By Bill Reno (@letsallsoccer)
The last time I wrote a top ten list of World Cup goalkeepers the website promptly folded. So congratulations to American Soccer Analysis on a good run and I wish all the writers the best in their future endeavors. Now with that out of the way, here’s the inside scoop on the top goalkeepers in Russia this summer.
While there are a number of projections and odds on who’s most likely to win the Golden Boot, the Golden Glove typically goes to the winning team’s goalkeeper, regardless of actual performance. Consider this more of a list of goalkeepers most likely to ruin another country’s shot at lifting the trophy. If your country faces one of these goalkeepers, you may want to double down on your pre-game rituals and superstitions.
- David de Gea (Spain, Manchester United) - After a blistering season with United, it won’t surprise most that de Gea finds the top spot. His reactions are top class and the trend of teams leaning towards slimmer, mobile goalkeeper is largely due to de Gea’s game saving prowess. A more passive goalkeeper, de Gea takes the stance of “just try and beat me” instead of bull rushing opponents into submission. De Gea is a great example of a goalkeeper finding their own style to hone, instead of shoehorning someone else’s approach.
- Thibaut Courtois (Belgium, Chelsea) - Courtois possesses a nice calmness to his play, which is rare for a goalkeeper of his size. After a relatively quiet season with Chelsea where the media couldn’t stop discussing which English goalkeeper would make the final roster, Courtois kept a sub-1.0 GAA and hasn’t been in goal for a loss with Belgium since September of 2016. He’s not flashy in between the posts, and could even be described as “boring”, but the steadiness will only help Belgium’s attempt to top the group.
- Keylor Navas (Costa Rica, Real Madrid) - The Champions League final was largely focused on the other end of the pitch but Navas had a great display of going from 0 to 60 when he saved a shot (that he couldn't see) from twelve yards out. It’s the type of play we expect Navas to make but if any other goalkeeper does it, it’s an amazing save. Some fans may be worried about the recent 4-1 loss to Belgium and while there may be some basis for that claim, it shouldn’t be aimed at Navas. The Real Madrid goalkeeper is as reliable as ever and is doing everything in his power to not make his last World Cup run end on a lackluster note.
- Manuel Neuer (Germany, Bayern Munich) - The Neuer vs. ter Stegen debate has reached a point where it feels like unless Germany win the World Cup, they should have started ter Stegen instead. It’s hard to say Neuer is or isn’t back to himself after a handful of friendlies. The causes for concern for Neuer are centered around his aggressive decision making, and rightfully so. If he’s one step off, it could be a devastating mistake. Some may suggest for Neuer to just play a little less aggressive than normal, but that’s casually asking a top goalkeeper to change his entire style of play ahead of a massive tournament. For those readers older than three years old, Neuer is in a similar position as Iker Casillas was in 2014. While Casillas wasn’t injured, he wasn’t in good form entering the tournament and was immediately exposed. For Germany, it’s a roll of the dice on Neuer as no one can speak with certainty on how he’ll perform with the pressure.
- Fernando Muslera (Uruguay, Galatasaray) - After a very early exit in the Europa League with Galatasaray, it seems most everyone has forgotten about Muslera’s World Cup history. The thirty-one year old returns to start in his third World Cup and has only conceded six times in his eleven World Cup starts. He still possesses a nice spring in his step and Mulsera did very well in World Cup qualifying, allowing only 16 goals in 17 games for Uruguay. Don’t be surprised if Muslera bags more shutouts than goals conceded in the group stage.
- Rui Patricio (Portugal, Sporting CP) - Patricio is surely looking for a distraction from his club situation, after terminating his contract when masked fans stormed a training session, attacking coaches and players in the process. Despite the sour ending, Patricio led Sporting to the Europa League quarterfinals before being ousted by Atletico Madrid. I wouldn’t say Patricio is as freespirited as Dominik Hašek but he’s not afraid to stray from the textbook if the situation presents itself. Portuguese fans will surely be entertained on both ends of the pitch this summer with Ronaldo and Patricio providing some unique approaches to the game.
- Alisson (Brazil, Roma) - Personally, I’m #TeamEderson but I understand the draw of Alisson. He probably leads all goalkeepers in making saves with his body, which is a testament to his positioning and ability to read the game. On the other hand, for those who remember the Champions League semifinal versus Liverpool, Alisson didn’t look great coming off his line in 1v1 or scrambling situations. And while Brazil may write off the 7-1 loss to Germany last go around as a fluke, it’s hard not to think that Alisson will find himself in a similar spot that he did multiple times against Liverpool.
- Wojciech Szczesny (Poland, Juventus) - While Polish backup and Swansea City goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski could start for a number of teams in the World Cup, Poland is relying on Buffon’s replacement to not be upset by Senegal or Japan in the group stage. For American readers, Szczesny’s style is similar to Brad Friedel’s: Szczesny doesn’t mind throwing his body into an oncoming striker but largely relies on his lankiness to protect the line. Group H is a bit of an atypical group so Szczesny may be thrown into some atypical situations inside the 18. But if you ask an Arsenal fan, they may not have many kind words for the Polish goalkeeper’s ability to handle tight situations in the box.
- Yann Sommer (Switzerland, Borussia Mönchengladbach) - Sommer surely has the weirdest style of goalkeeping out of the bunch here. He keeps his body much lower than typically recommended but is still able to keep his weight forward and break out laterally. He hits the ground with a bounciness, almost getting a boost of energy to return to his feet. It’s almost like a he’s Flubber incarnate. The sprawling style can either really gel with a team or be a thorn in a nation’s side. Sommer doesn't have the best hands but works around them by pushing what he can to safety. The double edged sword could lead to an unnoticeable summer for the Swiss keeper or leave the nation’s residents all with shorter fingernails by the end of the tournament after watching Sommer in goal.
- Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark, Leicester City) - While both Schmeichel and France’s Hugo Lloris have the big save in their repertoire, Schmeichel seems to have fewer big mistakes in his back pocket than Lloris does. Group C isn’t a cakewalk with Peru, Denmark, and Australia fully able to undermine France’s run to the knockout stage and Schmeichel seems to feed off of being the underdog. Perhaps it’s because of his father, perhaps it’s due to Leicester City’s 2016/17 season, but Schmeichel is a goalkeeper whose snowballing abilities rival Dota 2’s Legion Commander: once he gets rolling, he doesn’t appear to be stopped. If there’s one goalkeeper to repeat Tim Howard’s 2014 performance that left us with an above-this-world sort of feeling, Schmeichel is surely one of the frontrunners.