Goalkeepers 19/20: Winners, losers, and surprises

With the 2020/21 campaign set to get underway in Europe's major leagues, we look back on stoppers from the season before

10:00am on Tuesday 1st September 2020
Aidan Reagh

With the 2020-21 campaigns across Europe soon to begin (with some already returning), it is worth addressing how the goalkeepers across the top five leagues performed last season.

At the end of the day, a goalkeeper’s job is still to prevent a goal from being scored. In this, we will use post-shot xG data and save percentage data for a brief look at some winners, losers, and surprises in the big five leagues.

English Premier League

Winner: Dean Henderson

Dean Henderson was a crucial target for Chris Wilder to return for another season on loan for the Blades’ survival battle. The result was Henderson only being outperformed by Hugo Lloris and Bernd Leno in both PSxG/90 and save percentage. In addition to an individually brilliant season, Henderson saw the number ones for his club and country (David de Gea and Jordan Pickford) have poor campaigns.

Loser: Kepa Arrizabalaga

Kepa struggled in 19/20. The 25-year-old Spanish goalkeeper has not enjoyed life in London and not many will be sad to see him go. Statistically speaking, the only goalkeeper with a worse PSxG/90 and more than 10 90s played was Angus Gunn, but even Angus Gunn had a better save percentage.

Surprise: Alex McCarthy

Southampton looked to be a side that was bloated in lacklustre goalkeepers. Fraser Forster played well enough in Scotland but has been mediocre recently in the Premier League. Angus Gunn is still young, but suffering a 0-9 defeat to Southampton hasn’t helped his stock. Alex McCarthy has always appeared to be an ideal backup for a Premier League club, but nothing more. This season saw McCarthy emerge as the third-best shot-stopper in terms of PSxG/90 (Behind Lloris and Martin Dubravka, tied with Leno) and he could find himself in the discussion for a national team call-up should this form continue.

German Bundesliga

Winner: Peter Gulacsi

While Peter Gulacsi has had the respect of Bundesliga fans for some time now, it seems that football fans from around the world are starting to accept him as a top-level goalkeeper. The journeyman was only outperformed in both PSxG/90 and save percentage by Gladbach’s Yann Sommer and Freiburg’s Mark Flekken.

Loser: The Bundesliga

It may sound harsh deciding the whole league to be the loser, but the Bundesliga usually sets the standard for goalkeeping. This season, in terms of shot-stopping, the Bundesliga was the worst on average out of the big five leagues, with even the best performers still relatively close to average compared to the other leagues.

Surprise: Mark Flekken

Freiburg’s number two rose to the occasion when Alexander Schwolow went down with an injury that kept him out for 10 matches. During those 10 matches, Flekken established himself as the second-best PSxG/90 goalkeeper in the Bundesliga (behind Andres Luthe of Augsburg) and the best overall save percentage goalkeeper in Europe’s big five leagues with a minimum of 10 matches played. Schwolow transferred to Hertha Berlin this summer, meaning Flekken will be Freiburg’s number 1 next season. Could he emerge as a candidate for the Dutch national team if the form continues? Will Freiburg manage to hold onto Flekken with teams such as Schalke in need of a goalkeeper?

La Liga

Winner: Thibaut Courtois

When Courtois joined Real Madrid from Chelsea in 2018-19, he struggled to have immediately strong performances. He was unpopular with fans and the 2019-20 season could have easily been viewed as a ‘make or break’ season for the Belgian. Well… he made it. With a PSxG/90 of +0.09 and a save percentage of 79%, Courtois went on to win the Zamora Trophy for his performances.

Loser: Jan Oblak

Thanks to a strong showing from La Liga goalkeepers this season, there really is no clear loser. However, Jan Oblak (who is argued as the best shot-stopper in the world) saw a very average season. In a down year for Atletico that still saw them finish in third, is it time for Oblak to move on?

Surprise: Yassine Bounou

The Morrocan only played 5.5 90s this season for Sevilla, but during that short time, he enjoyed a PSxG/90 of 0.17 and a stunning save percentage of 90%. Bounou will certainly be looking to be a regular starter next season.

Serie A

Winner: Alessio Cragno

Cragno suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss a fair bit of the season, but he still managed to have a PSxG/90 of 0.24, which was the best in Serie A with a minimum of 10 matches. When it comes to save percentage, only Wojciech Szczesny outperforms. With Cragno playing well for a midtable club, could he be due for a step up?

Loser: Alex Meret

The 22-year-old saw his first season with more than 20 matches played for Napoli, which is certainly a positive, however, we saw some red flags appear with his increase in minutes. In 2017 and 2018, Meret had a PSxG/90 of +0.42 and +0.18. This year, Meret fell to -0.2. While his minutes are steadily increasing, his performance has steadily decreased. He is still a few years from hitting his prime, but Meret will need to turn his performance around in the 2020-21 campaign.

Surprise: Jesse Joronen

Jorenen is entering his prime and showed little issue adapting from life in Denmark to life in Italy. With a save percentage slightly below average thanks to the questionable defending that Brescia offered him, he managed one of the best PSxG/90’s in Serie A with a +0.17, only behind Gabriel and Cragno. Not bad for a goalkeeper on a relegated side.

Ligue 1

Winner: Predrag Rajkovic

The 24-year-old emerged in his second season at Reims as not only one of the best goalkeepers in France, but arguably one of the best shot-stopping goalkeepers in Europe. With a minimum of 10 matches played, Rajkovic had the best save percentage in the big five leagues with 79.8% saved and was only behind Lloris (+0.36) and Walter Benitez (+0.4) in PSxG/90 with +0.33. With his age, profile, and recent performances, Rajkovic is soon to be due for a move to an elite club.

Loser: Stephane Ruffier

With meaningful minutes in Ligue 1 played since 2007, Ruffier has always been a respectable goalkeeper for Saint-Etienne (and Monaco before). However, this season was much different. Ruffier had the second-lowest save percentage in the league at 60.6% and saw his PSxG/90 drop from +0.15 in 2018-19 to -0.26 in 2019-20. Ruffier missed four matches in late September-early October due to a hand fracture, but the injury showed more damage than just a few matches. Let’s hope Ruffier can turn things around with a stronger performance in 2020-21.

Surprise: Jessy Moulin

When one Saint-Etienne veteran struggles, another shines. Since 2010, Moulin had appeared just 14 times for the club, but he stepped up during Ruffier’s injury. Although the sample size is small, Moulin produced numbers that made him the best in Europe, with a save percentage of 90% and a PSxG/90 of +0.7. Should Ruffier continue to struggle, Saint-Etienne do not need to look far for a replacement.

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