Tottenham are reported to be looking to replace the Premier League’s second-best keeper with either the third or fourth-best, or perhaps another who didn’t make our top 10.
Come shout at our ranking of the top 10 stoppers…
10) Jose Sa (Wolves)
A few eyebrows were raised last summer when Wolves sold Rui Patricio for the relatively modest sum of £10million. Evidently, they knew what they were doing…
Within days of Patricio joining Roma, Wolves signed his replacement: another Portuguese stopper, a 28-year-old from Olympiakos who cost a shade under £7million.
Sa was solid from the start. More than that, he made decisive contributions and saves, playing a major role in Wolves’ push for Europe last season, even if it tailed off down the home straight. As a strong all-rounder, Sa has no perceivable weakness and his proactive style, compared to Patricio’s reactivity, added more strings to Bruno Lage’s bow.
Okay, we intended this ranking to be an objective list, not based on stats, but Sa’s numbers in his maiden season in the Premier League can’t be ignored. He finished the campaign with the highest save percentage (79.3%) in the league, while the post-shot expected goals against metric suggests he conceded 9.3 goals fewer than he was expected. The next best in the league was David De Gea on 6.7.
No wonder he cleaned up at the club’s Player of the Season awards and, rather than let him heal while playing a stand-in, Wolves would rather Sa guard their goal with a broken wrist, as he has done since August.
9) David Raya (Brentford)
‘Does Strakosha signing give Brentford the Prem’s best goalkeeping department?‘ was the question we posed back in July. Whether they have or have not, Thomas Frank’s options are ridiculously strong.
Thomas Strakosha arrived from Lazio in the summer on a free transfer having reportedly rejected the chance to sit on Manchester United’s bench. Their third choice – currently first back-up due to an injury to Strakosha – is Matthew Cox, an Under-19s European Championship winner with England, a keeper about whom plenty around Brentford and the FA are very excited.
But both have to sit tight while Raya continues to shine in the Bees’ net. The Barcelona-born stopper has been in England for a decade now, having arrived in 2012 to undertake a scholarship at Blackburn. There, he played on loan in the National League with Southport before making the breakthrough with Rovers, earning a £3million switch to Brentford in 2019.
We offer that background because it still feels like Raya flies under the radar somewhat. Typically, as Brentford’s No.1, he’s a progressive keeper, as comfortable with the ball at his feet as in his hands, which comes from a futsal background in Spain. Strakosha evidently knew little of Raya, or perhaps underestimated him, since he turned down the chance to be De Gea’s deputy at Old Trafford, just to sit on Brentford’s bench.
De Gea certainly knows about Raya as it is him who has taken the United keeper’s place in the Spain squad. As it stands, it will be Raya and Bob Sanchez vying with Unai Simon to keep Luis Enrique’s goal in Qatar.
8) Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Doubtless Arsenal fans will protest that Ramsdale should be higher up this list, but we agree with Gareth Southgate that the ex-Sheffield United custodian is currently the third-best goalkeeper available to England right now.
He obviously aspires to grander status but Ramsdale deserves credit for coming this far, as do Arsenal for spotting his potential last year. Plenty were surprised when the Gunners identified the Stoke-born stopper as the man to push Bernd Leno and many scoffed when they agreed to the Blades’ demands for around £30million for a keeper relegated twice in two seasons.
But Ramsdale was a revelation last season. His timing was perfect, ascending to the No.1 position with Arsenal at their lowest point after three defeats at the start of the season left Mikel Arteta clinging to his job. As much as his technique, Ramsdale’s personality and presence lifted everyone as his confidence strayed into cockiness at times. Which suited the Arsenal fans just fine.
Like the current England No.1, Ramsdale’s Marmite persona makes him an easy target when things don’t go well and his form over the last year hasn’t been flawless. But the former Chesterfield and AFC Wimbledon loanee, like many top keepers, has graduated from the school of hard knocks, and the odd dropped b*llock won’t get him down, a resilience which ought to keep him in Arsenal’s goal for years to come.
✋ All the stops
🎯 All the distributions
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 31, 2021
7) Nick Pope (Newcastle United)
Four doesn’t go into three, which means Dean Henderson is likely to be left at home when England fly to Qatar next month. It would be the right call, if only for Martyn Margetson’s sanity. Imagine having to keep the egos of Henderson, Ramsdale and Jordan Pickford in check every day.
