Last Updated: 17th January 2022
As we look at the top 10 best goalkeepers in the world right now, it is the Premier League keepers dominating the rankings with players like Alisson Becker and Édouard Mendy battling it out for outright supremacy.
Football in the modern era has evolved drastically. Just a couple of decades ago, it was believed that the most important aspect of a goalkeeper’s job was to stop shots. However, today we see fewer goalkeepers emerging on the scene as traditional shot-stoppers and more who are comfortable with the ball at their feet.
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Now that goalkeepers are required to do more, it is only fair that we evaluate them on their abilities to do more than just stopping shots. While most of us are familiar with Expected Goals (xG), there is a model for goalkeepers called Post-Shot Expected Goals (PSxG).
PSxG is a calculation taken after a shot towards goal has been found to have hit a target while taking into account the quality of the shot. It is more useful in assessing goalkeepers than merely saves made.
PSxG excludes penalty shootouts, but it does include penalty shots. This expands into PSxG +/- and PSxG +/- /90’. The plus/minus aspect could be referred to as the PSxG difference, and it looks at the margin between PSxG and Goals Conceded, allowing us to see how a goalkeeper is truly performing in terms of shot-stopping.
Save % is another metric used extensively in sports like hockey and ice hockey, but it was rarely discussed in football until the mid-2010s. This is because it does not account for the difficulty of shots faced; a goalkeeper’s save percentage sees the same result from either a world-class goal or a terrible blunder.
However, there is more value to this than people realise, as there appears to be a relatively clear correlation between save percentage and PSxG +/- /90’ (which will be clear if you read each player’s description). With these two metrics, one can evaluate a goalkeeper’s shot-stopping abilities with relative accuracy.
Besides, the last decade or so has seen the return of sweeper-keepers in clusters. While the 1950s and 1960s saw perhaps the original sweeper-keepers in Hungary’s Gyula Grosics and the legendary Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union, we think of Germany’s Manuel Neuer as the one who made the style a household term over the past decade.
With Neuer entering the twilight stage of his career and new modern sweepers like Alisson, Ederson and Édouard Mendy coming to the fore, I have used here a metric described as #OPA, which is the number of defensive actions outside of the penalty area from goalkeepers. This metric gives an overall number of just how many times a goalkeeper has had to come charging out on that bouncing ball in behind and clear it outfield or recycle possession for their team.
Along with the rapid rise of sweeper-keepers, more and more teams are trying to emulate the Cruyffian philosophy of “first attacker is a goalkeeper, first defender is a striker” and have goalkeepers that are comfortable making a higher quantity of passes in each match.
Starting with distance, we have two interpretations to take from this: a team struggling for possession will likely see goalkeepers making longer passes (such as Burnley), and a team dominating possession (such as Manchester City) would likely expect the goalkeeper to have shorter passing distances.
So, with all these metrics and the eye-test being taken into consideration, I present to you my top 10 best goalkeepers in the world right now.
|Rank||Name||No. of full 90’s||Goals conceded per 90’||PSxG||*PSxG +/- /90’||Saves %|
|Rank||Name||#OPA per 90’||Avg. Distance from goal||Pass Launch %||Avg. Length of pass (yards)|
*PSxG +/- /90’ adjusted after removing the own goals conceded by each goalkeeper.
Jan Oblak (Atlético de Madrid), Luís Maximiano (Granada), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Robert Sánchez (Brighton & Hove Albion), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal), Alexander Nübel (AS Monaco), Samir Handanović (Inter Milan), Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid) and Wojciech Szczęsny (Juventus).
Top 10 Countdown
#10 Mark Flekken
Country: The Netherlands
Club: SC Freiburg
Mark Flekken was Bundesliga’s breakthrough star in 2021. He is of the main reasons SC Freiburg are currently high up in the Bundesliga table. The Dutch professional came into the spotlight in 2018 for all the wrong reasons when he turned his back to the goal to drink water and the opposition hit the ball in the back of his net.
Flekken joined SC Freiburg last season as a promising goalkeeper, but chronic injuries meant he had to sit out the entirety of the season on the sideline, only coming back to play the last three matches of the 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign.
