A Safe Pair of Hands: Premier League Goalkeepers are the focus in Now and Then

By Rebecca Coles. Despite inconsistency being rife throughout the Premier League this season, one thing we can be certain of  is we are not short of top-class keepers. Today statistics play a bigger part than ever when it comes to picking the best stopper in the top flight - so much so that I change my mind on a weekly basis.

You can be a hero one week and the next, as Joe Hart found to his cost, you can be dropped to the bench.

Of course, the likes of Petr Cech, Asmir Begovic, Wojciech Szczesny and David de Gea have enhanced their reputations as first-class stoppers, but are we starting to rely more on stats than ever before?

David De Gea has won over Manchester United fans after a tricky start to life in the Premier League

David De Gea has won over Manchester United fans after a tricky start to life in the Premier League

In reality, the Goalkeeper of the Season normally plays for one of the ‘bigger’ teams behind a mean defence, resulting in better facts and figures than someone who spent the campaign battling relegation. 

There are very few keepers capable of making the really vital saves and Cech is definitely one of them. Chelsea’s No1 currently holds the most clean sheets this season, with 15 from 33 games, and is second only to David James who boasts 159 clean sheets in total.

Yet statistics do not make a good goalkeeper, they only highlight what he is good at. Naturally, what happens one week, won’t happen the next. That is why we expect the teams at the bottom of the table to have more shots against them, resulting in the higher proportion of saves.

David James holds the record for most Premier League clean sheets - yet is he the greatest goalkeeper in the Premier League era?

David James holds the record for most Premier League clean sheets – yet is he the greatest goalkeeper in the Premier League era?

Cardiff keeper David Marshall has had an impressive string of performances and was the first keeper to make a 100 saves this season. Sunderland counterpart Vito Mannone has the top ratio of saves this season with 77 per cent.

 But at this moment in time it means nothing to either of their clubs with relegation to the Championship looming. In short, great statistics only ever tell part of the story.

Despite that, there is no doubt that over the years we have come to depend on them more and more, even though it completely discredits the wisdom on the hierarchy of Premier League goalkeepers.

As you would expect, Peter Schmeichel is still so much more than a statician’s dream. He registered 310 top-flight games, 128 clean sheets, five Premier League titles, three FA Cups, a Champions League success and was part of Manchester United’s famous Treble-winning side in 1999.

Peter Schmeichel holds the record for the greatest clean sheets-to-games ratio in the Premier League with 42% of the games he played in the league ending without his team conceding

Peter Schmeichel holds the record for the greatest clean sheets-to-games ratio in the Premier League

Not only that, Schmeichel set records for becoming the first goalie to score in the Premier League and was also voted the world’s best in his position for two seasons in a row. Naturally, when we discuss the best goalkeeper of the Premier League era, the Dane is always the name on everyone’s mind – but his stats are never  really brought into it.

He might have made unbelievable saves and had a great percentage of winning games, but overall it was his presence on the pitch that counted. Schmeichel could organise a defence and had the ability to deal with a game. Long story short, he changed the face of goalkeeping and massively raised the bar in terms standards. And that’s something you can’t illustrate in numbers.

At the end of the day it is a keeper’s job is to prevent the ball hitting the net. Statistics of clean sheets, most saves and goals conceded do not make the best Premier League keeper. It’s the consistency and impact he makes upon the game, just like United legend Schmeichel.

Who do you believe is the greatest goalkeeper in the Premier League era? 

Read the rest of the Now and Then series by Rebecca Coles here!

Follow @Rebecca_L_Coles

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