What’s a Goalkeeper Worth to His Team?

While hunting the internet for football myths to dispel, Differentgame remembered a question from @thegingerpiglet in relation to whether a goalkeeper is ‘worth’ more than a forward to his team.

It’s an interesting question. You’ll often find managers and fans lamenting the loss of their main forward, citing it as a reason for being unable to keep possession, score or pick up points. But what of the humble goalkeeper? They rarely command huge transfer fees or wages but it’s interesting to note the two finalists at Euro 2012 were both captained by their respective goalkeepers.

For the first part of the question (we’ll deal with forwards in another post) we decided to take a look at last years EPL and contrast the performances of each team’s No 1 compared to its No 2. Well, most of the teams. Six of the teams had ever-present goalkeepers – Man City, Everton, Spurs, Arsenal, Newcastle and Wigan. Immediately apparent was the fact that five of those six finished in the top 7. Not a bad advert already for having a constant influence between the sticks. However, Ali Al-Habsi’s Wigan did finish 15th…

The first thing we contrasted was how many goals the No1’s conceded per game compared to the No 2’s. Fairly sensible. We then looked at how many points the team won per game with each at the helm. Better. We then multiplied the difference by 38 to see how this might have panned out over the season. Not particularly ideal when considering the small sample size…but…

To be honest, on this point, we actually included No 3’s too in the initial stages and found that of the seven keepers who played just one game or less, none kept a clean sheet, five conceded at least 2 goals, five lost, one drew and only Man Utd’s No 3, Ben Amos was on the winning side.

So we know already that the ever-presents ruled last year, and the odd-jobs who stood in for just one game generally got battered.

Chelsea were somewhat of an anomaly. Their back up keepers Ross Turnbull and Hilario conceded nearly 2 goals a game but still picked up nine points from four games.

So what of the rest? The chart shows the projected points difference of having the club’s No 1 in situ for the full season:

Goalkeeper Stats

First up we see that the projection says Aston Villa would have been slightly better off with Brad Guzan in goal rather than Shay Given. Given Given’s (see what we did there) erratic showing at the Euros this isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Since leaving Newcastle the Irishman hasn’t quite lived up to the hype surrounding his ability. In his six and a half game stretch, Guzan conceded less goals per game than Given. Perhaps rather wisely, Paul Lambert recently decided to re-sign Us No 2 Guzan after the club had released him earlier in the summer after failing to agree new terms on a contract.

Blackburn provide the first “no way” thought as the projection says a full season of Paul Robinson was worth nearly 21 points more than a full season of Mark Bunn. That means Blackburn could have finished with 10 points last season with Bunn in goal. No way! But add Jake Kean’s singularly uninspiring performance to Bunn’s trio of games and they managed a draw and three defeats between them. One point from four games. You do the math. An interesting development occured when we factored red cards into each clubs equation. And that was certainly the case here. Robinson had to deal with Blackburn being shown five red cards in the 34 games he kept goal. Bunn and Kean dealt never had to deal with being down to ten men. Maybe 21 points isn’t so silly after all?

And now to our favourite club in this debate – Bolton Wanderers. 18 games into the EPL season Owen Coyle dropped Jussi Jaaskelainen after just four wins, a draw and thirteen defeats. Adam Bogdan replaced him, and in his first game, his opposite number, Tim Howard, planted a long punt past him to give Everton the lead. However, Bolton came from behind to win 2-1 beginning a trend which saw him win nearly half a point more per game than Jaaskelainen for the rest of the season. But it still wasn’t enough and Bolton got relegated. Turns out that Bolton actually got a man sent off before the hour mark in four of Jasskelainen’s eighteen games. Funnily enough, they got beat in all of them. Maybe throwing the rookie in didn’t make much difference at all – they both conceded goals at the rate of 2 per game.