Pope is hardly a shrinking violet but compared to the other three England candidates, he’s the Seaman to their Schmeichel, a trusted, low-maintenance alternative to a trio closer to the mad keeper cliche.
Newcastle got a bargain when they bagged Pope for £10million during the summer. Having been Sean Dyche’s gloveman of choice, doubts remained over how he might adapt to a less direct style under Eddie Howe, but Pope has shown he can play when needed, even if he is not as easy on the eye as Ramsdale or Pickford.
More importantly, since they are still No.1s and not No.10s, Pope performs his primary function wonderfully. He’s old school – he shifts efficiently, sets early, and saves with a minimum of fuss. He also dominates his box, preferring to catch rather than punch, and sweeps up behind his defence. Only Alisson did so as often last term, disproving the myth that Dyche’s defence sits on the 18-yard line.
6) David De Gea (Manchester United)
The Spaniard isn’t everyone’s cup of tea these days. Luis Enrique, for example, seems to prefer his keepers a little less snug on their goal-line. But you don’t play 500 games for Manchester United without being a damn fine stopper.
At multiple points in his early days at Old Trafford, it didn’t look like De Gea would get to 50. “His first six months were horrendous,” admitted Eric Steele, Sir Alex Ferguson’s goalkeeping coach who staked his reputation on picking a waifish teenager who couldn’t fill his own shirt, let alone Edwin van der Sar’s gloves. The media were ruthless. De Gea was pinned as ‘a kid who won a competition to play in goal for Manchester United’ and ‘like a jelly… not physically capable… he’s Heurelho Gomes without the shotstopping’.
Those first 18 months toughened De Gea up for all that followed as the keeper, for the most part, remained United’s rock while the club shambled through the post-Fergie era. Since then, the ex-Atletico youngster has gone about his job with a minimum of fuss, bringing a smidgen of serenity to the chaos at Old Trafford. Were it not for the four-time Player of the Season, things would have been much worse for United.
Eleven and a half years on, the talk now is of replacing De Gea. Erik ten Hag reportedly thought it is necessary but the manager may be coming around. But the fact there’s a debate highlights how the expectations and the role of the keeper has changed in the last decade or so. De Gea was bought largely because he was comfortable on the ball. Now, though, the consensus seems to be that he’s not comfortable enough.
Nor does he leave his goal often enough for many people’s satisfaction. But that’s a style point. Some keepers and their coaches prefer to be reactive on their line, leaving their defenders to defend; others opt for a more proactive approach, whether that’s by sweeping or coming for crosses. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just a matter of taste.
5) Ederson (Manchester City)
It perhaps doesn’t help De Gea and the perception of him as not progressive enough that across Manchester, City have in their sticks the keeper that many feel epitomises what the modern-day goalkeeper should be.
Ederson is a midfielder in mitts. His range of passing would embarrass many top-level playmakers and his composure makes you question if he’s human. Or at least unhinged.
And when he has to, he can protect his goal, though not always as capable as his contemporaries. Ederson’s post-shot xGA is currently -1.7 after -1.2 last season – ranking him 18th and 27th respectively – suggesting he is performing just below the level expected when it comes to saving the shots he faces. His style on one-on-ones seems to do him few favours, with the Brazilian preferring to rush the strikers rather than hold and react. If that works for him… we’re all different.
Most importantly, it works for Pep Guardiola. Ederson might not be a perfect goalkeeper (who is?) but he is perfect for City and how Pep demands they play.
4) Jordan Pickford (Everton)
Similarly, Pickford isn’t perfect. But for Southgate, he’s the one.
The Everton keeper will go the World Cup fully deserving of his status as England’s No.1, a title he’s held since 2018. It’s been a rollercoaster four years between Russia and Qatar but Pickford has overcome some sticky form and, mercifully, has matured from ‘the daft puppy‘, swerving the perils of his predecessor, the Hart-dog.
He’s still a hyperactive presence in Lampard and Southgate’s sticks but Pickford has learned to make his temperament work for him. His is an attention-grabbing style, even when all around him is calm, but his constant busyness aids his concentration. Some keepers seem barely ruffled after 90 minutes; Pickford must be bloody exhausted, so too would be the defenders that have to play in front of him.