However, the 2021/22 season has turned out to be the stage for Flekken to showcase his shot-stopping abilities. In his 21 appearances for Freiburg in 2021, the 28-year-old Dutch goalie conceded 1.10 goals per 90’, making 3.7 saves/90’ with a saves % of 79.3 — one of the best in Europe.
Moreover, his Post Shot Expected Goals (PSxG) metric shows he should have conceded 1.33 goals per 90’ while he and his team let in 0.05 own goals per 90’. Thus, Flekken currently holds one of the best PSxG +/- values on this list, standing at +0.28, meaning he saved his team +0.28 goals per 90’.
Additionally, despite playing in a low-block system, the Dutchman attempted 33.0 passes per 90’ with a 47.7% launch rate, which is commendable for any keeper.
Some of the drawbacks in his style of play are certainly his lack of commanding of the 18-yard box, his distribution, and his starting position as a goalkeeper, although I believe it is the system that has led to the Dutchman dropping deeper, as his average distance of defensive actions stands at just around 14.8 yards.
#9 Ederson Moraes
Club: Manchester City FC
The Manchester City #1 has had a shaky 2021 when compared to some of his standout displays in the seasons gone by. Despite that, the Brazilian boasts an exceptional clean sheet percentage of 48.1 — one of the best in Europe’s top five leagues.
Playing for a team that usually dominates possession, Ederson’s shot-stopping abilities are tested few and far between, but that only means his concentration levels are exceptionally good when you look at the number of clean sheets has earned for his team.
The 28-year-old has conceded 0.76 goals per 90’ over the past 12 months, while it is important to point out that he faces 0.29 Shots on Target or PSxG/90’, which answers as to why his saves percentage is hovering around 70.
Ederson is a modern sweeper-keeper, one of the best among keepers with the ball at his feet. He is one of the few goalkeepers who have demonstrated how the modern goalkeepers can impact their team’s build-up play. Due to this, the Brazilian is often found in a libero/sweeper role, marshalling the backline and taking care of the balls played in behind. Although Pep Guardiola has adapted his system to facilitate cover for such instances and rapid counterattacks, Ederson still finds himself performing 0.76 defensive actions outside the penalty area per 90’, while his average position of defensive actions is 16.3 yards since Jan 2021.
#8 Péter Gulàcsi
Club: RB Leipzig
It has been six years since Péter Gulàcsi joined RB Leipzig from their “sister” club Red Bull Salzburg. In these six years, the Hungarian has seen many top-rated defenders and attackers leave the club for better opportunities. Thus, for a team that have been in a constant rebuilding process given the club’s sell-to-buy policy, the 31-year-old has done a stellar job over the years.
Over the past 12 months, Gulàcsi has conceded 1.38 goals per 90’ with a PSxG of 1.27 per 90’, bringing his overall PSxG+/- score to -0.09. However, it is important to note that the quality of shots faced by the goalkeeper has also played a part in this. Gulàcsi’s PSxG/SoT metric stands at 0.36 per 90’, meaning the opposition is more than likely to score with 3 or fewer shots on target, which is down to the system and the defensive cover in front of the Hungarian.
Much like Manuel Neuer, Péter Gulàcsi is a modern sweeper-keeper. Thus, with his higher positioning and sweeping duties, his saves % will always be lower than a shot-stopper, but a 62% success rate certainly needs to be improved upon before he drops further down the list.
In terms of sweeping duties, the Hungarian has performed 1.48 defensive actions outside the penalty area (#OPA) in the last 12 months, while his average distance of defensive actions is quite high at 18.3 yards.
#7 Mike Maignan
Club: AC Milan
Nicknamed the “Magic Eagle”, Mike Maignan kept 21 clean sheets last season as LOSC Lille won an unlikely Ligue 1 title. The Frenchman was snapped up by AC Milan shortly after Lille’s domestic triumph, where he was expected to replace the outgoing Gigi Donnarumma as the team’s number one.
In his 41 appearances throughout 2021, Maignan conceded 0.87 goals per 90’, keeping clean sheets 46.2 % of the time. He maintained a healthy saves percentage of 79.3, while his PSxG stood at 0.90 per 90’, with an SoT threat of 0.24.
