Some goalkeeping performances in the Champions League have been not only season-defining but legendary.
Thibaut Courtois’ none-shall-pass exploits between the sticks kept a lid on Liverpool’s attack back in May’s Parisian final, while Dida saved three penalties at Old Trafford nearly two decades prior. Olivier Kahn, of course, produced something similar in 2001, and Petr Cech was the man of the moment in 2012.
Of course, it is not always in Champions League finals where goalkeepers really come to the fore and outshine their attacking counterparts. In the 2010/11 semi-finals, Sir Alex Ferguson commented on Manuel Neuer’s performance for Schalke: “In my time at United, it’s the finest display of goalkeeping against us.”
And already this campaign, we have seen a masterclass from one particular ‘keeper. Granted, it’s not quite on the scale of the above, but Simon Mignolet — yes, him — has been simply sensational, keeping a competition-best five clean sheets so far, while also registering the highest save percentage of any goalkeeper.
Adding to the impressiveness of his feat, he has also made the most saves (32), muzzling Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Porto. It’s not so much a case of Club Brugge being defensively watertight, but rather, Mignolet being nigh-on impossible to penetrate. So, where does he rank among ‘keepers still in the competition?
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) January 26, 2023
10. Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge)
It would be remiss of us if we didn’t include Mignolet in the top 10, simply because he has been out of the world this season. The former Liverpool gloveman has been a bulwark for Brugge and has prevented a whopping 6.5 goals from being conceded in his seven games so far. The veteran shot-stopper is also only the eighth goalkeeper in Champions League history to keep five clean sheets in a single group-stage campaign, while Brugge have recorded three consecutive away clean sheets for the first time in the competition. A worthy winner of Golden Boot for 2022.
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9. Andre Onana (Inter)
Second to Mignolet for most goals prevented in the groups was Inter’s Andre Onana (3.9), who also registered an impressive 79.41% save percentage, the second-highest among ‘keepers who played all six games. He also made the third-most saves (27). His dextrous exploits, command of the area and flexibility have ensured Inter can make a smooth transition post-Samir Handanovic, whose contract expires in the summer.
8. Yann Sommer
Before his season-ending injury, Manuel Neuer would have been the Bayern Munich representative and much higher up this list. But we couldn’t really count the German as he won’t play again in the Champions League. His replacement didn’t fare too badly on his Champions League debut for Bayern though.
Yann Sommer has played in the Champions League before, for both Basel and Borussia Monchengladbach but he has struggled in the past with just six clean sheets in 34 appearances. However, he wasn’t helped too much by his defensive teammates at those clubs. Sommer was certainly the man for the big occasion against PSG in the last 16 first leg, making four saves and keeping a clean sheet to help Bayern take control of the tie in their 1-0 win.
7. Mike Maignan (Milan)
When Gianluigi Donnarumma left for Paris in 2021, a gaping void was created between the San Siro sticks. Stefano Pioli ultimately plugged the hole with Mike Maignan, and his acquisition has proven inspired so far.
When he joined Milan from Lille, the 27-year-old had just kept the most cleans sheets in the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season as Les Dogues won their first league title since 2011. A year later, he kept the most cleans sheets in the 2021/22 Serie A season as Milan won their first league title since 2011. Perfect symmetry.
Unfortunately for the Rossoneri, he has been out for much of this season with a calf injury, which may explain their porous form in Serie A recently.
6. Edouard Mendy
In his debut Champions League campaign in 2020/21, Edouard Mendy equalled the competition record for the most clean sheets kept in a single season (nine). Chelsea, of course, famously went on to lift ‘Big Ears’ that season as well, recording a shutout against Man City in the final. He hasn’t quite been able to replicate those towering heights under Graham Potter, with Kepa Arrizabalaga taking his place in this season’s groups and Mendy currently out injured, but the Senegal international remains an elite-level artisan when on song (and called upon).
5. Hugo Lloris
Sure, Hugo Lloris may have the occasional mistake in him, but the World Cup winner has been a part of the Premier League furniture for over a decade now, while he was also inspirational as Tottenham unexpectedly reached the Champions League final in 2019. Captain of the north London club, the seasoned goalkeeper prevented the fifth-most goals in the groups this season (2.9) and will be a huge miss for Antonio Conte’s side after sustaining a recent knee injury.
4. Gianluigi Donnarumma
It’s hard to think that Italy’s half-centurion Gianluigi Donnarumma is still only 23, such was his stratospheric rise to prominence as a precocious stopper in Lombardy. Now in Paris, the Euro 2020 hero will be hoping to whet the French giants’ bottomless appetite for European glory. Indeed, nothing is cut and dried with Donnarumma in goal when a striker is bearing down on his net. There are also few better in shootouts than the 6ft 5in Neapolitan, which could come in handy. Fun fact: there have been seven finals decided on penalties.
It was the great Stanley Menzo — a pioneer of the ball-playing goalkeeper at Ajax under Johan Cruyff — who once mused: “I think he [Cruyff] wanted the goalkeeper to be an outfield player who could take the ball in his hands in the box.” Of course, Cruyff would go on to mentor Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, and you can certainly see the parallels in their interpretation of the game. Ederson typifies this approach as one of the best and most fluid distributors between the sticks. He’s pretty good at keeping the ball out of the net as well.
Spry and light on his feet, imposing and domineering on his line, Alisson is arguably Liverpool’s most important player, which is perhaps the biggest compliment you can give someone in a team containing Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk. Things haven’t exactly gone swimmingly for Liverpool this season, but it could have been a lot worse without Alisson — he has prevented the second-most goals in the Premier League this term (7.2). Now that is a frightening thought for Kopites.
1. Thibaut Courtois
Thibaut Courtois keeps his angles tighter than a miser’s purse, something Liverpool found out to their detriment in last season’s final. Incredibly, the Belgian made 59 saves during the 2021/22 Champions League campaign, the most ever recorded in a single season; while he also became only the third ‘keeper to be named ‘Man of the Match’ in a final, after Oliver Kahn in 2001 and Edwin van der Sar in 2008.