sheets, which stands at 13 for this season, and the save percentage so far this season at 77.7%, which is the highest in the EFL Championship. The high volume of shots against per 90 that we saw previously (4.36) means that he is tasked to face a lot of shots, but concedes less than one a game. However, due to a lacklustre attack this season, Reading have not been able to capitalise on their goalkeeper’s strength by scoring more goals and placing higher in the table.

2. David Raya Martin

David Raya Martin is a relatively younger goalkeeper in this list. The 24-year-old Spaniard has been remarkable in goal so far this season. Through Brentford’s unique recruitment model, he was bought from Blackburn Rovers and has shone in his career at the Bees so far. His underlying stats below show his quality and why he was purchased for €3.35 million:

finding-the-best-goalkeepers-championship-data-analysis-statistics
David Raya Martin this season

He has conceded 0.75 goals per game so far this season but is expected to concede 1.05 goals in a game on average. This shows his impeccable quality as he is younger than a lot of goalkeepers, and it is well-documented that goalkeepers improve over time and peak at around 28 years old. Considering that he is still yet to peak, he is at a frighteningly good level already. 

He has maintained 15 clean sheets so far this season, which is the joint-highest in the Championship so far. He also has a save percentage of 74.8%, which is the second-highest in the league. Unlike Rafael, however, he has a wall of centre-backs in front of him: Ethan Pinnock and Pontus Jannson. This pairing is one of the best in the Championship and has contributed to their great defensive record.

Overall, because of David Raya Martin’s exceptional quality in front of goal, and the solid defence in front of him, Brentford has been great this season, and as of writing, the Bees have kept them one point from the direct promotion spots and have conceded a measly 36 goals so far this season.

Conclusion

While the Championship is not the pinnacle of great football defending like the Serie A, we have used the data available on Wyscout and come up with a shortlist of two good, balanced goalkeepers, one who is an established and decorated shot-stopper while the other is an all-round talent that still has a lot of room to develop.

There are still great goalkeepers outside the shortlist, like Brice Samba from Nottingham Forest and Kiko Casilla of Leeds United. These goalkeepers still have a lot of room to develop but are surely developing and nurturing young goalkeepers for the European elite in the Premier League and La Liga.