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Further Reading: Who Is The Royals’ Best ‘Keeper?

Reading have three goalies to choose from, but which one actually deserves the jersey?

Reading v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Following discussion with Simeon Pickup and Marc Mayo over on the TTE Podcast, and given the return of Vito Mannone from injury, I felt it’s the right time to take a look at who should be starting between the sticks for the Royals.

The dataset involved below will include all goalkeepers to have played over 360 minutes of Championship action. As good as Paul Gallagher’s save was during his goalkeeping cameo, the Preston midfielder sadly doesn’t make the cut. This threshold does however cover all three Reading goalkeepers to have featured this season. I will look at the relationship between the number of saves made per 90 mins and goals conceded per 90. This provides an insight into how busy each keeper is kept, and how the number of goals conceded relates to how busy they are.

As well as this, I have profiled how goalkeepers look to build out from the back. This has been done by taking a look at the percentage of passes that are classified as ‘long passes’. For this dataset, any pass greater than 25 yards is deemed a ‘long pass’. This will be considered in relation to the percentage of long passes which are successful, giving a general insight into how well they progress play over a longer distance.

From a Reading perspective one name jumps out as the anomaly: Anssi Jaakkola. This tells us several things, the obvious one being that Jaakkola has single-handedly won us points with his shot-stopping performances. The second is that he is incredibly busy in comparison to the rest of the league’s goalkeepers, having to pull off double the number of average saves per 90 (2.7).

Given his shot-stopping heroics it is particularly concerning to see that he is also above average for goals conceded per 90 (1.4). This, coupled with the fact that Sam Walker and Vito Mannone also fall the wrong side of the average goals conceded threshold, is not a good reflection on this Royals side.

This is also backed up by the lack of clean sheets being collected by our keepers. Reading are on course to collect only two clean sheets by the end of the season, in comparison to 15 when we reached the play-off final in 2017.

Overall, it can be seen that Mannone has the lowest goals conceded per 90, a figure that includes two penalties against Blackburn Rovers. He is also the least busy of all three Reading goalkeepers, suggesting we were slightly tighter at the back in the early part of the season despite playing the likes of Derby County and Nottingham Forest in the opening weeks.

Around the league

Darrren Randolph is an unsurprising name to see performing well in the league in the goals conceded per 90 metric, having played behind a rock solid Middlesbrough defence, but it’s interesting to note that he performs around the league average for saves per 90.

Both Swansea goalkeepers - Mulder and Nordfeldt - register contradictory data to what would be anticipated. Mulder, despite registering over one save per 90 more than Nordfeldt, concedes half the goals per 90 in comparison to his teammate.

Rotherham’s 21 year-old Marek Rodak, playing in his first Championship campaign, looks to be a reliable shot-stopper. With a goals conceded per 90 rate of around the league average, this is made all the more impressive due to conceding nine in the opening four games. Matt Ingram’s early season horror for QPR can be seen, and has subsequently seen him loaned out to League One side Wycombe Wanderers.

A long pass is defined as a pass greater than 25 yards.

This metric allows us to identify which teams look to build up via shorter passes opposed to a more direct approach. A more direct approach, coupled with an effective target man, may provide an effective way for teams to progress the ball up the pitch. The graph above sheds some light on how each team and their respective goalkeeper performs - and the approach they favour.

In terms of Reading’s goalkeepers there is an obvious disparity in the percentage of long passes played by the respective keepers, with Jaakkola and Walker being at differing ends of the spectrum; Walker favouring a far more direct approach. It is interesting to note that Walker also ranks poorly on the number of turnovers from long passes in comparison to the rest of the league. With the likes of Jon Dadi Bodvarsson and Yakou Meite providing an aerial presence in the final third, Reading have the target men to facilitate a more direct approach.

Mannone and Jaakkola’s long-ball distribution accuracy ranks almost identically. From a Reading perspective it is hardly unsurprising that Jaakkola, signed by Stam in his first season, is the most comfortable when using his feet to distribute the ball both long and short. With Walker’s arrival in the summer - and different distribution - we’ve seen a shift in style under Paul Clement since his appointment.

Around the league

Unsurprisingly, under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa Leeds United goalkeeper Peackock-Farrell favours a short passing approach in his distribution. Both Swansea goalkeepers - Mulder and Nordfeldt - also favour a shorter passing approach, with the latter also showing exceptional distribution numbers when he does feel the need to adopt a longer passing approach.

Marek Rodak and Lee Camp operate at the other end of the spectrum, almost exclusively playing passes greater than 25 yards, with this approach resulting in high long-ball pass completion rates due to effective target men such as Birmingham City’s Lukas Jutkiewicz.

In summary

Paul Clement is in a good position having seen all three goalkeepers perform in the Championship this season. From the metrics measure above, it is fair to say that Sam Walker is rather limited in terms of his distribution, which invites pressure onto an already struggling Reading defence.

In addition, although not measured by these metrics, he has looked far from convincing when dealing with crosses, as shown against West Bromwich Albion. Vito Mannone was in possession of the number one jersey last season and has performed at around the league average for all the metrics measured, prior to being dropped.

Anssi Jaakkola may only have come in recently, but his shot-stopping heroics can be clearly seen in comparison to the rest of the league. He also possesses the ability to play a shorter passing game, if Clement were to prefer progressing play via the goalkeeper. Given his recent performances I think it is hard to strip him of the number one jersey at this moment in time.