The previously-unheralded goalkeeping position has been at the forefront of the evolution of modern defence in football. In the last few years, the shot-stopper’s role within the team has transformed from a reactive one between the sticks to a more proactive one further up the defensive line.
Gone are the days where goalkeepers were only required to possess shot-stopping skills and quick reflexes. The modern-day goalkeeper is expected to be as confident with the ball at his feet as he is when it is in his hands.
He is considered the 11th outfield player on the pitch and is often dubbed as the first playmaker in his team’s attacking movement.
In recent years, the Premier League has witnessed a significant rise of what is now called the sweeper-keeper, with managers like Pep Guardiola keener on deploying contemporary shot-stoppers rather than traditional ones.
These goalkeepers are playing more active roles in their respective teams and their heroics between the sticks are now celebrated not only as game-winning efforts but potentially even title-winning endeavours.
Keeping in mind the growing list of duties expected from the modern goalkeepers, we take a look at three of the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League this season.
Honourable mentions: Martin Dubravka (Newcastle United), Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City)
#1 Dean Henderson (Sheffield United)
Much of Sheffield United’s success on their return to the Premier League this season can be credited to the scintillating form of Dean Henderson between the sticks.
The 23-year-old has quickly transformed himself from a perpetually on-loan goalkeeper- having undergone consecutive loan spells at lower-league clubs from Manchester United- to an irreplaceable figure in Chris Wilder’s squad, helping the Blades secure promotion to the Premier League in his debut season with the club.
He was named Sheffield United’s Young Player of the Season for his efforts last season and was also awarded the Championship Golden Glove for keeping 22 clean sheets in the division.
The former Shrewsbury Town shot-stopper carried his award-winning form into the Premier League, where he has kept 10 clean sheets so far this season, which is the same tally as Liverpool’s Alisson Becker and Leicester City’s Kasper Schmeichel.
His solid displays are the primary reason behind the Blades’ insane defensive form this season, with the South Yorkshire-based team having conceded only 25 goals, which is the second-best record in the English top flight. He has individually conceded 22 of those goals and has also made 70 saves in the league this term.
Henderson has demonstrated qualities which belie his experience in the last two years and it is no wonder that the Red Devils offered him a new contract last summer, with England manager Gareth Southgate also having rewarded the goalkeeper with a national call-up in November last year.
#2 Alisson Becker (Liverpool)
Alisson Becker continues to make a strong case for himself in the Premier League despite having arrived at Liverpool more than two years ago. The former AS Roma man remains one of the most efficient goalkeepers in the entirety of Europe and has heightened the Reds’ winning prospects in the English top-flight since joining them.
The Brazil international took his shot-stopping abilities to new heights at Anfield, showing his new audience exactly why he’s called the ‘Lionel Messi of goalkeeping’.
In two years with the Reds, the Novo Hamburgo-born star has displayed great composure with the ball at his feet, intelligent positioning and impeccable ball distribution skills- qualities that make a great modern-day goalkeeper.
The 27-year-old is also an assertive gloveman who commands the final third of the pitch and is not afraid to hold his defenders accountable for mistakes when necessary.
While Jurgen Klopp possesses one of the most lethal defensive lines in European football, much of their conviction was cemented after the incorporation of the former Internacional goalkeeper into the team.
Alisson was awarded the Premier League Golden Glove in his debut season for Liverpool after he kept 21 clean sheets and conceded just 22 goals. His efforts between the sticks, including 8 saves in the Champions League final, helped the Reds to their sixth European Cup, a year after Loris Karius’ mistakes cost them the title against Real Madrid.
Despite missing out on a series of games due to injury, the Yashine Trophy recipient has kept 10 clean sheets for Liverpool this term, which is the second-best record for a goalkeeper in the league, with 45 saves and 11 conceded goals to his name.
Alisson has undoubtedly been one of best goalkeepers in the Premier League in recent years, with Liverpool’s struggles in his absence this season a testament to his transformative influence in the team.
#3 Nick Pope (Burnley)
Nick Pope quickly bounced back from an injury break that saw him miss out on a full Premier League season and has established himself as one of the most efficient goalkeepers in the English top flight, potentially rivalling Dean Henderson and Jordan Pickford for the England national team’s No. 1 position.
The Burnley goalkeeper, whose major strength is his shot-stopping ability, has the highest number of clean sheets in the Premier League this season (11) and boasts of 89 saves, making an average of 3.10 saves per game.
The 27-year-old shot-stopper may not be as comfortable playing with the ball at his feet, partly due to Sean Dyche’s system at Turf Moor, but his experience, his command of the penalty area, his ability to claim crosses and his tendency to successfully come off his line to sweep up are all qualities that make him a goalkeeper worthy of being in England’s top teams.
Pope will have to work on his passing accuracy and his control with the ball at his feet if he wants to make it to the England squad ahead of the 2020 Euros. Having said that, the Soham-born goalkeeper continues to give Gareth Southgate a selection headache with his impressive performances between the sticks this season.