Football Features

Robin Olsen: Will Swede spell the end for Jordan Pickford at Everton?

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:30, 14 October 2020

Everton had a wonderful summer transfer window, significantly strengthening their midfield with the likes of James Rodriguez, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure.

But perhaps their most crucial signing could be bringing goalkeeper Robin Olsen in on a season-long loan from Roma.

For a few years now there have been doubts surrounding the quality of Jordan Pickford in both Everton and England’s goal, but he has remained number one for club and country.

Although it now appears Everton and Carlo Ancelotti have had enough, signing the experienced Olsen after also being linked with Sergio Romero and Paulo Gazzaniga throughout January.

While many believe this is a sign of Pickford’s immediate Everton future is up and the Swede’s arrival represents more than a warning shot, former England shot-stopper Rob Green believes his compatriot has no reason to be worried.

“For me, he’s not being brought in with the thinking he is going to be Pickford’s replacement,” he told the BBC. “Instead, he is a solution for another part of the goalkeeping equation at Everton.

“I am sure he had a conversation about that with Toffees manager Carlo Ancelotti, but his situation at Roma did not exactly put him in a strong position. Even if he is on the bench at Goodison Park, it is better than being stuck at Roma until January, training on his own.

“It’s a good move for all parties – including Pickford. It is not as if Everton have gone out and signed a new number one, and having a fresh face come in could actually help him.”

So, should Pickford be worrying?

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An improvement on Pickford?

Before we break down the stats, there’s no denying that Olsen had a frustrating campaign in 2019/20, spending most of it on loan at Cagliari. And even then he wasn’t guaranteed game time.

The Swede played just 17 Serie A games for Cagliari, sitting on the bench on six occasions. But when he was on the pitch, Olsen wasn’t overly bad, something that cannot truly be said about Pickford last season.

Robin Olsen’s Football Index value over the past 12 months

Given the differences in quality between the two sides, it’s no surprise to see that Olsen was the busier of the goalkeepers last season, facing on average 15.88 shots per 90 minutes in Serie A compared to Pickford’s 11.31. As a result, it’s also understandable for Olsen to have a better save average, making 4.01 per 90 compared to Pickford’s 2.47.

But it’s the nature of the saves, and how Olsen dealt with those shots, where the Swede really shines.

One of Pickford’s biggest weaknesses over the past few years has been his dealing with shots from outside the area. Since the start of the 2016/17 Premier League season, no goalkeeper has conceded more goals from outside the box than Pickord’s 32. That’s six more than any other goalkeeper and in 2019/20 alone he conceded eight – only Kepa Arrizabalaga, Aaron Ramsdale (both 10) and Nick Pope (nine) conceded more. And that’s not because he was facing an overload of shots. Per 90 minutes, Pickford faced 3.89 shots from outside the box in the Premier League last season, conceding 0.21 and saving 0.84.

In comparison, last season Olsen conceded just one goal from outside the area, an average of 0.06 per 90 minutes from 5.61 shots, saving 1.3, proving tough to beat from range. His ability from inside the area wasn’t as great, conceding 1.36 goals per 90 from 10.27 shots but on average it still worked out better than Pickford’s 1.26 conceded from 7.42.

The numbers both in and out of the box are slightly warped, however, by the accuracy. Not all of the shots faced were on target, meaning neither Pickford nor Olsen were tested by 100% of them. But of the shots they did actually have to deal with, once again Olsen comes up trumps.

Save percentage is often used to rate the success of goalkeepers, and Olsen stopped a higher percentage of shots he faced than Pickford did last season (at 73.63% to 62.67%). He also prevented more goals, or at least was better in his attempts.

In Serie A last season, Olsen conceded 24 goals in total but the quality of shots on target he faced was enough to conceded 23.91 goals – using the expected goals on target metric. Although he conceded slightly more than he was expected, 0.09 to be exact, it’s still a respectable difference for Olsen.

But for Pickford the numbers aren’t great. The Englishman conceded 56 goals in the Premier League last season, but was only expected to let in 50.35 based on xGOT. That means Pickford conceded 5.65 more goals than he was expected to based on the quality of shots he faced. He also made four errors leading to goals, with only Martin Dubravka (five) making more in the Premier League.

Olsen’s disappointing distribution

One attribute where Pickford does still come out on top, however, is his distribution. Yes, you’d probably want your goalkeeper to be better at saving goals than creating them, but it is a growing requirement of the modern game.

In the Premier League last season, Pickford averaged 7.45 pass attempts into the final third per 90 minutes, often looking to get Everton on a quick counter with his distribution. And we’re not talking about just the opposition half (that’s 16.63 attempted passes per 90 for Pickford), we’re talking about the attacking areas of the pitch.

By comparison, Olsen attempted 12.57 passes into the opposition half for Cagliari last season, 3.84 of which were into the final third. Once again the styles of Everton and Cagliari will come into play here, with the latter happy to keep the ball in their own half rather than going long. But in Pickford, Everton have a goalkeeper they know can contribute to their slightly faster style of play.

Not every pass is accurate, but the risk is often worth the reward, particularly when the worst often results in an opposition throw inside their own half. Everton also have the aerial prowess, and form, of Dominic Calvert-Lewin to receive the long passes, distributing the ball to the likes of Richarlison, Rodriguez and Allan.

Only Ancelotti will know his plans for Olsen and Pickford this season, but right now things don’t look too bright for the English goalkeeper. The hope will be that Pickford thrives due to increased competition and anything less may see faith in him finally fizzle out.