Which German Goalkeepers should Löw pick?

The German national coach for goalkeepers, Andreas Köpke, recently named the goalkeepers that he has on his list for the national team and, hence, which are competing for participation in the European Championship 2016 (should Germany qualify). Besides the current number one Manuel Neuer and his senior backup Roman Weidenfeller, these are the known contenders Barca's new signing Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and Leverkusen's Bernd Leno. Less known are Schalke's Ralf Fährmann, Kevin Trapp (Frankfurt), Timo Horn (Köln) and Oliver Baumann (Hoffenheim).

We take the opportunity and check if this is the best choice according to Goalimpact, too. If you want to know how our rating works on goalkeepers, we wrote the concept down here. In short, we evaluate the average goal difference in games with the keeper as compared to games without and correct this result for many many factors such as team mate and opponent strength, home field advantage and others. Wait, you will say. My team always plays with the same keeper. There is no such thing as a "game without". In order to circumvent this, there are many precautions taken, most of all we take the information of all games of a players career and not only one season.

If we plot the current Goalimpact on the x-axis and the expected career peak value "PeakGI" on the y-axis, we obtain a chart with all currently excellent keepers on the right-hand side and all very talented keepers on the upper part.

All German professional goalkeepers. Keepers on the short list for the national
team are marked orange. Most of them are either very good and have a Goalimpact
of 140+ or are a prospect of having one later in their career.

As we can see, Manuel Neuer is in the top right corner, basically playing in his own league. Roman Weidenfeller is the second best keeper but already considerably behind Neuer's Goalimpact. Moreover, he is already at his peak and hence is unlikely to improve from here on. He himself declared the European Championship as a "welcome end" to his career in the national team.

The chart enables us to rate the contenders in comparison to the former two. They are all significantly weaker in their current performance, but this is due to their young age. If we compare the PeakGIs, we see that all of them but Ralf Fährmann are in the range spanned by Weidenfeller and Neuer. Trapp and Baumann are very good keepers that are on their way to become as successful as Weidenfeller, but that may not be enough to secure a place in the future national team. The reason is that the other contenders, Leno, ter Stegen and Horn, are more talented and are expected to overtake Trapp and Baumann in Goalimpact eventually. Ralf Fährmann is currently not expected to peak above 140 and hence high enough to join the national team.

All in all, Goalimpact would have selected a very similar set of goalkeepers as a mix of talents and experienced players. Only exception is that we would prefer Jens Grahl over Ralf Fährmann. And then there are some more talents out there that didn't make it to a major league yet and were probably not considered by Köppke and Löw for that reason. However, given their talent they are likely to move to higher leagues soon.

Beside the named players, there are some other even younger goalkeepers leaving the youth development centers that are expected to peak in the relevant range of 140 to 160. Germany, you will keep your tradition of good goalkeeping for at least one more player generation.

Rating for Goalkeeper

One of the problems of football statistics is that it isn't obvious to find numbers how to rate players. One position that is comparably easy to analyse is the goalkeeper. It is easier because goalkeeper have less degrees of freedom of what to do on the field. They move around much less and if they play for a good team they often hardly have any action at all in an entire game. Despite this, even for goalkeepers we do not have definite numbers to rank them.

differentgame did some great work in analyzing goalkeepers. They compared the save percentages from different zones and computed "goals above average stopped". However, the game of a goalkeeper consists of more then just shot stopping. Catching crosses, playing a sweeper behind a high defense line, passing, long balls, organization of the defense and many more. Watch this video of Manuel Neuer and you will see many amazing actions by him, but not a single save.

Goalimpact rates a player by the goal difference of the player's team when the player is on the field as compared to when he is not. This basic logic is applied to all players independent of their position. For goalkeepers this will include all influence the goalkeeper has on the goal difference. Even his impact on scoring goals by starting fast breaks. This algorthim implicitly nets weights the pros and cons of each goalkeepers.

Based on this, we can produce a list of the best goalkeepers and see if this list is reasonable. So here is the list of all goalkeepers with a Goalimpact above 130, a level that can be considered as the best of breed.

Rank Player Goalimpact Player Age Team Nationality
1 Iker Casillas 166.5 32.5 Real Madrid Spanien
2 Manuel Neuer 164.4 27.7 Bayern München Deutschland
3 Petr Cech 158.9 31.5 Chelsea FC Tschechien
4 Victor Valdés 157.4 32.0 FC Barcelona Spanien
5 Gianluigi Buffon 151.1 35.9 Juventus Italien
6 Helton 148.0 35.6 FC Porto Brasilien
7 Pepe Reina 144.3 31.3 SSC Napoli Spanien
8 Andriy Pyatov 140.1 29.5 Shakhtar Donetsk Ukraine
9 Dida 137.8 40.5 Gremio Porto Alegre Brasilien
10 Maarten Stekelenburg 136.2 31.2 Fulham FC Niederlande
11 Andreas Isaksson 133.8 32.2 Kasimpasa SK Schweden
12 Allan McGregor 131.1 31.9 Hull City Schottland

To check if this list indeed comprising the best goalkeepers, we refer to a list that is independently generated by experts: The Fifa World XI. There are five goalkeepers shortlisted to be selected:
  • Gianluigi Buffon (Italien, Juventus Turin)
  • Iker Casillas (Spanien, Real Madrid)
  • Petr Cech (Tschechien, FC Chelsea)
  • Manuel Neuer (Deutschland, Bayern München)
  • Victor Valdés (Spanien, FC Barcelona)
As these are exactly the five highest ranked goalkeepers in our rating, we conclude that Goalimpact does work for goalkeepers, too. Notice, that the algorithm didn't just pick the goalkeepers of the best clubs of the world. The big clubs have usually good goalkeepers, but many of the big English clubs are missing here as is Dortmund. Maybe they should adopt their goalkeeper scouting and make it rely on better data. I can't think of a more cost-efficient way to improve a team's expected goal difference than to hire a great goalkeeper. Andriy Pyatov is listed with 6M€ at transfermarkt, Helton with 3M€.