WhoScored's Ali Tweedale evaluates England's goalkeeping options ahead of the World Cup and finds an alarming lack of stoppers in form...
Last Updated: 21/03/14 9:59am
For years and goalkeepers on end, Manchester United struggled to replace the legend that was Peter Schmeichel. England have had similar issues coping with the retirement of David Seaman and errors between the sticks for the Three Lions have characterised the decade since the former Arsenal man bowed out almost as much as colossal over-expectation, disappointment and the wally-with-a-brolly saga.
England's saviour and current No.1 Joe Hart had a worrying wobble of his own earlier this season that saw Costel Pantilimon take the Manchester City jersey temporarily and meant some even questioned whether he should remain England's shot-stopper, though that now seems to have died down.
He does, though, receive a fair amount of criticism for not being as good a goalkeeper as sometimes made out, the main gripes being that he makes too many mistakes, particularly given that he has an easier job of things playing behind City's - relatively - steadfast defence. As the top-rated English goalkeeper in the Premier League or UEFA Champions League this season, these allegations are lacking substance in that, statistically, he is outperforming his competitors for Roy Hodgson's No.1 spot, but compared to other nationalities there is certainly cause for concern.
Going by the WhoScored rating, Hart's (6.73) is closer to the Premier League average for goalkeepers than any other stopper, suggesting he certainly is not at the level that many say he is.
When sorting the 112 goalkeepers with at least 10 appearances in Europe's top five leagues this season by rating, Hart comes up exactly half way (56th). Rather than being one of the best around, could it be that Hart is instead a perfectly 'average' goalkeeper whose career has merely coincided with a dearth of talented English shot-stoppers?
That is perhaps overly harsh, but stand-out performances have been few and far between, while poor showings are all too frequent. He does, though, deserve credit for bouncing back from his early-season blip and finding form in the second part of the season. His current run of three consecutive clean sheets is his best all season and will help build hope that he can maintain some consistency ahead of the summer, if the rather over-zealous reaction to George Boyd's meek fall at the weekend gave us any reason to doubt the England No.1 and in particular a temperament that could get the better of him in the pressure and swelter of Brazil.
He is one of the best shot-stoppers around, with his 76 per cent save success rate the second-highest in the Premier League this season (behind Vito Mannone's 80.4%), but of course this stat needs context, as City do no concede many shots (10.3 per game is the second-fewest in the top flight) and the chances they allow their opponents are, in general, of lower quality. That only two players have committed more errors that have led to goals in the Premier League this season than him (three) is a more telling statistic given how little he sees the ball.
Possibly more worrying for England fans is that one of the two players above Hart in this regard is John Ruddy (the other is Simon Mignolet). The Norwich City goalkeeper has become a fixture in Roy Hodgson's squads but primarily because of a lack of options elsewhere, with only three of the Premier League's 20 teams boasting an Englishman between the sticks. He has saved just 63.9% of the shots on target he has been tested with and let in four goals directly through errors of his own.
His form of late, too, has been woeful, shipping four goals at Southampton and Aston Villa in March alone. Having completed just 39.4% of his passes this season, he has the worst pass success rate in the Premier League of players with over 10 appearances. That kind of distribution, even if in part the responsibility of Norwich's outfielders, is not good enough for a World Cup.
Ben Foster is the best other option in England's top tier, and he will likely be Hart's deputy this summer, but with an average WhoScored rating of just 6.42, he, too, has been below par. He has not (yet) become the goalkeeper many hoped he would, and he has not been able to arrest his West Bromwich Albion side's slide down the table. A goalkeeper who dominates the area is such a vastly reassuring thing for a team as terrified of messing it all up as England, but having successfully claimed only 22 crosses all season (just 1.5 per game), he is way down on his competitors in this regard as well as in how frequently he saves shots (65.2%). So that is all three of the Premier League's English goalkeepers, and it is an understatement to say they leave a lot to be desired.
Outside of England's top tier, Fraser Forster has impressed at Celtic, doing well in a tough Champions League group, unfortunate to be on the losing side to Barcelona having shut them out for 75 minutes. A title-winning season in the SPL, though, is unlikely to test him sufficiently for the challenges of a World Cup. In the Championship, Queens Park Rangers' Rob Green has surely missed his England chance after his gaff in South Africa in 2010, though, he has kept a league-high 15 clean sheets this season. Alex McCarthy could be one for the future with a save success rate of 79.3%, while Jack Butland continues to develop but certainly is not ready for the highest level.
England can only hope that Joe Hart remains fit and on form for the next three months, at the very least.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.