*With the 2018-2019 European club seasons having come to a close, Between the Sticks is honouring the best goalkeepers from the top five European leagues (Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, Premier League, and Serie A). Bronze, Silver, and Gold Gloves will be awarded to the top three goalkeepers from each league. You can access the pieces on the other winners by clicking on the embedded hyperlinks.*
Bronze: David Soria
Games played: 37
Clean sheets: 13
Saves made: 96
Save percentage: 73.8%
Goals allowed: 34
Getafe didn’t know what to expect from their goalkeeping department going into the 2018-2019 season. After all, Vicente Guaita (who had guarded Getafe’s goal for three first division seasons and was coming off of a a league campaign in which he conceded 26 goals) joined Crystal Palace on a free transfer. David Soria (his replacement) had never made more than 15 league appearances in a season and was coming off of an inconsistent 2017-2018 season with Sevilla. Could he really succeed Guaita in his first season as a starting goalkeeper at a new club?
Yes, yes he could.
While the potential for Soria to be an outstanding Spanish Liga ‘keeper was always there, the 26-year-old fully realized it in his first season with Getafe. Soria kept 13 clean sheets in 37 appearances; the third most in La Liga. He also made 96 saves, averaging roughly 2.6 saves per match and a 73.8 save percentage. To top it off, his 0.92 goals against average made him one of only three Liga goalkeepers to have conceded less than a goal–per-game basis. As a result of these stats, Soria was able to backstop Getafe to fifth in the Spanish league table; their highest ever finish in the top flight.
Some readers will feel that Valencia’s Neto deserves this spot more than David Soria. After all, Neto made more saves (111) in less appearances (34) and kept the second highest save percentage in La Liga (77.1%). But while Neto’s exploits deserve applause, I’ve given the edge to Soria due to the context surrounding his season.
As mentioned earlier, Soria was coming in as an unproven replacement to the respected Vicente Guaita. Despite spending three seasons with Sevilla’s senior team, he never managed to crack into their starting XI on a consistent basis. His highlight was Sevilla’s 2015-2016 Europa League championship (which earned him a UEL Squad of the Season appearance), but he was almost always viewed as the league back-up to Sergio Rico. When he did begin to earn some regular La Liga minutes, he was criticized for being unpredictable and shipped to Getafe.
Soria had a lot to prove this season, and it’s fair to say that he’s done a good deal of great things for the Azulones. The key now is to continue that into next season, which will feature European football nights in Getafe for the first time in nearly a decade. With Soria guarding their goal, Getafe fans should feel relieved by their chances.
Silver: Marc-André ter Stegen
Games played: 35
Clean sheets: 16
Saves made: 88
Save percentage: 72.7%
Goals allowed: 32
If you were to ask Barcelona fans who the current squad’s most important player is, I’d bet that almost all of them would immediately reply with Lionel Messi. He’s arguably the greatest footballer to ever play the sport (let alone for Barcelona) and his 603 senior team goals are far and away the most in club history.
Press these fans for another name though, and you’ll likely get that of Marc-André ter Stegen, Barcelona’s 27-year-old goalkeeper.
Despite the fact that he’s only played three seasons as the team’s undisputed number one, the German’s importance on defence rivals that of Messi’s importance offensively. He plays a significant role with the Catalan club, serving as the righter of wrongs when their defence leaks and as an 11th outfielder when another passing outlet is needed. He’s authoritative when organizing his teammates on set pieces and smart when charging off of his line as a sweeper ‘keeper. He’s the club’s best goalkeeper since Víctor Valdés, and he might’ve already surpassed the former Spanish international in terms of value.
This season was another exceptional season from ter Stegen. The German goalkeeper appeared in 35 league matches and conceded just 32 goals; the second fewest goals conceded in La Liga last season. His 16 clean sheets kept are also the second most in the league, behind only Jan Oblak’s 20. To top it off, ter Stegen made 88 saves on over 120 shots, giving him a save percentage of roughly 73%. Many of his saves showcased his quick reflexes and his strong power steps; traits that he’s perfected through his development.
It’s incredible that Germany still don’t consider ter Stegen as a good enough fit for their number one goalkeeper position. With all due respect to Manuel Neuer, his injuries and inconsistency upon his return should’ve opened the door for ter Stegen to take the reigns, given the latter’s growth into one of the top goalkeepers in the world. Coach Joachim Löw saw otherwise though, and ter Stegen was mostly benched during Germany’s 2018 World Cup and UEFA Nations League campaigns.
With another world-class club season under ter Stegen’s belt though, maybe it’s time for Löw to give him a well-earned promotion.
Gold: Jan Oblak
Games played: 37
Clean sheets: 20
Saves made: 102
Save percentage: 79.7%
Goals allowed: 27
Who else did you expect?
With all due respect to La Liga’s other starting goalkeepers, Jan Oblak has been the Spanish league’s best goalkeeper for the past four seasons. Since transferring to Atletico Madrid from Benfica in 2014, Oblak has developed into one of the top ‘keepers in the world. His clean sheet total is unparalleled in first division football, and Atletico Madrid have led the league in fewest goals conceded in every season he’s played 30 or more league games in.
This season was another particularly stupendous one from the Slovenian. Despite making 37 appearances (the joint-second most in the league) Oblak led all La Liga goalkeepers in fewest goals allowed (27), goals against average (0.73), save percentage (79.7%), and clean sheets (20). His 20 clean sheets gave him his fourth consecutive Ricardo Zamora Trophy, making him only the second goalkeeper in La Liga history to win the accolade four seasons in a row. All of this while Oblak turned aside 102 shots—more saves made than Tomáš Vaclík, David Soria, and Marc-André ter Stegen—behind one of the leakiest versions of Atletico Madrid we’ve seen in a while.
Unlike other goalkeepers, Oblak doesn’t rely on YouTube-worthy diving saves or midfielder-esque ball-playing skills to make an impact. Rather, Oblak’s world-class play stems from his consistently perfect positioning. The Slovenian has a knack for positioning himself in the right place at the right time every time, and that gives him a significant leg up on shooters. Oblak is secure rather than spectacular and savvy rather than flashy. As a result, Oblak makes the most difficult of saves look like the most basic.
With Diego Godín, Lucas Hernandez and Juanfran all having confirmed their departures from Atleti this summer, it’ll be interesting to see how Jan Oblak fairs without those three in front of him next season (if he does stay). If the 2018-2019 season was anything to go off of though, I would expect Oblak to do just fine without them.