Football Features

Ranked: Every Premier League club’s back-up ‘keeper

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 16:32, 25 August 2021 | Updated: 18:22, 10 September 2021

Everyone knows how important goalkeepers are to their team, but what about their back-ups?

The back-up goalkeeper has to simultaneously be an understudy and a challenger, simply because you never want your starter to get too complacent. But, at the same time, they are your starter, so the back-up can’t be expecting to play all the time. And hell, sometimes you even sign a back-up with an eye on making them the starter somewhere down to line. The role is multifaceted.

So with that, we’ve had a look at all 20 back-up goalkeepers in the Premier League and ranked them from worst to best.

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20. Harry Lewis

Age: 23
Club: Southampton

Harry Lewis joined Southampton at the age of 18 and save for a season long loan spell in Scotland with Dundee, he hasn’t played a single second of first-team football since. He played once for England U18s, which is slightly amusing as he came on to replace one of the other goalies on this list.

19. Angus Gunn

Age: 25
Club: Norwich

The colossal Angus Gunn never really made the grade at Manchester City, nor Southampton either. But he was quality for Norwich when on loan there in 2017/18 and Daniel Farke is likely trying to recreate that magic by bringing Gunn into the fold this summer.

18. Kristoffer Klaesson

Age: 20
Club: Leeds

Klaesson is only 20 but has been playing first-team football for Valerenga for the last two years. Now at Leeds he’ll be developed as a challenger for Ilan Meslier, and given he’s been capped at every Norwegian youth level up to U21, he just might do that.

17. Kjell Scherpen

Age: 21
Club: Brighton

Given Brighton’s insistence on playing out from the back, they went and got them a goalkeeper to do just that in the colossal Kjell Scherpen. The 21 year-old Dutchman is 6’8, making him the joint-tallest ever player in English football with Costel Pantilimon and Lacina Traore. But most importantly he was coached at Ajax, so he will be well-versed in how to play football ‘the Brighton way’.

16. Jed Steer

Age: 28
Club: Aston Villa

Jed Steer is from Norwich but only ever played twice for them, instead making his name through various loans around the lower leagues. He helped Aston Villa get promoted back to the Premier League in 2019 and has been warming their bench ever since.

15. Jack Butland

Age: 28
Club: Crystal Palace

The most interesting question over the last decade of goalkeeping is: what if Jack Butland could have stayed fit earlier in his career? A young man who looked destined for superstardom saw injuries curtail ambitions of solidifying his status as England’s No. 1. He managed a decent three-year spell for Stoke in the end and got himself nine caps for the Three Lions, but it should have been so much more.

14. Patrik Gunnarsson

Age: 20
Club: Brentford

Gunnarsson has been at Brentford since 2018 and played once for the first team in the Championship. He spent last season out on loan at two different Danish clubs, one of whom (Viborg) he helped to win the Danish first division. They probably imagine him as the future.

13. Danny Ward

Age: 28
Club: Leicester

The experienced Welshman is barely a feature at Leicester, with Kasper Schmeichel playing in even the cup runs. However that makes Ward’s affable demeanour and professionalism all the more important; but he is still a fine stopper as we saw at Euro 2020 where he continued to be Wales’ starting goalkeeper even though Wayne Hennessey was fit again.

12. John Ruddy

Age: 34
Club: Wolves

At 34 years-old, John Ruddy is a pure veteran. He was an Everton player for five years and went on nine loans in that time. He then became a Norwich legend and even got capped for England in 2012. He’s barely featured since he helped get Wolves promoted back into the Premier League by winning the Championship in 2017/18, but he’s earned his time to rest up.

11. Wayne Hennessey

Age: 34
Club: Burnley

Hennessey joining Burnley as a back-up is the final confirmation that the Welshman’s days of dominance are behind him. For years Hennessey was a stud for Wolves, and then for Crystal Palace, Wales too. Now he’s Jose Sa’s back-up at a Nuno-less Wolves, and behind Ward for Wales.

10. Ben Foster

Age: 38
Club: Watford

Ben Foster has been so relentlessly good for so long that people don’t even remember that he was a Manchester United flop. The England’s spells at Watford, West Brom and then Watford again are burned into the public consciousness. At 38 years-old he may have finally lost his starting spot to Daniel Bachmann, but don’t rule him out just yet!

9. Zack Steffen

Age: 26
Club: Manchester City

Zack Steffen is a talented goalkeeper who was chosen to be Pep Guardiola’s back-up, and he reaps the benefits of that placement, even when it’s obvious that he isn’t anywhere near the standard of Ederson. It’s not that Steffen is bad, it’s just that he’s 26 and is still liable to make a big mistake every time he’s on the field.

