*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: Benjamin Lecomte
Games played: 37
Clean sheets: 11
Saves made: 106
Save percentage: 71.6%
Goals allowed: 42
For the second season in a row, Benjamin Lecomte has shown himself to be a top Ligue 1 goalkeeper.
In 37 league appearances, Lecomte kept 11 clean sheets, which put him in a three-way tie for fifth in Ligue 1. His clean sheet tally eclipsed those of Ligue 1 stars Steve Mandanda (9) and Anthony Lopes (9), both of whom failed to reach double digits. Granted, they did play less games than the 28-year-old, but Lecomte’s save total of 106 stops is also more than the totals of Mandanda (74 saves) and Lopes (98 saves). Lecomte also put up solid numbers in goals-against-average (1.14) and save percentage (71.6%), all the while representing a Montpellier team that scored just 53 league goals in all of last season.
Benjamin Lecomte’s prosperous 2018-19 shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who has followed my work. In August 2018, I uploaded a video to my YouTube channel previewing five goalkeepers to keep tabs on for the 2018-19 season. One of those goalkeepers was Benjamin Lecomte, who I praised for his “saving habits and consistency.”
It was only a few seasons ago that viewers were asking what could’ve been for Lecomte. The native of Paris was considered to be a top prospect in his younger years. But as the seasons dragged on with lowly Lorient, it looked like his talent was going to waste. He finally got his big break in 2017 thanks to a transfer to 2012 league champions Montpellier, and he’s clearly taken full advantage of that move.
This is the now the second successive successful season Lecomte has had. His 14 clean sheets and 33 goals conceded were a big reason why Montpellier finished 10th in 2017-18, and his stats were a part of why Montpellier jumped up the table this season. His stupendous play had previously attracted interest from Barcelona, Sevilla, and more recently AS Monaco. His Montpellier contract doesn’t expire until 2023, but with a price tag of €17 million, he’s still a solid buy for any club looking to add a goalkeeper who’s currently paying off on their potential.
Silver: Edouard Mendy
Games played: 38
Clean sheets: 14
Saves made: 111
Save percentage: 72.5%
Goals allowed: 42
A year ago today, it’s unlikely most casual football fans would’ve known who Edouard Mendy was. The French-born Senegalese goalkeeper had had a very uneventful career up until that point, with career peaks being his stint with Olympique Marseille’s reserve squad in the 2015-16 season and his Ligue 2 title win with Stade de Reims in 2018. Despite his nimbleness and 6 ft 6 height, Mendy wasn’t viewed as anything special.
Oh, how quickly things can change.
In his first season as a first division footballer, Mendy took Ligue 1 by storm. The 27-year-old kept 14 clean sheets in 38 appearances; the third most kept by a French league goalkeeper last season. These include a period between August 11 and December 2 in which Mendy kept nine clean sheets in 15 league appearances. This made him the most efficient goalkeeper in Europe at the time. On top of that, Mendy kept a goals-against-average of 1.11 and a save percentage of 72.5%, both of which put him in the top five in those categories.
Edouard Mendy’s performances backstopped Stade de Reims to an eighth place finish. It also saw him receive a nomination for Ligue 1’s Goalkeeper of the Year award, and although he lost out to Lille’s Mike Maignon, an argument can be made that Mendy was the best goalkeeper from the five nominees. Only Maignon posted better stats than the 27-year-old Mendy, but Mendy faced more shots (22 more, to be exact) and represented a newly-promoted club, so he was arguably the busier goalkeeper between the two.
Mendy’s stupendous season has not gone unnoticed. As mentioned earlier, he was nominated for the French league’s Goalkeeper of the Year award. He’s also been the subject of transfer rumours linking him to clubs in France (Olympique Marseille, for one) and abroad (Aston Villa and Norwich City). Finally, at the international level, his play saw him make his debut with Senegal’s national team in November 2018 and feature in two 2019 African Cup of Nations games.
Mendy has had a long, sometimes uncertain road to get to where he’s at today, and although he’s not yet a household name in European soccer, that’s clearly no longer the case among French viewers.
Gold: Walter Benítez
Games played: 35
Clean sheets: 16
Saves made: 113
Save percentage: 79.6%
Goals allowed: 29
OGC Nice had no right to challenge for a European spot last season. They won just 15 games — the joint-second lowest among Ligue 1’s top 10 clubs — and their 12 losses were the second lowest from the league’s top eight teams. They also only scored 30 goals; less than a goal-per-game rate. Only Caen and Guingamp — Ligue 1’s two relegated clubs — scored less goals than them.
By all accounts, they shouldn’t have finished in seventh place, let alone have been fighting for a European spot.
But they did, and it’s all thanks to goalkeeper Walter Benítez.
The 26-year-old Argentine was Nice’s best player last season and it wasn’t even close. He played in all but three of Nice’s 38 league matches, making him one of the busiest players on the team. Despite the number of appearances, he only conceded 29 goals; an average of 0.83 goals allowed per game. Benítez was the only Ligue 1 goalkeeper (30+ appearances) to have conceded less than 30 goals last season, and his goals-allowed-per-game average made him one of only two goalkeepers who conceded less than one goal per appearance.
It’s not as though Benítez played behind a strong defence. With respect to Nice’s defenders, Benítez was often a one-man show in goal. He faced roughly 4.1 shots per game, many of them high quality, and his total of 113 stop is the joint-fourth most among Ligue 1 goalkeepers. In fact, his 113 saves were the most made by a goalkeeper who played for a top eight club. To top it off, he kept a league-high save percentage of 79.6%, which is nearly eight percent more than that of the next best competitor with 30+ appearances (Stéphane Ruffier, 72.0%).
Despite his league highs in goals allowed, save percentage, and clean sheets (16), it seems as though Benítez’s accomplishments were disregarded. When Ligue 1 announced their five nominees for the 2018-19 season’s Goalkeeper of the Year award, Walter Benítez did not make the cut. A few months later, when Argentina announced their preliminary 2019 Copa América squad, Benítez was not called up, despite the Albiceleste calling up five other goalkeepers and leaving long-time number one Sergio Romero at home.
The snubs should not take anything away from Benítez’s incredible season. He posted the best stats in four of the league’s five major goalkeeper categories (goals allowed, goals-against-average, save percentage, & clean sheets), and his numbers rivaled those of some of the world’s best goalkeepers, including Alisson Becker and Marc-André ter Stegen. He may not have been number one in the hearts of Ligue 1 and Argentina, but he was certainly number one in mines.