Ali Al-Habsi has earned a bit of a cult status at Reading. Our number 1 goalkeeper is having a terrific season, and looks endlessly better than he did last season. On top of that, he’s a really lovely chap; what’s not to like?
I wonder just how much of a turnaround has he made? After all, he was our player of the season in 2015-16. Is he an improvement on Adam Federici? Wait.. how good a campaign is he actually having? You guessed it - it’s time for some stats.
This season has seen a complete transformation in the way our goalkeepers operate. As anyone who has visited the Madejski will agree, our keepers pass the ball. A lot. This gargantuan shift in playing style has done wonders for Ali’s stats. This season, he averages 27.5 passes per game, 11 more than Federici in the 14/15 season. Even more remarkably, he himself averaged just 11.6 passes a game last season.
His distribution accuracy - presumably as a result of this new passing game - is significantly better than any keeper we’ve had in the last 5 years at 78%! If you look at Feds - who was well renowned for his distribution - he could only manage a measly 49% accuracy during his best season for the Royals.
But lets not kid ourselves, decent distribution is nothing more than a bonus for a goalkeeper. Most importantly, the men between the posts need to be good at preventing the ball from actually going in the goal.
This season, Ali has a rather good "saves per goal" ratio. On average, he makes 2.51 saves before letting one in. In the last 5 years, that is only beaten by Alex McCarthy’s break out Championship season in 2013/14, where he managed 2.85 saves before letting in a goal. Ali managed to get the vote for player of the season last year, but he only managed to save an average of 1.86 shots before letting one in. So maybe that alone tells us what a good season he’s having this year.
If we look at him compared with the other keepers around us, it tells another interesting story. Both Karl Darlow (Newcastle) and David Stockdale (Brighton) show a better saves per goal ratio. This is perhaps a good indicator as to why they’ve been in the top two all season. Amongst our playoff contenders, Ali has a better ratio than Rob Green (Leeds), Danny Ward (Huddersfield) and is almost exactly the same as Kieren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday). In fact, if we briefly compare his passing and distribution to those keepers, Ali beats them all. Wow.
Every keeper has his weak areas, and I had to dig deep to find one for Ali. It turns out, our keeper doesn’t catch the ball all that much. In fact, he only catches the ball 2.8 times a game on average - a stat which makes him the worst "ball catcher" we’ve had in the last 5 years. To be honest, I’m not sure that actually means a whole lot; he keeps them out the goal - so does he need to catch it? Compared to the rest of the teams around us, 2.8 catches on average isn’t bad at all. The Brighton and Newcastle keepers catch it more, but once again, Al-Habsi beats the rest of the others (Leeds, Huddersfield & Wednesday). Panic over.
So we’ve got a keeper who has statistically proven that he can play the "passing game" and a keeper who is as good as, maybe even a little bit better than, the teams around us in the play-off positions at keeping the ball out of the net.
All this will make good reading for our number one. If you ask me, this bodes very well for a promotion push. He is having a good season. A very good season indeed. Well done Ali. Keep on keepin’.