El Centrocampista

Just how important to a team is the goalkeeper? The statistics tell the story


Goalkeepers are sometimes both the most criticised and the most praised players on a football pitch –  like no other player they can directly affect the outcome of a game with a fantastic save or a calamitous error. But in reality,  just how much of an influence do they actually have in a match?

The answer may surprise you, just a little. Take a look at the present La Liga table and you can see that from the six teams that have yet to make at least 100 saves this season only Rayo are in the bottom half of the table. While, Atlético are ninth and the other four are at the top of table as we speak. On the other hand three of the five teams with more saves are in relegation spots and only Athletic are in the top half.

No one has kept more clean sheets than Victor Valdés but he is also the goalkeeper with the least amount of saves between the regular starters, followed by Iker Casillas and Thibaut Courtois; both also third and second best on the clean sheet department. No one has made more saves than Roberto from Zaragoza but only Juan Pablo with 60 has conceded more goals, the Sporting goalkeeper is currently fourth in the number of saves in La Liga.

While in strikers we have Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi basically doubling everybody else in La Liga in goalscroing, there isn’t a single goalkeeper that stands above the rest. The best percentage of saves by shots on target (between goalkeepers who have conceded at least 100 shots) is hold by Roberto from Granada with a 75,97% – the worst percentage is held by Juan Pablo with 66,85%. This mean that from the best to the worst, the different is no bigger than nine goals.  Casillas, the best goalkeeper in the world, has a percentage of 69,62%, the league average is 70,14%. Overall, goalkeepers will stop seven out of 10 shots on target, without a huge difference between the best and the worst stopper.

Valdés will pick up another Zamora at the end of the season – the award is given, in theory, to the best goalkeeper although in reality,  it rewards the goalkeeper who concedes less goals, by the team conceding less chances. There is no doubt Valdés is a fine goalkeeper, but it is fair to say his last two performances didn’t impress anybody. In fact looking at the stats, his season has been anything but impressive. Valdés hasn’t made a save in 11 of his 34 games and in six of his 17 clean sheets. But before criticizing Víctor, be aware that he is not alone, again Courtois and Casillas are second best in games without making a save with five each.

Goalkeepers haven’t made a save in a game this season on 55 occasions. 18 times they have managed a clean sheet despite the lack of effort, or should I say thanks to it. A closer look at the statistics behind a team’s number of clean sheets and you realise just how little credit a goalkeepers should take for it.

La Liga goalkeepers have made a total of 207 clean sheets this season, 133 of those have come in matches where they have made two or fewer saves, that’s 64,25% of the time. On the other hand, they have made only 19 clean sheets in games with more than six saves and 47 in games where they have made between three and five saves.  However, they have also conceded more than two goals in 36 games where they have made five or more saves and in 65 games they have made six or more saves but have conceded one or more goals. Proving, yet again, that goalkeepers aren´t the main reason why teams don’t conceded goals – instead it is more to do with good defending and limiting the chances of the opponents.

But certainly a good goalkeeper will make a team better and will help them to win more games, right? Well, only four goalkeepers have made more than 10 saves in a game this season, and they all conceded at least one goal in that match with only Roberto in week 11 against Sevilla ‘securing’ his team the three points. While Iraizoz conceded two goals when Athletic suffered defeat against Barça and Diego Alves and Roberto from Zaragoza both suffered during heavy defeats against both Barça and Madrid.

Everybody remembers the massive performances by Vicente Guaita at the Bernabéu and Javi Varas at the Camp Nou but the truth is that both teams only earnt a point and Casto from Betis is the only goalkeeper who has kept a clean sheet when his team  won a game where he made 10 saves, this happened in week 17 against Atlético.

Talking about Casto, he is a good example of the rather little influence a goalkeeper can have on a team performance. Casto managed a 74,76% save percentage before his injury. However, his team picked up 23 points with him as goalie, in 20 games. With Fabricio who has a percentage five points lower, Betis has picked up 19 points in just 13 games.

Rayo Vallecano have won twice the amount of games with Joel, who has the worst percentage of saves in La Liga with 57,58%, than with either Dani or Cobeño, even though both have a percentage higher than 61%, while they have practically played the same amount of games; 13 for Joel and 11 from both Dani and Cobeño. With Joel, Rayo has actually conceded twice a many goals than with either Dani or Cobeño, 28 to 16.

Espanyol have won eight games with Cristian Álvarez compare to the four with Casilla. However, the Spaniard has conceded two less goals, has a better percentage of saves and has made two more saves, even though he has played in four fewer games.

You can make and argument in favour of goalkeepers with Racing, after all they haven’t won a game without Toño but they managed only four wins in 25 games with their skipper, so zero from 11, probably is not that bad and Mario has a more than decent 72,88% of saves, though not comparing to the 74,17% of Toño.

The same can be said in Sevilla. Palop has been brilliant, saving 46 of the 55 shots he has conceded and the Andalucians has won the same amount of wins with him that with Varas, despite playing half the games. However, Varas was one of the best goalkeepers in the first half of the campaign and the numbers may even themselves up once they have played a similar amount of matches. If not, Palop can be the exception to the rule.

So it seems, contrary to general believe; goalkeepers have little influence in the outcome of a game and the statistics suggest there is little significant difference among keepers. Therefore, the next time your club is looking to splash some cash – maybe they would be better investing their money in another area of the pitch.


  1. Omar

    29 April, 2012 at 14:57

    Interesting points, but I think the main conclusion here is that save % is a poor metric for evaluating goalkeepers – not that goalkeepers are not important. More research needed to assess the latter.

  2. Javier J. Hernández

    29 April, 2012 at 15:35

    Thanks Omar,

    Agree more research is needed it and more stats. I don’t believe that saves % is a bad metrics, it proves an interesting similarity between Gk’s in a league and how little effect they can have in the outcome of a game in a same team. For example Rayo, Betis or Espanyol. How is possible that they win more games with a keeper who is worst at saving shots? Or why? Obviously, some part of the answer (a big part IMO) is in the quality of the shots. This I believe is the most important point of all and the reason why goalkeepers are less important, since they have little to none influence in the quality of a shot.

    However, goalkeepers like Casillas make more important (memorable) saves and therefore we tend to remember those saves and believe in a bigger impact of this type of player. I got the feeling they aren’t as important as general believe, since they can’t affect the quality of a shot and compare to defenders and strikers they don’t have either a big impact in the proximity of the shot or the amount of shots conceded. Though, I still believe that they are better goalkeepers than others and they play a big role, just like pitchers in baseball.

    However, my point is that if a team with a small amount of resources is going to build their new franchise I wouldn’t pick a GK as the most important player.

  3. Pingback: Do La Liga's new boys have enough to stay in Spain's top division? | elcentrocampista.com - Spanish Football and La Liga News in English

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