Fulham gained slightly more points per game in the eight appearances David Stockdale made between the sticks rather than Mark Schwarzer. This was despite conceded more goals per game. Neither had any red cards to deal with as Fulham continued their ‘fair play’ crusade as the nice boys of the EPL. The figures look believable on this one – Schwarzer will be 40 yrs old just after the new season kicks off. Stockdale will be pushing for a regular starting berth after getting first team games under his belt while out on loan to Championship sides over the last couple of seasons and getting those eight games under his belt in the EPL due to Schwarzer’s injury.

No-one will be surprised to read that Liverpool were better off for having Pepe Reina in goal last year. Despite coming in for criticism over the last year for his performances and seemingly looking shaky to the naked eye, only Joe Hart and David De Gea conceded less goals per game than the Spanish No 2.

De Gea also looked shaky at the start of last season but his stats in the end looked rather impressive. They’d maybe look even more impressive if Jonny Evans hadn’t got himself sent off so early in the Manchester derby after which City tore them apart 6-1. Still, Utd’s backup, Anders Lindegaard, acquitted himself brilliantly, keeping six clean sheets in eight appearances and seven wins to boot. An extra 14 points with him in goal rather than De Gea is wildly optimistic but there’s plenty of keepers going back through the EPL (R0y Carroll, Massimo Taibi, Mark Bosnich) who haven’t made the grade suggesting that it’s not that the team is so good they could stick anyone in goal and still do well. Lindegaard has signed on for another four years suggesting the club are happy with him, and judging by the figures, why not?

Anders Lindegaard
Courtesy of nasmac @ flickr.com

Paddy Kenny let in his fare share of goals last season but the team still managed a point per game in the games he played – more than enough to have seen them more comfortable come the last day. Radek Cerny stood in for five games, conceded fewer on average but lost four and drew one. Factor in the fact that 9 (yes nine) players got sent off for QPR when Kenny was in goal and it suddenly becomes feasible that QPR would have been relegated by Easter with Cerny in goal. Mark Hughes has seen fit to bin Kenny in favour of Rob Green who’s previously been relegated with West Ham and endured difficult times with the England national side. It will be interesting to see what happens at QPR in the coming season.

With Stoke involved in the Europa League, Tony Pulis used took the opportunity to use both Asmir Begovic and Thomas Sorensen intermittently in the EPL last season. Pulis had a mild preference for Begovic it seems and the decision seems justified looking at Begovic’s superior points per game tally. On average Begovic kept a clean sheet every four games compared to the five games it took Sorensen. On the basis of at least one extra point every four to five games the 11.4 point advantage of playing Begovic doesn’t look too far off.

Like Man Utd, Sunderland seem to have found a reliable understudy in Kieran Westwood. The consensus around EPL fans is that Simon Mignolet looks like the real deal at the Stadium of Light but the figures from Westwood’s eight game spell show that Irish international Westwood isn’t that far away. Rumours abound that he’s not happy and wants first team football elsewhere. Martin O’Neill might point to the fact Mignolet dealt with four team mates being shown a red card in his 30 games, yet still conceded less per game and gained more points per game.

It was a similar story at Wolves last season. Dorus De Vries got a few opportunities to show what he could do at Molyneux last season. However, both he and Wayne Hennessey endured torrid times with both letting in over two goals per game on average. Despite Hennessey dealing with four red cards to De Vries none, he still posted a better points average. However, De Vries only got his chance once relegation was confirmed and then to top it all off got injured on the last day of the season.

Admittedly, the sample size here is small but the very nature of the job for back-up goalkeepers is volatile. To spend most of the season training and playing what seem like increasingly meaningless and few and far between reserve team fixtures, and then being thrown into the EPL cauldron for the odd game is not ideal.

In the vast majority of cases the clubs’ fortunes dipped alarmingly last season in the EPL when the first choice keeper was unavailable for selection. Even with extended runs in the team, things rarely got better and even if they did other factors such as red cards look like more likely explanations.

It’s difficult to draw comparisons between keeper’s from different clubs, but the difference between a club’s own keepers is often huge. The lack of flexibility in the position puts everyone – clubs and players in a quandry. A ‘good’ keeper doesn’t want to sit on the bench and a club doesn’t want to pay him to do so. Few clubs win. Literally.

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