We delved into the statistics of last season to decide whether the links to Jack Butland are necessary or not.
Words by Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon
Regardless of which league you play in, whether it’s the Premier League, Championship, or even Power League, most veterans of the game will tell you that having the best goalkeeper will add a significant number of points to your tally at the end of the season.
Think of David De Gea, keeping United in so many games and tipping the balance in Man U’s favour so many times in recent years.
Equally, being a goalkeeper is a thankless task. Very few make a positive name for themselves in their craft. Goalkeeping is a game of damage limitation, most of the time, and the media (and fans for that matter) often care more about the few points a keeper gives away a season, rather than the points that a keeper earns their team.
The Characteristics of a Good Goalkeeper
Concentration is paramount – imagine being on the field for 90 minutes, twice a week, for months, constantly looking at the play unfold in front of you. When you lose focus at the wrong moment your team is punished.
Shot-stopping is a difficult skill that involves huge amounts of repetition, reactions and situational practise in training. It’s also quite instinctive and requires that a keeper can jump, catch, move with agility, punch, parry and judge the trajectory of shots.
Good positioning is when a goalkeeper commands their area, building confidence in their team by becoming a force to be reckoned with. And being in the right place at the right time helps them to do this effectively.
Character is important for helping a keeper to organise the defence, and pick themselves up from the inevitable mistakes which they will make.
How Good Have Aston Villa’s Keepers Been?
First, let’s look at Lovre Kalinic. In the Championship this season he only played 7 times, getting a WhoScored rating of 6.16 and making 2.7 saves per game. However, the worrying news is when we look at his strengths and weaknesses from his performances across the year:
- None Significant
- Concentration (Very Weak)
- Long Passing
- Saving Long Shots
- Catching Crosses
From this record, it’s looking like the sparkling World Cup form which Kalinic built up with Croatia hasn’t been transferred back to England. And with Premier League football looming in a couple of months, Villa don’t have time to waste in ensuring that their number one can hit the ground running.
Jed Steer, on the other hand, has been one of the players of the Play-Offs and a huge part of Villa’s success. If anything, he’s proved how effective a good goalkeeper can be in earning points for the team. He saved a penalty to help get Villa 3 points against Sheffield Wednesday. He’s been solid since coming in when all hope seemed lost at the turn of the year, producing fingertip saves and assured, commanding performances. And not to mention, he produced an outstanding performance in the Play-Off Semi-Final against West Brom to bring a deserved win to Aston Villa over the two legs.
With a rating of 6.42 in the Championship and making 1.7 saves per game in a tighter Villa defence than Kalinic, it’s fair to say he’s earned his praise. Jed’s performance is characterised by:
- Shot Stopping Reflexes
- Style of Play – comes off line often.
- Long passing
What about Jack Butland?
Despite Steer playing a vital role in earning promotion, the club have been linked with Jack Butland – which has led to ongoing debate as to whether this seems fair on Jed Steer or not. Either way, it’s clear to see why Villa are interested in signing the England international, having made 45 appearances (26 more than Steer), saving 2.8 goals a game and earning a rating of 6.73 at Stoke. What’s more, Butland boasts these excellent season characteristics:
- Long Passing
- Shot Stopping Reflexes
- No significant weaknesses
Just on the face of it, Butland’s performances in a side with a weaker defence than Villa’s seems to suggest that he is indeed a better goalkeeper than Jed Steer. Yet you can’t help but feel sorry for Jed – what could he have done better? After-all, he’s also been a good professional by all accounts when he looked to be extradited from Villa park.
Villa conceded 64 goals this season, conceding 1.2 expected goals per game and with Steer saving 1.7 shots per game. Stoke conceded 52 goals this season, conceding 1.1 expected goals per game and with Butland making 2.8 saves per game.
So, considering that the difficulty of the shots that Butland and Steer faced seemed relatively similar (expected goals conceded, on the face of it), you’d imagine that Butland really is just slightly more accomplished in between the sticks. Of course, the big caveat is that Jed Steer only faced around half of those shots, and got half the game time of Butland, which must be noted before writing anybody off.
A Matter of Margins
Ultimately, Villa only have one great keeper at this moment in time and that’s Jed Steer. And looking at the unfortunate performances of Kalinic, and Nyland’s injury record, it’s likely that Dean Smith is simply keen to ensure that Villa have enough good quality cover in the number 1 spot. If Steer was to get injured, would you really want Kalinic in goal facing up against Kane, Aguero, Salah, or any other PL attackers?
Signing Butland wouldn’t be an insult to the fantastic season that Steer’s had. It would be a testament to the realisation of how important his role has been as a match winner, and our last man on the line. And Villa should absolutely look to get the best players possible competing for such a vital role in the team.
Stats for Reference