The 2020/21 Premier League season is heading into its final sprint, so now feels like a good time to go back and take a look at some of the best goalkeepers the current campaign has had to offer.
The position of goalkeeper has changed rapidly over recent years and while they’re still the last bulwark between opposition strikers and their own net, those between the posts are now relied upon more than ever to be the first point of attack, too.
Of course, not every team has embraced this approach, so to compare goalkeepers working within different contexts (team’s playing style and possession, quality of defensive teammates, coaching instructions etc.) makes little sense.
Instead, what follows is an overview of which goalkeepers have excelled in different skills: shot-stopping (who has saved the highest percentage of shots while considering the quality of those attempts), busiest (who has made the most saves outright), sweeper ‘keepers (those coming out to claim the ball behind a high defensive line) and ball-players (those playing and completing high numbers of passes, and that are comfortable in possession).
We listed the top three in each category from the 2020/21 Premier League season so far, also limiting to goalkeepers with 1,500 or more minutes, to help give you a better idea of who have been the best No.1s in England.
So, shall we get started?
3. Illan Meslier
- Age: 21
- Team: Leeds United
No Premier League goalkeeper has made more saves than Illan Meslier (115) this season and considering only Sam Johnstone (407) has faced more than his 406 shots, it’s a credit to him that he’s managed to maintain a 71.07% save rate, especially considering a league-high 72 of those shots have come from inside the box. Now, Meslier has made five errors leading to shots but at 21, he’s still very much learning his trade. And nevertheless, the Frenchman has played a key role in Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United seamlessly transitioning into life in the top-flight.
2. Nick Pope
- Age: 28
- Club: Burnley
Burnley are known much more for their substance rather than style, so it’s no surprise to see Nick Pope come up in the stop-stoppers category, rather than the ‘sweeper ‘keepers’. Given Jordan Pickford’s erratic form, there’s an argument to be made that Pope will be England’s No.1 at this summer’s Euros, and with a save percentage of 75.94% — the second-highest among ‘keepers with more than 500 minutes — and 398 saves made this season, who would question that?
1. Emiliano Martinez
- Age: 28
- Club: Aston Villa
Emiliano Martinez was always desperately unlucky not to get more chances at Arsenal but after a solid end to the 2019/20 season, he moved to Aston Villa and has flourished between the sticks this campaign. The former Argentina youth international has faced the sixth-highest number of shots in the Premier League this season (372) yet has an extremely impressive save percentage of 76.56%, the highest of any goalkeeper to play more than 500 minutes. Outperforming his Expected Goals on Target Conceded of (XGTC) 35.55 by 5.55, allowing just 30 goals, Martinez has kept a massive 14 clean sheets this season; only Ederson has more (16). He’s certainly pulled Aston Villa out of a few holes this year, allowing Dean Smith’s men to compete in the top half of the Premier League.
3. Vicente Guaita
- Age: 34
- Club: Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace have conceded the fifth-highest number of goals (47) in the Premier League so far this season, so it’s little surprise to see Vicente Guaita facing the third-highest number of shots (404) among English top-flight goalkeepers. XGTC says Guaita should have allowed 38.31 goals this season but his actual total sits at 47, suggesting a few soft goals have got past him this season. Then again, it’s hard to criticise him too heavily considering how much he’s been worked.
2. Illan Meslier
As mentioned, Meslier has faced the second-highest number of shots and the most shots from inside the box in the Premier League this season, making his high save rate and nine clean sheets all the more impressive.
1. Sam Johnstone
- Age: 27
- Club: West Brom
West Brom have leaked a monumental 57 Premier League goals so far in 2020/21, more than any other team. It’s little wonder, then, that Sam Johnstone has faced a league-high 407 shots. Like Meslier, he’s made 115 changes at a rate of 67.07% and has conceded 55 goals. That said, stemming the flow behind the Premier League’s leakiest defence has been enough to earn him a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England team.
3. David de Gea
Club: Manchester United
Though he isn’t quite as reliable as he once was, David de Gea remains one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League on his day, and one of the most proactive. The Spaniard has averaged 0.43 ‘keeper sweeper regains* per 90 minutes so far this season, ranking him third among Premier League goalkeeper. De Gea has been successful with all 10 of his ‘keeper sweeper regains so far, mopping up admirably behind Harry Maguire and Co.
* According to Opta, a ‘keeper sweeper is defined if the ‘keeper rushes out to at least the edge of his area and reacts quickly and reads the play. There must be at least some pressure from the opposition forward racing to the ball.
- Age: 28
- Club: Liverpool
One of the main reasons Jurgen Klopp moved heaven and earth to sign Alisson Becker was to have a proactive and reliable goalkeeper who would allow him to push his defensive line further forward, thus increasing dominance in the opposition half and allowing an even more effective high-press. Alisson has attempted the second-highest number of ‘keeper sweeper regains (20) among Premier League goalies this season, at a success rate of 95%. Mistakes have crept into his game this season, but that has coincided with a monumental loss of form from an injury-crippled Liverpool. There’s no doubting Alisson remains among the best goalkeepers in the world.
1. Nick Pope
Just as he’s been one of the best shot-stoppers in England this season, Pope has also been incredibly effective when coming off his line. The 28-year-old has attempted a league-high 26 ‘keeper sweeper regains this season at a success rate of 96.15%, completing 0.89 per 90 minutes. There’s a lot to admire about Sean Dyche’s defensive organisation, but there’s no denying he leans heavily upon his goalkeeper to make Burnley hard to beat.
Another reason Liverpool replaced the likes of Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet with Alisson was to allow Klopp’s side to play out from the back, helping them match Manchester City in becoming a possession-dominant side. The Brazilian is a master in this department, completing the fifth-highest number of passes (597) among Premier League ‘keepers, while he has the highest pass accuracy of the lot at 84.56%.
2. Edouard Mendy
- Age: 29
- Club: Chelsea
Kepa Arrizabalaga was supposed to be Chelsea’s answer to the new ball-playing goalkeeper craze but following his very expensive failure, the club turned to the more budget-friendly option of Edouard Mendy. The Senegal international has certainly fit the bill so far, having completed the fourth-highest number of passes (615) among Premier League ‘keepers while maintaining the second-best accuracy (83.67%). Aside from his ball-playing, Mendy is second only to Ederson (16) in terms of clean sheets (14), ensuring the collective blood pressure of the Chelsea fanbase has slowly come down as 2020/21 has gone on.
- Age: 27
- Club: Manchester City
Given just how immense Alisson’s all-round game is, you can see why the Liverpool man keeps Ederson out of the Brazil starting XI more often than not. But when it comes to ball-playing, Ederson is not just unmatched in the Premier League, but arguably in the world.
“With his feet, he is the best,” his manager, former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola, said in February. “The quality of the pass, I would say, is the best.
“Manuel [Neuer] and Victor [Valdés] were incredible, too, but [Ederson’s] quality of the pass is the best.”
The 27-year-old ranks third in the English top flight for both passes completed (636) and pass accuracy (81.54%) this season, knocking the ball around with his centre-backs as if he were a deep-lying playmaker. Even more remarkable is that Ederson provided an assist during a 3-0 win over Tottenham earlier this season, his second in the competition since he joined City back in 2017 and drawing him just two behind the competition record for a goalkeeper.
It’s also worth noting that Meslier has had more touches (1,269) and completed more passes (684) than any other Premier League goalkeeper, and is fourth, only behind the three stoppers mentioned here in terms of accuracy (80.47%), so he could easily be pushed into the top three for this category. Arsenal’s Bernd Leno also deserves an honourable mention.