Football is back, baby!
Well, OK, football has been back for a while; the South Korean K League 1 opened their season on May 8, the German Bundesliga returned on May 16, and the Portuguese Liga NOS returned on June 3.
But with the Spanish Liga Santander, the English Premier League and the Italian Serie A all confirming their return to action this month, it means even more football is coming back to our television screens. And how can one not be excited to watch the likes of Lionel Messi, Virgil van Dijk and Cristiano Ronaldo play on a regular basis again?
To celebrate the return of those leagues, I thought I’d highlight one goalkeeper from each of those leagues who you should pay close attention to for the rest of the season. Be it because they’re doing well statistically or because they’re helping their club challenge for an unlikely spot on the table, these are goalkeepers who should finish the season strong and provide some entertainment for fans of the leagues, new and old.
In terms of restrictions, I’ve decided not to highlight any big-club or big-name goalkeepers — the likes of Jan Oblak, Alisson Becker, Samir Handanović, etc. — because those are goalkeepers people will be following regardless. Instead, I’ll be presenting goalkeepers who are slipping under the radar despite having excellent seasons.
*All stats acquired from nbcsports.com.*
Club: Parma (Serie A)
Games played: 21
Goals conceded: 27
Saves made: 95
Clean sheets: 5
Luigi Sepe may not be the most distinguishable goalkeeper to non-Serie A fans, and at first glance, it’s seemingly easy to see why. In a league that boasts quality goalkeepers such as Samir Handanović, Wojciech Szczęsny, Thomas Strakosha, and Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sepe’s brand doesn’t really stick out compared to those of his opponents.
Add to that Sepe’s rather average resume — he’s only in his third season as a first division starting goalkeeper (20+ games) and he was loaned to five different clubs between 2011 and 2019 — and the Italian doesn’t seem like much to get excited about.
But ask any Italian league enthusiast about Sepe and they’ll likely rave — out of admiration and/or jealously — about the 29-year-old goalkeeper.
“He is ready to play in a great team,” Mario Giuffredi, Sepe’s agent, told Radio Punto Nuovo last month. “This year he was one of the top five goalkeepers in Italy.”
It’s not a stretch to suggest so given where Sepe ranks statistically. The 29-year-old goalkeeper is in the Serie A’s top five in save percentage, with his 67.9% save percentage ranking him higher than the likes of Donnarumma (64.8%) and Juan Musso (67.1%), and level with Handanović (67.8%).
And while his five clean sheets just barely squeak him into the top 10, Sepe does rank in the top 6 in both goals-against-average (6th, 1.29) and saves made (5th, 95). In fact, Sepe has made more saves than any other goalkeeper representing a top 10 club, which suggests his low clean sheet total has more to do with the strength of his teammates and less to do with his own quality.
Known for his composure and precise positioning, it looked as though Luigi Sepe’s season would come to an abrupt end when he tore his abductor muscle in January. Sepe was required to sit out for several months, which put the rest of his season in jeopardy. But due to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent postponement of the 2019-20 Serie A season, Sepe was given enough time to recover at a healthy rate without missing too many games.
This is great news for Parma, who went 1-1-2 (wins-draws-losses) in the four games Sepe had to sit out. The Yellow and Blues are just a point away from seventh-placed AC Milan, who occupy the final European qualifying spot, and with 13 games to go, they’ll be happy to have their star goalkeeper back for the homestretch.
Sepe’s return is also good news for some of his opponents. The 29-year-old goalkeeper was recently linked to a number of Italian clubs, most notably Inter Milan. The 18-time Serie A champions are reportedly monitoring Sepe’s situation and consider him to be their top choice to replace current number one Samir Handanović, whose contract expires next summer.
For now, Sepe is Parma’s property, and his focus is on getting Parma back into a European competition for the first time in 13 years.
Club: Granada CF (La Liga)
Games played: 26
Goals conceded: 31
Saves made: 77
Clean sheets: 10
Several top-quality goalkeepers have starred in this season’s edition of La Liga; Jan Oblak, Thibaut Courtois, Unai Simón and Marc-André ter Stegen have all stolen the show at various points of the campaign.
But with respect to Oblak, Courtois, Simón and Ter Stegen, we hear about them on a near-weekly basis. So, for those who are looking to spice things up with a more obscure name to follow, I present to you Granada’s Rui Silva.
The former C. D. Nacional goalkeeper joined Granada in January 2017. Costing the club just €1.5 million, Silva had to wait until the 2018-19 season to take over first-team duties. The Andalusian club were in the Spanish second division at the time, but under the guidance of new manager Diego Martinez, Granada stormed to second in the table and earned promotion to La Liga.