8. Asmir Begovic

Age: 34
Club: Everton

Begovic was once an imposing and dominant goalkeeper for both Stoke and Bournemouth, but now he’s an established veteran playing the role of back-up, much as he did for Chelsea in a two-year spell that saw him pick up a Premier League winner’s medal.

7. Caoimhin Kelleher

Age: 22
Club: Liverpool

While Adrian was such a hysterically awful understudy for Alisson, the same could not be said of the Irish Kelleher. Having joined Liverpool at 17 he’s worked his way through the ranks and his assured displays last season, including two in the Champions League, were enough to convince the Reds to give him a new contract and a new spot as their No. 2.

6. Aaron Ramsdale

Age: 23
Club: Arsenal

Arsenal just signed Aaron Ramsdale to be their back-up to Bernd Leno, deeming him an important enough purchase to spend a hefty £30m on. In a window when money is tight for everyone except clubs owned by countries or oligarchs, that shows a lot of faith on the part of the Gunners that Ramsdale will occupy an important enough position in their squad to be worth pursuing.

The young Ramsdale has been relegated twice in the last two seasons but both fanbases he’s played for have had nothing but good things to say about him, and AFC Wimbledon fans will sing rhapsodies to the young man who spent 2018/19 on loan there. Will he remain a back-up or do Arsenal have greater things in mind? Time will tell, but the £30m transfer fee is a bit of a clue.

5. Freddie Woodman

Age: 24
Club: Newcastle

Every club longs to develop their own home-grown goalkeeper. Like any striker, a goalie is a singularly unique position where having “one of your own” feels extra special. Newcastle have been holding onto Freddie Woodman since he was 16, loaning him all over the place (his last loan to Swansea saw him with the Golden Glove award in the Championship) waiting for him to come good.

Injuries and illness have thrust Woodman into a starting role right now and he’s acquitting himself well. In fact this list may need amending with either Martin Dubravka or Karl Darlow adding here instead of young Woodman. As things stand, though, he’s top five.

4. Alphonse Areola

Age: 28
Club: West Ham

Alphonse Areola has kept goal for PSG, Villarreal and Real Madrid. He’s looked destined to take the leap and become a starter for both club and country for a while now but he can never seem to make that final leap. So he’s been a perpetual back-up, now for West Ham, but he is a fabulous goalkeeper who could steal the starting spot from Lukasz Fabianski.

3. Pierluigi Gollini

Age: 26
Club: Spurs

Spurs are finally acknowledging Hugo Lloris’ decline by going out and grabbing Pierluigi Gollini from Atalanta. The stopper was a big part of the Bergamo-based club’s incredible fairytale rise to Champions League regulars and has the bonafides to, in time, take over from the storied Spurs skipper. We’re not there right now, for sure, but the kid has just arrived.

2. Kepa Arrizabalaga

Age: 26
Club: Chelsea

The world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Kepa got a raw deal from the Blues. For starters he was never really worth that large of a fee (the perils of dealing with Athletic Club) and then he was a bad fit with Maurizio Sarri. Once he started making mistakes the English media went after him like a bloodhound and the misery began to compound itself.

He looked in free-fall but the arrivals of Edouard Mendy as the starter and Thomas Tuchel as the coach appear to have breathed new life into Kepa. He now seems happier and more content as the back-up, able to adapt and grow away from the limelight but still be involved like when he came off the bench for the UEFA Super Cup penalty shootout and helped the Blues to win.

Could he one day be the starter for Chelsea again? Maybe not, but now a move to another club wouldn’t look so bad.

1. David de Gea/Dean Henderson

Age: 30/24
Club: Manchester United

This is technically unfair as Manchester United haven’t decided on who their starter is. David de Gea began last season in the role, but some poor form led to Dean Henderson assuming command. De Gea still had the cups but United missed Henderson’s authority and energy in the Europa League final shootout, and rumour was that would be the end of the Spaniard at United.

But De Gea is still there. And Henderson’s illness in pre-season has given the Spaniard a chance to be the starter again, meaning the young Henderson, who has been at United since he was 14 years old, is the back-up for now. However once Henderson returns to fitness he might reclaim his spot, through reputation alone or good form as well.

Moreover, it can’t be discounted that De Gea, who was voted United’s ‘Player of the Year’ four times in five years, won’t just rediscover his best form and thus hold on to that No. 1 spot. The talent is certainly within him. This is a guy who has been in five PFA Team of the Years, one FIFPro World XI and won the Premier League Golden Glove in 2017/18.

Whichever goalkeeper ends up being the back-up, they’re the best back-up in the league and second in all of Europe, apart from PSG, where Keylor Navas is about to be demoted. It’s a situation that can’t last (both men are obvious starter quality) but for now, it is what it is.