Sometimes he grates, but we’ve learned over time that it’s no act or exaggeration. Without him, Everton would be playing Championship football this season. And this term, he’s started very much in the manner he left off. His fumble at Spurs on Saturday was the first sniff of the slip-ups Pope, Ramsdale and Henderson might have been hoping for as they all eye his starting spot for England.
In the past, the fear was that one error could be start of the spiral for Pickford but the Mackem has matured. England, and Everton, are lucky to have him.
3) Robert Sanchez (Brighton)
Brighton too are blessed to have themselves a keeper who can do it all. But the Seagulls deserve huge credit for spotting Sanchez’s potential as a 15-year-old and bringing him over from Spain.
In the eight years since, Sanchez blossomed into arguably the Premier League’s best young goalkeeper. Now, aged 24, he is ready to take the next step to a big club.
That is meant as no disrespect to Brighton, but they know how the game works. Hell, they’ve mastered it. Sanchez will be the latest raw talent they sourced, shaped and sold for a massive fee. When there was talk of Newcastle offering £20million in the summer, Tony Bloom must have laughed his c*ck off.
It feels inevitable that Graham Potter will one day soon be reunited with Sanchez, who was given his Premier League chance by the now-Chelsea boss. It came after a grounding in the Football League – there’s a pattern developing here – first at Forest Green then Rochdale, but it was still a ballsy move on Potter’s part to drop established No.1 Mat Ryan for an inexperienced 22-year-old.
Sanchez hasn’t looked back. He will go to the World Cup most likely as Spain’s no.2, though he won’t be serving as a stand-in for much longer.
2) Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
Never in a decade at Tottenham has Lloris had the credit he’s deserved. Which probably suits the unassuming Frenchman just fine. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recognise him as one of the finest goalkeepers to grace the Premier League.
Lloris will only be appreciated when he’s no longer at Spurs. Which is a prospect they are apparently considering since the 139-cap France star is 36 on Boxing Day. But they need not rush since Lloris is showing no signs of slowing down.
Indeed, his speed remains Lloris’s great strength. He is a dominant physical presence but he can shift like sh*t off the slippiest of sticks. He dominates his box and the final third beyond the 18-yard box, but the most impressive manner in which he covers the ground is rather closer to his goal.
Which, for Lloris, is home. The former Lyon star opts to play much deeper towards his goal-line than many of his contemporaries. While some prefer to move down the line of the ball, showing shooters less space around them, Lloris prefers to hold his ground and use the extra split second of reaction time to protect his posts.
It isn’t a style that works for everyone, but not everyone is blessed with Lloris’s speed. Or, crucially for Spurs, his leadership qualities. Doubtless a lot of people would reply ‘Harry Kane’ if you asked them who captains Tottenham, but Lloris has led by example since 2015. Spurs should savour him, because they’ll miss him when he’s gone.
1) Alisson (Liverpool)
Granted, it helps to have Virgil van Dijk in front of you, but Alisson makes his job look so damn simple.
Even with Van Dijk at the heart of their defence, Liverpool have come to rely on their goalkeeper since he arrived from Roma in the summer of 2018. Perhaps at first, just the mere hint of competence would have impressed the Kop after being subjected to the Karius-Mignolet axis of calamity. But it quickly became clear that not only could Alisson solidify Liverpool; he enhanced both their defence and attack.
Right now, after his fifth assist which made him the Premier League’s most creative goalkeeper, much of the focus has been on what he offers as Jurgen Klopp’s first line of attack. And that can’t be downplayed. Alisson is trusted by his team-mates, not just to recycle the ball around the back third but he has the vision to play longer and more direct.
Ederson might stand out in this particular field, but Alisson compares well. Then, when it comes to keeping the ball out of the net, we see why Brazil prefer the Liverpool keeper over the City stopper.
Aside from a spell around the start of last year, when Alisson experimented with Teflon instead of his usual latex, the former Roma keeper has been Dave Seaman-solid for Liverpool. And his ability to dominate one-on-one situations means the Reds have no fear in playing a higher defensive line, making it easier to stay compact off the ball and spring forward on it. With Alisson now exuding a Schmeichel-esque aura on breakaways, any striker now going through on Liverpool’s goal has in the back of their mind the challenge awaiting them.