That season, Silva won the Sengunda’s Ricardo Zamora Trophy, which is awarded to the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-against-average. Silva kept a GAA of 0.68 in 40 appearances, making him just the second Poruguese and the first Granada goalkeeper to win the honour. His low tally of 27 goals conceded was also the lowest conceded by a goalkeeper who made 40+ appearances since Xabi Irureta’s similar tally during the 2013-14 season.
Silva’s form has carried into this campaign, proving he’s far from a one-season wonder. In 26 appearances, Silva has kept 10 clean sheets. That’s more than Ter Stegen (9) and just slightly less than Oblak (11) and Courtois (11). The Portuguese goalkeeper has also made 77 saves, which is the most by a goalkeeper representing a top-10 club thus far. And yet he’s still kept a save percentage above 70% (one of only six goalkeepers to do so) and a goals-against-average below 1.20 (one of only seven goalkeepers to do so).
Despite his excellent play in La Liga, Rui Silva is yet to be called up to Portugal’s senior team. This is likely due to his lack of youth team caps — he made just six appearances across his U-19, U-20 & U-21 tenures — and his lack of top-level club experience, with this being Silva’s third season as a first-division starter (15+ appearances).
Portugal’s current depth in the goalkeeper position doesn’t help either; Rui Patrício, Beto & José Sá all still receive regular call-ups, Bruno Varela and Luís Maximiano are still waiting for their international debuts, and Anthony Lopes recently made himself available for selection again after a brief international hiatus.
But Silva’s fortunes should change soon. Patrício and Beto are both over 30 (the latter turned 38 last month) and Anthony Lopes will turn 30 in October. And while Sá is the favourite to replace the trio when their retirement finally comes, Silva is playing in a more competitive league than Sá, who competes in the Greek Super League with Olympiacos.
If Silva can finish the 2019-20 season strong and carry his form into next season, I’d give the Granada goalkeeper a shot at not just a national team debut, but maybe even a call-up to Portugal’s Euro 2020 squad.
Club: Crystal Palace (Premier League)
Games played: 27
Goals conceded: 28
Saves made: 88
Clean sheets: 9
It’s not uncommon for football fans to describe their favourite (and least favourite) footballers in hyperbolic terms. Terms such as ‘elite’, ‘world-class’ and ‘finished’ are so often loosely thrown around that they no longer hold the same weight they once used to.
‘Underrated’ is another one of those terms, and it has been used to describe seemingly everyone, from average players playing for small clubs to even some of the game’s all-time greats.
How many of these ‘underrated’ players are truly underrated? Probably just a few. But if there’s one goalkeeper who I believe has earned that title, it’s Crystal Palace’s Vicente Guaita.
Well-experienced as both a starting goalkeeper and as a back-up, Guaita first significant break when he joined Getafe from Valencia in 2014. There, Guaita played three seasons of 30+ matches between 2014 and 2018. This includes the 2017-18 season, in which Guaita backstopped the club to eighth in La Liga; their highest Liga Santander finish in eight years.
Guaita was particularly spectacular. In 33 appearances, Guaita kept 12 clean sheets — the fourth-most in the Spanish league — and conceded a mere 26 goals, which was less than the likes of Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen (28) and Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas (31). He ended up being my pick for the league’s Bronze Glove that season.
Guaita’s stellar play has not taken a step back since his 2018 move to the Premier League’s Crystal Palace. Statistically speaking, Guaita has been one of the league’s top goalkeepers this season. Guaita ranks in the top 5 in most of the major goalkeeper statistics; he’s conceded the third-fewest goals (28), averaged the fifth-lowest goals-against-average (1.04), kept the highest save percentage (75.9%), and kept the third-most clean sheets (9).
And while his 88 saves are just the seventh-most made by a Premier League starting goalkeeper this season (20+ appearances), they are more than any amount put up by a starting goalkeeper for a top-10 club (bar Arsenal’s Bernd Leno).
This might come as a surprise to some readers, but Vicente Guaita has never been called up to a Spanish national team squad, both at the youth and senior levels. And while it’s understandable why that wasn’t the case early in his career — Iker Casillas, Víctor Valdés and Pepe Reina had a strong hold on Spain’s three goalkeeper spots — it’s odd that the 33-year-old is yet to be called up recently, especially given his performances post-2017.
But that could change in the coming months. Spain’s current top two goalkeepers, David de Gea & Kepa Arrizabalaga, have played hot potato with the position; both goalkeepers have failed to lay a strong claim on the number one spot, opening the door for a third option to sneak into the mix. Couple this with Guaita’s performances — he’s helping a club with a relegation-level goals-scored tally of 26 compete for a mid-table spot — and it’s not a surprise to see Guaita earning some national team shouts.
With Euro 2020 postponed until next year, the next 12 months could be huge for the 33-year-old goalkeeper.
Who are the goalkeepers you’ll be keeping an eye on for the rest of the season? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter via @ThatArabKeeper.