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The debate as to who is the best Premier League goalkeeper has become more hotly contested this season as some number ones have come to the fore while the form of others has dropped.
In this piece, WhoScored.com will examine the vital statistics of those mad enough to play between the posts, looking closely at a battle for the England jersey that may not be as one-sided as most had believed.
A quick glance at the WhoScored ratings shows that the top keeper in the league this season is David De Gea, with an average rating of 6.99 based on various aspects of his performances, and on closer inspection of his stats it isn't hard to see why. It is easy to say that the Spaniard will concede fewer goals (at 31, the third-fewest in the division) because of the quality in front of him but league leaders Manchester United have actually conceded more shots per game (13.1) than each of the rest of the top seven, and even Southampton.
Many have pin-pointed the first leg against Real Madrid as the night that De Gea really came of age in a United shirt but in truth he had already been enjoying an impressive campaign up to that point. In his 20 league starts, the 22-year-old has faced 90 shots on target and made 70 saves. His overall save success rate is 77.8% - the best of any first-choice keeper in the league - with Swansea's reserve stopper Gerhard Tremmel saving just over 80% of the shots he has faced in 12 appearances.
Ranking second for the same statistic is Chelsea's Petr Cech, who has been called into action more often than he has become used to in recent seasons. Only five keepers have faced more shots on target than the Blues' number one (115) and of those only Mark Schwarzer plays for a side currently in the top half of the table. Cech has made the fifth highest number of saves (89), giving him a success rate of 77.4%.
It is perhaps the third and fourth-placed keepers who catch the eye, with Ben Foster, fresh out of international retirement, next in the rankings. The West Brom keeper has made 82 saves in 22 appearances this season, facing 111 shots on target in total. His save success rate of 73.9% is considerably better than that of the current England number one, Joe Hart.
John Ruddy's season was cruelly cut short by injury towards the end of 2012 with the keeper having started the campaign in fine form. In 13 starts he produced 50 saves from the 68 shots on target he faced. A subsequent save success rate of 73.5% is marginally worse than Foster's, but while we split hairs between the two, Hart lies way off the pace.
The last line of defence for the champions has understandably faced fewer shots on target than any other first choice keeper in the league (72) - only four more than Ruddy, who has made 15 fewer appearances. Hart has conceded fewer goals per game (0.86) than any other keeper and kept the most clean sheets (13), but those stats somewhat mask his modest figures elsewhere.
For example, the fact that he has saved four fewer shots than the Norwich keeper despite playing all of City's games this season is remarkable. His 63.9% save success rate is only better than five of the regular number ones in the league and had he matched Manchester rival De Gea's ratio over the course of the campaign he could have stopped ten of the shots that have flown past him.
Known for his agility and shot-stopping, Hart has only made 24 diving saves this season, and while it's obvious that he will be forced into heroics less often, the fact that his figure is still two down on Ruddy (26), having made more than twice as many appearances is still alarming. Foster, who also missed a chunk of the season (seven games) through injury, has made 40.
The Baggies stopper matches that tally in terms of successful claims from high balls into the box, while Hart is again way down on 20 and Ruddy made 14 prior to his injury. One stat where the City stopper does lead marginally is penalty save success, with all three making one spot kick save this season, with Hart having only faced two - one less than Ruddy, two fewer than Foster.
The final key area comes in the form of a keeper's proneness to errors, and Hart has certainly looked more susceptible this season. He has made four errors which have led to league goals, accounting for almost 17% of Mancini's side's overall goals against tally, and only Ali Al-Habsi (seven) has made more crucial mistakes this season. In comparison, Foster has made two errors leading to goals, accounting for just over seven per cent of the 28 goals he has conceded, while Ruddy has made just one (5.3% of his overall goals against tally of 19).
It is obvious that most had Hart down as a shoo-in for the England number one jersey for years to come but Foster's decision to come out of retirement has come at a time when the 25-year-old has looked less convincing. It seems the West Brom keeper must have had some encouragement to change his mind from Roy Hodgson, and with the likes of Ruddy, Fraser Forster and Jack Butland all on stand-by, Hart could be left scratching his head as to how to reassert his dominance in nets, rather than advertising shampoo.
Martin Laurence - all stats courtesy of WhoScored.com
There are far more pertinant stats that can be used to define if a goal keeper is weak or strong.. diving saves as mentioned below is far too ambiguous.. perhaps you have to dive so often because you lack positional authority.. saves in general is too vague also because again it doesn't classify the type of shot taken.. I would like to see the stats on the following criteria... Falled/succesful punch clearences from incoming crosses... dropped catches even if quickly regathered from crosses (just to see who has the best hands).. Shots parred back into open play as oppossed to around the post (de gea would be suspect here as would Hart), misplaced kicks that have led to direct chances against.. throwing distribution succes rate.. saves registered from balls struck at close range (perhaps a seperation of shots hit at greater pace etc).. saves from distance would be too flimsey as any keeper who plays professionally is hard to beat from range.. another very important stat is times beaten on the near post as that is deemed to be a big no no for keepers.. hart suffers in that respect I feel. All keepers have weaknesses.. the best ones iron them out when they get to about 28. Hart, De Gea and several others in the prem have time on their side. This article attempts to sh*t all over Hart even bemoaning his extra curricular marketing activity.. Surely you are not suggesting it is his appearing in an advertisement that is affecting his goal keeping ability? Who would be a keeper eh? When you make a mistake you go from brilliant to crap. Imagine if we applied that same logic to strikers. Look Van P has missed a pen. Sh*t striker or bad strike?- crookster