Is Leno really an upgrade over Čech?
Chelsea legend and veteran Arsenal goal-keeper Petr Čech is in the twilight of his career at the top level. If you've followed Arsenal regularly over the past few seasons, it's pretty lucid to conclude that the 36-year-old keeper is on a decline. He committed more errors leading to an opposition goal (6) than any other player in Europe's top 5 leagues in the 2017-18 season. As a result, Arsenal went into the market early and, signed Napoli target and Bayer Leverkusen's Bernd Leno for a reported fee of £19.3m.
The 26-year-old German made 270 appearances for Leverkusen spanning over 7 seasons. In September 2011 he became the youngest goalkeeper to feature in a Champions League match at the age of just 19 years and 193 days, against Chelsea. Impressive stuff but is he an upgrade over Čech and how does he rank among the best shot-stoppers in Europe?
Here are the best shot-stoppers in the big 5 European leagues over the last two seasons. This is a "shots on target" expected goals model which takes into account the quality of each shot on target faced (shot xG). Now by aggregating shot xG, we can calculate how many goals a goalkeeper would be expected to concede given the chances they have faced and then compare this to the number of goals they actually conceded to assess their shot-stopping. This is a significantly better assessment than using goals conceded, clean sheets or save percentages.
Unsurprisingly, David de Gea conceded way fewer goals than he was expected to with an outrageous save efficiency of 24.6%. He is followed by the usual suspects Manuel Neuer and Jan Oblak, while ter Stegen and Alisson Becker also make the top 10. Let's take a look at the numbers of some other goalkeepers.
W. Szczesny +5.5% | A. Areola +4.3% | K. Navas +2% | J. Butland +1.7% | P. Čech +1.6% | G. Donnarumma 0% | K. Schmeichel -3.1% | S. Mignolet -5.7% | G. Rulli -6.3% | G. Buffon -8.6% | L. Karius -9.8% | P. Reina -12.7% | Ederson -12.9% | J. Hart -16% | B. Leno -16.7%
Bernd Leno has the 3rd lowest save efficiency in the big 5 leagues (minimum 2500 minutes game time) and has conceded 16.7% more goals than expected. This is a clear indicator that shot stopping is not one of his strengths and lags behind most of the top starting goalkeepers across Europe. Petr Čech conceded 1.6% fewer goals than expected which is just average but surprisingly has a better ratio than Leno. But in the last season Čech had a negative save efficiency and +1.6% over two seasons is largely due to him over-performing his shot faced xG in 2016-17.
It is quite intriguing and shocking to observe that Leno has never over-performed shot faced xG and has conceded more goals than expected in every season at Leverkusen. His best season came in 2013-14 conceding 1 more goal than expected. While he regressed over the last 2 years drastically with just saving 89.4% of the goals he was expected to do last season till December 2017.
In comparison, Alisson Becker who started every game for Brazil in the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been a good shot-stopper. He has almost conceded 10 fewer goals than expected over 3 seasons when he was the starting goalkeeper for his club. Jan Oblak, ranked 3rd on the list of shot-stoppers has let in 16 fewer goals than expected in his last 4 seasons, which is pretty excellent.
This piece just focused on the shot-stopping ability of the goalkeepers but it should also be noted that this is only one facet of a goalkeeper's game. Positioning, anticipation, concentration, reflexes and passing are some other aspects in which arguably Leno is better than Čech. He also saved 9 penalties in the Bundesliga, no other active goalkeeper has more, another department which can be handy as Arsenal concede many penalties. Apart from Neuer, he also has the most clean sheets in Germany since 2014-15. But numbers clearly show Leno has under-performed for a number of years when it comes to shot-stopping. He still has age by his side, and at 26 has a lot of room for improvement. Maybe, change of clubs is what he needs to go to the next level.
As you can see, David de Gea was instrumental behind Manchester United's 2nd place finish getting 18 more points than expected. Arsenal on the other hand got 9 less points, with Čech at the heart of it as well as some poor defending on show.
Sven Mislintat, Arsenal's head of recruitment believes in Leno's character as well as his potential. New goalkeeping coach Javi Garcia who arrived from PSG, has a lot of work to do with the new man in the goal. Unless Leno improves his shot stopping drastically, he may still perform better than Čech did last season, but the difference might just be marginal and not significant.