Explaining the Shot Stopper – Player Role Analysis

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April 2022 marked the launch of our new Player Role Evaluation System, where footballers are assessed by what they offer a football team – taking into account relevant metrics for their position and role, and minimizing less important factors that may not matter in the grand scheme of their role. We identified thirty-two different roles that a footballer may adopt on a football pitch, that can then be conceptualized to better understand how to evaluate each player’s performance. This series breaks down each of the thirty-two roles, contextualizing the tasks, function and job description within each – that can allow us to better measure their performance, without solely relying on menial statistics.

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While formations may exclude the never-changing goalkeepers from their numbering, we could never fail to recognize the importance of goalkeeping in the game. As a result, we start with one of the most scrutinized positions on a football pitch – that of the keeper. We break goalkeepers down into two broad categories – ‘Shot Stopper‘, and ‘Sweeper Keeper‘. We can then use these classifications to help distinguish between different types of players, and measure accordingly. Today’s article is all about the ‘Shot Stopper’, defining role expectations and answering the soon to be common question of – ‘What exactly is a shot stopper?’

JOB DESCRIPTION

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The ‘Shot Stopper’ is essentially a modern day goalkeeper that hasn’t quite kept up with modern trends. They’re like the parent that tries to fit in with the “cool” young kids, but remains stuck in verbiage and skillsets used back in their day, rather than that of present times. When discussing goalkeepers in the modern game, it’s no secret that the days of the long-ball hoof and staying in between the posts are far forgotten. Modern goalkeepers typically come out of their goal to a great extent, ‘sweeping’ in behind their back-line. They take charge in commanding their penalty area and shepherding the ball out of danger at every opportunity, and importantly, play out from the back with an air of importance and bravado that could rival some of the best play-making centre-backs in the world. Everything we just described would be classified as quintessential traits of a ‘Sweeper Keeper’. Shot Stoppers, essentially, perform none of those modern day functions.

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As the antithesis to the ‘Sweeper Keeper’, they typically situate themselves in between the posts, stay within their eighteen yard box, and rely on their positioning to stop the ball from finding the back of the net. The best ‘Shot Stoppers’ are able to use their cat-like reflexes and expert positioning to cause the opposition misery in front of goal, which offers modern managers credence to continue to deploy them in goal despite their outdated approach. Within this job description, I’m sure we can all unequivocally name the best of the art in the modern game, the man who this very site recently did a player analysis on last week.

QUINTESSENTIAL SHOT STOPPERS

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The ‘Shot Stopper’ may represent a dying breed of no. 1’s, particularly when looking for keepers under the age of 30. It’s very possible that ‘Sweeper Keepers’ of today will in time become quintessential ‘Shot Stoppers’ as they age out of the game and become more limited with their physical capabilities. But for now, ‘Shot Stoppers’ are a rarity, and are typically found in older goalkeepers.

The man who perfectly exudes this player type better than any other would be Manchester United’s David De Gea. Even within a high line and a necessity to sweep in behind to clean up danger, De Gea remains rooted to his line (or at least the eighteen-yard-box itself). He’s not particularly commanding in the air, his distribution is average at best, and he rarely ventures outside of his eighteen to challenge opposing attackers. Simultaneously, the Spanish keeper saves the most difficult of shots that come his way, with some of the most incredible techniques you will ever see. By staying close to his posts, De Gea is always able to correctly position himself, and can take full advantage of his strengths. Those strengths may include his height, wingspan, quick reflexes, and the minor details behind his technique and decision making that allow him advantages almost every time. Here we see that while the ‘Shot Stopper’ may be limited in their approach, they are certainly still useful in what they can offer a football team.

But here’s the confusing part – some shot stoppers aren’t all that great at saving shots. In fact, some of the best at the art of keeping the ball out of the back of the net are actually what we would classify as ‘Sweeper Keepers.’ The role isn’t necessarily specifically about the quality of their ability to save shots, rather the fact that their role requires them to stay in between the posts and save shots as opposed to participating in other facets of the game. But with that in mind, you might be wondering – if a ‘Shot Stopper’ fails to perform even their most basic function effectively, what would be the point in persisting with that player in goal? The answer again lies in age and experience. Keepers like Kasper Schmeichel and Jan Oblak have had a relatively torrid time this season in keeping the ball at bay, but continue to be called upon in between the posts.