The Frenchman is an excellent shot-stopper, but his technical ability leaves much to be desired. He is more of a traditional shot-stopper who can do a job with the ball at his feet, but he lacks the vision to set his teammates up for transitions. Last year, he attempted 24 passes per 90’, 40% of which were launched up-field, while of the 7.03 crosses coming in per 90’, he caught or parried just 7.7%.
To add to that, Maignan carried out 0.69 #OPA and maintained an average distance of defensive actions at 14.6 yards, suggesting a team that like to drop deep from time to time.
#6 David de Gea
Club: Manchester United FC
Manchester United’s David de Gea has risen from the ashes—particularly during this first leg of the 2021/22 season—to stake his claim among the finest shot-stoppers in the game.
After losing his place to Dean Henderson last season, the Spaniard had to bide his time as the second-choice keeper, playing primarily in cup competitions before an injury and then COVID to Dean Henderson meant he returned to the United line-up as the #1 choice.
Since then, the 31-year-old has looked like a man possessed, bailing Manchester United out of tricky situations week in, week out. De Gea conceded 1.23 goals per 90’ last year. However, with Manchester United’s leaky defence and naive structure off the ball, his Post Shot Expected Goals (PSxG) stands at 1.41 goals per 90’. If own goals are removed from this, he maintained an exceptional PSxG +/- of +0.25, with a Shot on Target (SoT) threat of 0.32 per 90’, further solidifying his stature as one of the best shot-stoppers.
However, it is his technical skills that are his Achilles Heel. The Spaniard attempted just 16.43 passes per 90’ last year — the lowest among the top 20 goalkeepers — while his lack of willingness to charge out of the box or claim high balls meant his backline always remained on the back foot.
Although the 31-year-old has been the standout shot-stopper over the last 12 months, it is the other facets of his game that rank him 6th on my list.
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#5 José Sá
Club: Wolverhampton Wanderers FC
Wolverhampton Wanderers’ new Portuguese shot-stopper has slowly grown in stature to stake his claim among some of the best goalkeepers in the world right now.
Following yet another successful campaign with the Greek champions Olympiacos, with whom he won the domestic league title and also made it to the Round of 16 stage of the 2020/21 Europa League, Sá was snapped up by his compatriot and new Wolves manager Bruno Lage before the start of the 2021/22 season.
Since making his debut for the West Midlands club, the 28-year-old has shown impressive shot-stopping and distribution abilities, which are still rare commodities in the modern game. José Sá is definitely on the rise, and the underlying stats are there to back this claim.
In his 36 appearances last year, the Portuguese goalie conceded 0.91 goals per 90’, made 3.09 saves per 90’, and had a saves percentage of 80.9 — the highest in Europe’s top five leagues. His PSxG stood at 1.06 goals per 90’, equating to Sá saving +0.15 goals per 90’.
Moreover, unlike some of the other goalkeepers on this list, Sá is a complete package: he has an excellent distribution and dictates the tempo of the transitions with the flight and pace of his balls. He commands his area, having stopped 0.86 crosses per 90’ in 2021 while also performing 1.00 #OPA per 90’ and possessing a decent average distance of defensive actions at 15.0 yards.
#4 Gianluigi Donnarumma
Club: Paris Saint-Germain FC
AC Milan’s prodigal son Gigi Donnarumma left the San Siro this summer to join the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar Jr at Paris Saint-Germain, but not before guiding the Rossoneri to their first Champions League qualification in seven years and starring in Italy’s Euros triumph in July 2021.
Donnarumma is a generational talent and has already displayed his shot-stopping heroics over the years, especially last year, particularly in Italy’s penalty-shootout victories in the semifinal and final.
In his 36 appearances in club football last year, the Italian conceded 1.03 goals per 90’, making 2.57 saves per 90’ with a success rate of 72.7%. His PSxG stood at 1.07, and with no own-goals conceded, Donnarumma saved his club(s) +0.04 goals per 90’.
Despite being a traditional shot-stopper, Donnarumma in recent seasons has developed his ball-playing abilities as well, partly due to Roberto Mancini’s philosophy within the Italian national team.
However, be it Stefano Pioli at AC Milan or Mauricio Pochettino at PSG, both like to play out from the back while maintaining a relatively high backline for their respective possession-based styles of play. The 22-year-old produced 0.92 defensive actions outside the penalty area (#OPA) per 90’ in 2021 while keeping his average distance of defensive actions at 15.6 yards.
