David De Gea – The Premier League’s Premier Shot-Stopper

Goalkeepers are under ever more fan and media scrutiny these days. A slip from Joe Hart against Roma overshadowed an otherwise impeccable performance midweek while a segment from Carragher and Neville on Monday Night Football tore into Tim Howard and Simon Mignolet for the derby goals they conceded.

Everton travel to Old Trafford today facing a keeper that has habitually been at the top of my rankings ever since he arrived from Spain.

It’s 10 months since I published funnel plots to show keeper save% from various zones on the pitch. Time to have another look! The zones are determined by grouping areas together that have similar average save %s. This gives me bigger sample sizes (than the 46 smaller zones I normally split shots into) while maintaining data quality. Here they are:

Avg Zones 1 to 4

The 43% save percentage from Zone 1 immediately tells us that luck plays a huge part for goalkeepers here. There’s more chance of calling heads or tails on a coin toss than saving a shot from here. If it’s straight at the keeper he can probably deal with it. Anything hit either side is a huge ask.

Funnel plots are a nice visual tool. The average save% is represented by the thick black line through the middle. The curved dotted line represents one standard deviation from the mean (or the thick black line). The outer solid curve represents two standard deviations from the mean – the point where you can start to say that a keeper is ‘statistically’ significant from his peers. Here’s how zone 1 looks:

Zone 1 Funnel

De Gea doesn’t come out looking too great here, but as I’ve said, saves here are more often about luck than judgement. However, De Gea is the only keeper to be at least a standard deviation from the mean (in a good way) in every other zone:

Zone 2 Funnel

Zone 3 FunnelZone 4 FunnelI’ve previously talked about the keeper’s ‘comfort zone’ a lot here and on twitter. The data continues to tell me that keepers who position themselves more conservatively are more likely to save shots from distance and wide angles.

De Gea does this and some. He rarely ventures out of the comfort zone or wider than his posts. There is none of the low crouching/low hands issue that Neville criticised Mignolet for the other night. The Spaniard maintains an upright compact stance as long as possible. He leaves it up to the striker to make the decision and never makes it for him. Everything he does is about maximising reaction time. Please, please (pretty) please take a look to see what I’m talking about.

Ice hockey analyst, Chris Boyle, has shown similar findings about conservative goaltending in the NHL when studying Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist.

As the season goes on I’ll revisit the topic with other goal keepers Everton face. Follow me on twitter @footballfactman.


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