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Many modern shot stoppers have gone through the motions of playing football for decades, and are now excellent leaders, communicators, and organizers for their team. Their physical limitations don’t dent their selection within the team as a result, despite younger, more physically enabled keepers challenging for a place. Other classic examples of ‘Shot Stoppers’ in the modern game include Inter Milan captain Samir Handanovic, three-time Champions League winner Keylor Navas, and the man many consider to be the best in the world over the past decade – Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak. All of these players may still have physical advantages – such as Oblak’s aerial ability and cross claiming, or Navas’ exceptional ability to play out from the back. It’s not that ‘Shot Stoppers’ cannot perform functions associated with the ‘Sweeper Keepers’ of today, but that they tend to, most prominently, save their star moments for the remarkable saves they pull off, without venturing too far outside of their eighteen throughout a match.

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Examples in the Premier League include the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Lukasz Fabianski, and even Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy – who typically isn’t asked to come out of his box and bail his defenders out, due in part to Chelsea’s exceptional ability to win the ball back before it reaches their goalkeeper. In the Canadian Premier League (the crash test dummy for this Player Rating system), we’re yet to find a prototypical ‘Shot Stopper’. The team operating in the lowest block – FC Edmonton, have the sweepiest of keepers in Andreas Vaikla. Similarly, the teams with the highest possession and the supposed highest lines, like Forge and Pacific, frequently involve their keepers in build-up play outside the eighteen. I’ve been tracking Atletico’s Nathan Ingham as a potential ‘Shot Stopper’, simply based on the fact that his preeminent strength evidently lies in between his posts, such as his uncanny ability to save difficult shots that he wouldn’t be expected to pull off. But even he feels like a necessary component to clearing long-passes and swarming out to clear danger away. With a batch of goalkeepers under the age of 30, this isn’t terribly surprising. The style of play in the Canadian league also sees a slightly greater favouritism toward long passing as a metric for breaking lines than other leagues, which requires keepers to constantly be on the front-foot in coming out to claim responsibility.

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Despite their rarity, the ‘Shot Stopper’ prototype can work in any type of system. They may be more commonly found in ‘low-block’, defensively-minded teams that require little need for their goalkeeper to sweep in behind – such as Newcastle’s use of Martin Dubravka before the Eddie Howe days, or West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianski. But they can also work appropriately in high-possession teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, or PSG, where others within the high-line are required to defend before the ball comes anywhere near the keeper. The goalkeeper can then stick to their strengths as a player within their physical aptitude, and not feel obliged to become something that fails to suit their playing style.

MEASURING SHOT STOPPERS

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Within our Role Continuity Player Evaluation System, players are first measured by what they are expected to do in their position and their specific role first, with any tasks associated with a secondary role coming second. For goalkeepers, there are only two roles. That means that while ‘Shot Stoppers’ may not be knocked for their ability to sweep in behind a high-line, we can still evaluate the extent to which they made sound decisions based on the moment and the evolution of the game. For example, if a David De Gea prototype came out of their box to clear their lines at a time when it was absolutely necessary, we would still reward that action. Simultaneously, if they failed to come off their line and make a challenge when the moment required them to do so, we would still penalize that inaction based on our off-the-ball metrics. But we value their shot stopping most of all, and how well they stuck to their tasks of handling situations within the scope of the eighteen-yard box. This may include statistical metrics like ‘Save %’ or ‘Saves per goal conceded’, ‘Total saves’, and ‘Post-Shot Expected Goals’. That last one is particularly imperative, as it evaluates the difficulty of the goalkeeper’s saves in a match through considering XG (Expected Goals). As a result, a goalkeeper who made five saves when they were expected to make one, would rank significantly higher in their ‘Score’ than a keeper who made five saves when they would reasonably be expected to make all five.

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The beauty in the system is that off-the-ball metrics can also be evaluated, such as the goalkeeper’s decision making. This could include a vast array of functions for the no.1 position, such as the suitability of the type of save or technique used in the moment, the decision of punch or catch, their handling after a save, when to come off their line versus hold position, and many other processes. All goalkeepers are also measured based on their discipline, leadership, and what we call ‘IQ’, each of which categorize a range of both on-the-ball and off-the-ball metrics for evaluation. So let’s get into the specifics.