#3 Manuel Neuer
Club: FC Bayern Munich
Arguably one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the game, Manuel Neuer at 35 is considered one of the best even to this day. Winner of nine Bundesliga titles, six DFB Pokals, two Trebles (league, Pokal and UCL) and the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Germany and Bayern Munich skipper has won everything there is to be won by a footballer.
After being awarded 2020’s The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper award, Neuer has seen a bit of inconsistency creep into his game over the past 12 months. There is no surprise that, being a sweeper keeper, mistakes and blunders are bound to happen over the course of a year.
In 2021, Neuer conceded 0.98 goals per 90’. However, his Post Shot Expected Goals metric suggests he should have conceded 0.94 goals per 90’.
Although it seems like Neuer has underperformed, it is important to take into account that under the systems employed by Hans-Dieter Flick and his successor Julian Nagelsmann, the high-line that Bayern Munich maintain is something that is not ordinary in football.
To give further context, in 2021, Manuel Neuer carried out 1.47 #OPA per 90’ while maintaining an average distance of defensive actions to 19.1. Under Nagelsmann this season, the Bayern captain has carried out 33 #OPA in just 17 appearances, averaging 1.94 defensive actions per 90’, and he also has an average distance of defensive actions of 21.2 yards. Thus, with such a high backline, keeping clean sheets will always be a rarity.
#2 Alisson Becker
Club: Liverpool FC
Winner of 2019’s The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper award, Alisson Becker continued to produce the goods for Liverpool in a year of two halves.
The first half of 2021 saw Liverpool struggle massively both domestically and continentally, with key personnel missing due to long-term injuries. This resulted in Liverpool’s defence and midfield falling apart and, more often than not, it was Alisson who would bail out the 2019/20 Premier League champions time and again, which also saw him become the only goalkeeper in Europe’s top five leagues to score a goal last season when he headed in the dramatic winner against West Bromwich Albion to secure Liverpool’s Champions League qualification.
This season, too, despite Liverpool firing on all cylinders and embracing Jürgen Klopp’s heavy metal football to the hilt, there have been defensive lapses from the Merseyside team, but Alisson has once again been more than ready to save his team’s blushes.
In 2021, Alisson conceded 0.96 goals per 90’, with a 71.1 saves percentage and a clean sheets percentage of ~43. Moreover, with Liverpool not changing their ultra-offensive brand of football, when countered, teams generally create clear, goal-worthy chances against them, which is why Alisson’s SoT stands at 0.32 per 90’ for 2021. His overall PSxG stands at 1.01 goals per 90’, and if we take own goals out of the equation, Alisson saves Liverpool +0.08 goals per 90’.
Although questioned a couple of times when it wouldn’t come off, Alisson’s distribution is exceptional and is a major outlet for Liverpool when playing out from the back. Moreover, he is positionally very sound, which helped him carry out 1.43 #OPA per 90’ in 2021 while maintaining an average distance of 17.4 yards.
#1 Édouard Mendy
Club: Chelsea FC
Chelsea unearthed a gem when they signed Édouard Mendy from Stade Rennais in the summer of 2020. Last season, Mendy helped Chelsea win their second Champions League title, keeping 9 clean sheets in 12 appearances.
The 29-year-old Senegal international played 50 games for Chelsea in 2021, conceding just 0.65 goals per 90’, which is the best in Europe’s top five leagues even after taking into account the cluster of goals Chelsea conceded in the back end of December. Mendy had a saves percentage of 78.5 and kept 0.54 clean sheets per 90’ — more than any other goalkeeper over the period.
Mendy had a Post Shot Expected Goals (PSxG) metric of 0.68 per 90’, with a Shot on Target (SoT) threat of 0.23 per 90’. Removing the own goals conceded, Mendy saved Chelsea +0.07 goals per 90’ last year; a majority of those came in clusters, like his saves against Brentford or Chelsea’s defeat to Manchester City early on during the 2021/22 Premier League season.
Although Mendy possesses great technical ability and can perform the role of the sweeper-keeper with ease, Thomas Tuchel’s three-at-the-back approach means Mendy isn’t required to do those duties much. However, when needed, he always comes clutch.
The hallmark of a great keeper.
Edited by – Anshuman Joshi