A goalkeeper plays an immensely important role in the dynamic of a team. You can have the most prolific forwards, clinical midfielders and the tightest of defences; but without a top keeper, no team can truly fulfill its potential.
This current Everton side has potential across many positions, however one of these areas is not in goal. Ronald Koeman only signed Marteen Stekelenburg last summer for a nominal fee, as he could not identify a suitable long term option in goal. He auditioned the former Dutch International as well as Joel Robles for the number 1 jersey, however neither man was able to make a successful claim.
Stekelenburg started the season well, but his performances dwindled as the season progressed. Then in came Joel, who like Stekelenburg, performed well in patches, but ultimately failed to impress.
There is no doubt that the blues are now in the market for a new number 1 this summer, but who are the outstanding candidates? Koeman and Walsh will have their targets in mind, and there are plenty of exciting options to consider both domestically and abroad.
23-year-old Sunderland stopper Jordan Pickford is the clear favourite to take over the number one spot at Goodison Park. Having endured a torrid season at the relegated North-East club, Pickford has been one of very few players to come out of the campaign with any credit, along with veteran forward Jermaine Defoe.
The England U21 international began this season as understudy to former Arsenal keeper Vito Manonne, and got his chance to start in the first few games of the campaign. His performances impressed former Blue’s boss David Moyes as he quickly became first choice.
Pickford is one of a number of English keepers to have been linked with a move to Goodison Park. Here, we compare the stats of three of those names from this season. Jack Butland would also have been included had he not been injured for almost the entirety of the season.
Interestingly, Pickford’s clean sheet ratio is far worse than Fraser Forster’s, but it’s on a par with Joe Hart’s. This comes as little surprise since Sunderland’s defence has been one of the most disjointed outfits in the country.
Likewise, Pickford has made the most saves this season, which is to be expected as he has been playing in a defensively poor side. The saves per goal ratio is more relevant, with Pickford averaging an entire save more than his counterparts. Again, there is something to be said for keepers in poorer teams being more alert to danger, but the margin in this statistic is still significant.
Distribution is one asset that Pickford was recently praised for in his tremendous display against Arsenal, and his stats show that this has been a strong suit all season. Although his distribution accuracy lies just below 70%, his Average Distribution length of 55 metres shows that he clearly attempts more direct and ambitious passes than his competitors, and he is often very successful. Ronald Koeman likes his keepers to be direct, so this skill will no doubt sweeten the Dutchman’s interest.
Everton may well have set their sights on the English market, but it would be foolish not to consider some of the exciting talents that the other top European Leagues have to offer.
For many, the strongest leagues for Goalkeepers are in the German and French divisions. These are countries that have historically produced the world’s best keepers, and their production line shows no signs of stopping.
The Bundesliga boasts a plethora of talented glove-men. Arguably the best two outside of Manuel Neuer are Bernd Leno and Timo Horn of Leverkusen and Koln respectively. (Horn has missed half of the season and has also signed a new long term contract just last month, so he was excluded from the comparison table).
Likewise, Ligue 1 is a renowned producer of goalkeeping talent, such as Stephane Ruffier of Saint-Etienne and Anthony Lopes of Olympique Lyonnais. However, perhaps the most desired of all the keepers in these divisions is Alban Lafont of Toulouse, who at 18, already has over 60 senior appearances under his belt, and his stats are seriously impressive.
The young and relatively inexperienced Lafont stacks up well against his older competitors. Lopes and Leno are still young, but have 7 and 8 years on Lafont, and their stats aren’t too dissimilar.
They all have around 10 clean sheets apiece apart from Leno, for whom it could be argued is playing in a slightly more open and attacking league. The saves however tell a different story, and it’s the 18-year-old who comes out on top here. Lafont has made a stunning 93 saves, and only Ruffier comes close with 87. The saves per goal ratio also bodes well for the youngster and the older statesman, with 2.3 and 2.7 apiece.
If you are looking at distribution, and it is certain that Ronald Koeman is, then look no further than Anthony Lopes of Lyon. Not only does he have perfect accuracy, but his average distance is the longest at 40 metres.
The Portuguese international has been an unsung hero for a number of years at OL, after he was thrust into the spotlight when he replaced Spurs bound Hugo Lloris. An acrobatic keeper like his predecessor, the academy graduate has been solid since Lloris departed, and has only improved as each season has passed. He may well be an outside contender to join his former teammate in the Premier League, if Ronald Koeman fancies him.
In terms of dealing with crosses, stats show that Lafont has successfully dealt with high balls better than any of his counterparts. Again, it may be a case of Toulouse having to defend a greater amount of threatening balls, but the numbers show that Lafont has coped with the danger well.
At just 18 years of age and boasting those statistics, Lafont really has it all at his feet. There is no doubt that he is a future International, and it would be magnificent if Everton could reap the benefit as he grows into a world star.
Leverkusen sit in 12th place, which for the talent the have at their disposal is simply not good enough. Its been a tough season for Leno, but his quality is undoubted, and he is still aged just 25. His signature would certainly be a major coup for Ronald Koeman’s side.
Likewise, Ruffier’s Saint-Etienne have not been as successful this year; they are sitting in 8th place with one game to go, having finished in the Europa League places for the previous 4 seasons. Ruffier has always been their top performer and one of the league’s leading goalkeepers. At the age of 30, it would be a prime opportunity for him to move on and test his skills in the Premier League.
Jordan Pickford remains the overwhelming favourite to join the blues, and his signature would certainly be a major coup. However, it will be a struggle to get him with Sunderland said to be holding out for an eye watering £30 million fee. If Everton deem that price tag to be too much, then they would be best placed to look at these options elsewhere, all of whom could offer something different and exciting to aid this Everton side in transition.
*Stats Courtesy of Squawka.com