1. SHOT STOPPING

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The first category of goalkeeping for ‘Shot Stoppers’ is in fact their ability to save shots. This takes into account…

  • Total saves
  • Goals conceded
  • Save % or saves per goal conceded
  • Post-Shot XG +/-
  • Handling
  • Reflexes

We won’t bore you with the details at this present moment, but for those looking for more specifics behind player scores, take this example. David De Gea starts a match with a score of 6.0 – the score a player would achieve if they did virtually nothing right nor wrong on a football pitch. He saves one shot and concedes another, keeping his score unchanged. Depending on the XG of those shots faced, his score could either rise or fall. Using the eye test, we then assess for ‘Handling’ and ‘Reflexes’, assessing just how quick the keeper was to making a correct save using a correct technique, and how they handled shots (i.e. how well did they hang onto shots when realistically capable of doing so, or how well did they push shots away from goal when required to). De Gea is then given a total score in the ‘Shot Stopping’ category, which is then averaged against the other categories, albeit weighted more than the others.

2. IQ

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One of the primary goals of our Evaluation System was to assess more than just the easy statistical metrics for evaluation, which can sometimes lead to false conclusions on performance. Establishing a player’s ‘IQ’ helps to add context to each of the necessary categories, and is the second most important facet. This includes…

  • Decision making on ‘Shot Stopping’ (e.g. saving techniques)
  • Decision making when ‘Sweeping’ (e.g. when to come out)
  • Decision making when ‘Commanding’ (e.g. when to claim or punch)
  • Decision making in ‘Distribution’ (e.g. when to pass long)
  • Discipline (e.g. fouls, bookings, and positional discipline)

A player is given a score out of 10 in each category, using both statistical metrics and the eye test, which is then averaged together.

3. COMMAND

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Since goalkeepers must be vocal and assertive in and around their eighteen yard-box, we assess each keeper’s level of ‘Command’. ‘Shot Stoppers’ typically have lower levels than ‘Sweeper Keepers’ due to their desire to stay on their line. However, aspects like leadership, communication, and keeping a clean sheet may boost their score where they may lack in other facets of the game.

  • Crosses stopped
  • % of crosses stopped
  • Aerial %
  • Leadership & Communication
  • Clean sheet

4. DISTRIBUTION

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Goalkeepers in the modern era must be capable of playing out from the back, or the very least, capable of either completing a high rate of short or long passes. Even if ‘Shot Stoppers’ may be required to play out less than ‘Sweeper Keepers’, we still assess every keeper’s distribution.

  • Passing %
  • Long passing %
  • Involvement in build-up
  • Playing under pressure + difficulty of successful passes
  • Passes into final 1/3
  • Key passes

5. SWEEPING

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Since ‘Shot Stoppers’ are the antithesis to ‘Sweeper Keepers’, sweeping becomes the least important of our categories for evaluation. It remains an important facet of the goalkeeping game nevertheless, ensuring some level of assessment about Sweeperhood™ remains.

  • Defensive actions outside penalty area
  • Average distance away from goal of defensive actions
  • Recoveries
  • Clearances

6. ABNORMALITIES

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Goalkeepers may also be given additional boosts or retractions for any abnormalities that they perform in a match, including the following…

  • Goals
  • Assists
  • Penalty kicks saved
  • Errors leading to shots or goals
  • Red cards

While these metrics can drastically affect a player’s rating in a given match, they don’t tend to change a player’s score over the course of a season. So with that, based on the five key evaluation metrics, we have begun to establish some of the very best in the art in Europe’s top five leagues within the ‘Shot Stopper’ role.

TOP 20 SHOT STOPPERS

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As the antithesis to ‘Sweeper Keeping’, when establishing a Top 20 List we’re looking for players with a low level of Sweeperhood™ first and foremost. Goalkeepers with an above average number of ‘Defensive Actions Outside the Penalty Area’ (over 0.70 per 90) or above par ‘AVG Distance of Defensive Actions’ (over 15.5 yards) were excluded from the data. We then assessed for the above categories from the previous section, taking into account both form in the 2021-22 season and overall reputation when assessing the finer details of off-the-ball metrics like IQ and Discipline.

So, after scouring the databases, and scrutinizing over statistics from both this season and the last 365 days, these are the best ‘Shot Stoppers’ in the world at this time.

Rank #Player TeamSave %# OPAAVG. Dist.
1Edouard MendyChelsea74.60.5513.9
2Thibaut CourtoisReal Madrid73.60.6214.6
3David De GeaManchester United69.80.2413.8
4Jan OblakAtletico Madrid67.40.3513.5
5Keylor NavasParis Saint Germain78.60.5213.6
6Hugo LlorisTottenham Hotspur71.10.6314.3
7Marc-Andre ter StegenFC Barcelona69.40.4014.0
8Samir HandanovicInter Milan76.30.1812.3
9Unai SimonAthletic Bilbao73.50.7015.2
10Kasper SchmeichelLeicester City66.30.4712.8
11Wojciech SzczęsnyJuventus70.20.4313.6
12Alexander NübelAS Monaco74.10.6214.8
13Lukasz FabianskiWest Ham United70.10.2112.1
14Rui PatricioAS Roma72.10.4512.6
15Emiliano MartinezAston Villa67.30.7013.6
16Stole DimitrievskiRayo Vallecano77.10.5212.8
17Walter BenitezOGC Nice77.00.6814.7
18Yassine BounouSevilla75.60.6115.1
19Thomas Strakosha Lazio 75.20.2714.6
20Martin DubravkaNewcastle United65.00.3011.8

Here you can see the first inkling that ‘Shot Stoppers’ don’t always tend to be exceptional ‘Shot Stoppers’. But the ‘Top 20’ listed here each hold a save percentage above at least 65%, which reaches some level of respectability in boosting their cause. Before you get carried away in discussing ter Stegen’s involvement in build-up or Unai Simon’s successful sweeping in behind Athletic Club’s low line, we also break this down all the more in identifying the perfect replicas of the ‘Shot Stopper’ type.

PERFECT PROTOTYPES

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Among the top twenty keepers, these are the most prototypical ‘Shot Stoppers’. In order to rank high on this list, a keeper should have low numbers on ‘Sweeper Keeper’ traits listed below like Cross Stop %, Average Distance of Defensive Actions, and Number of Defensive Actions Outside the Penalty Area, in addition to passing stats like Touches Outside the Penalty Area, Pass %, and Long Passing %. Meanwhile, they should boast higher numbers in ‘Shot Stopper’ traits like Save %, Post-Shot XG, and ‘Decision Making on Shot Stopping’. Here is how they rank:

Rank #Player TeamCr. Stop %# OPAAVG. Dist.PS-XG +/-
1David De GeaManchester United3.00.2413.8+0.20
2Lukasz FabianskiWest Ham United4.30.2112.1+0.08
3Samir HandanovicInter Milan5.20.1812.3-0.02
4Jan OblakAtletico Madrid6.50.3513.5-0.08
5Rui PatricioAS Roma2.70.4512.6-0.03
6Thomas StrakoshaLazio5.60.2714.6+0.06
7Martin DubravkaNewcastle United8.10.3011.8+0.17
8Kasper SchmeichelLeicester City6.80.4712.8-0.15
9Walter BenitezOGC Nice4.10.6814.7+0.11
10Emiliano MartinezAston Villa6.30.7013.6-0.18

Combining a range of factors, most prominently lack of sweeping and pronounced shot stopping ability, David De Gea comes out on top. The other typical prototypes include West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianski, Inter’s Samir Handanovic, Atletico’s Jan Oblak, and Roma’s Rui Patricio. Again, the key in their prototype is essentially being an anti-sweeper first and foremost, with a low number of defensive actions, and a close distance of those actions to their own goal. Saving metrics and the actual ‘Shot Stopping’ elements come secondary to that, allowing us to then evaluate one shot stopper over another. So with that, you can see quite clearly why David De Gea ranks so highly in our system as the quintessential ‘Shot Stopper’.

CONCLUSION

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It’s quite possible that all of this could be over-complicating matters unnecessarily. But I would disagree. The value in this system is twofold. First, it aims to evaluate players based on what matters most to their specific role in a team, ahead of anything else that may be less important to their job description. Secondly, it quantifies off-the-ball metrics and player decision making, bringing context to numbers and statistics – which are often used as the sole metric for evaluating player performance elsewhere. With that, we’ve given context to the ‘Shot Stopper’ as a goalkeeper that performs an anti-‘Sweeper Keeper’ role, whilst excelling in realms closer to their own goal – such as saving shots. The best of the art happens to be David De Gea, proving that what he may lack in certain areas of the game, he completely makes up for where it matters most to his role.


So there it is! Answering the complex question – ‘What is a Shot Stopper?’. Be sure to check out more from this series as we detail all thirty-two roles, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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