Sky Sports takes a deep dive into the fine start to the season Tottenham goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario has made at Tottenham; the Italian is statistically one of the league's top No 1s; watch Man City vs Spurs live on Sky Sports' Super Sunday this weekend; kick-off 4.30pm
Sunday 3 December 2023 17:06, UK
At his former club Empoli, Guglielmo Vicario had the nickname 'Venom', after the fearsome Marvel character, for two reasons: his supernatural reflexes and the angry and intense manner he would swat away shots.
"His ability, his reflexes, it was crazy!" recalls Samir Ujkani to Sky Sports. The former Empoli goalkeeper spent two years working alongside Vicario at the Serie A club and was part of his progression before his move to Tottenham earlier this year.
Now the young Italian goalkeeper is here in the Premier League and his impact has been instant - to the point where former team-mate Ujkani can say: "He's the perfect goalkeeper for the moment, he's complete."
The stats go some way to support that. Opta data shows that only Luton's Thomas Kaminski and Man Utd's Andre Onana have prevented more goals from an Expected Goals on Target point of view than Vicario.
The fact the Tottenham No 1 has faced at least ten fewer shots than the other two goalkeepers, thereby having fewer chances to impress in this metric, shows how efficient the 27-year-old has been between the sticks.
It puts him among the league's best at the start of this season. Not bad for someone who far from a recognised name in European football just six months ago.
The fast and impressive start Vicario has made at Tottenham was similar to the one he had at Empoli. Both the Italian and Kosovan goalkeeper Ujkani arrived at the then-newly promoted Serie A club in the same summer of 2021 - and Vicario was key in keeping the minnows away from the relegation fight.
"He was playing as a first-choice Serie A goalkeeper for the first time, and it's not easy," remembers Ujkani. "But after four or five games, he took the squad on his back. Each game, he became better and better."
In just his second game for Empoli, he kept a clean sheet to record a 1-0 win away at Juventus. He did the same at Napoli a few months later. Overall, the Serie A minnows had picked up enough wins before Christmas in Vicario's first season to make relegation far from a possibility.
"I could really say that if Empoli didn't have Vicario, I don't think they would be in Serie A today," adds his former back-up goalkeeper.
Now Vicario is battling at the top end of the Premier League with Tottenham, and in doing so has replaced Hugo Lloris as Spurs' No 1.
Lloris held that position for 11 years - and is still at the club after failing to move away from Tottenham - but Vicario's form is helping the World Cup winner with France become a forgotten figure in north London.
The first reason for this is Vicario is error-proof, so far - which is almost the opposite of the Lloris we have seen in recent years. Only Everton's Jordan Pickford made more errors leading to a goal than Lloris' 14 between 2017 and the end of last season. Vicario is yet to record one in his first few months at Tottenham, while his save numbers are higher too.
The other reason is because new Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou needs a goalkeeper of Vicario's skillset and not that of Lloris'.
The high line used in 'Angeball' requires a goalkeeper who is ready to come out and sweep up opposition attacks. Vicario has more regains from sweeping than any other Premier League shot stopper with 19. Apart from Vicario, Emiliano Martinez and Nick Pope, no other top-flight goalkeeper has even half of that tally.
"You talk about a sweeper keeper, I've never seen anything like that. He's been an absolute revelation since he came to Tottenham," said Jamie Carragher after Vicario impressed during nine-player Tottenham's 4-1 loss to Chelsea.
"I hope Franco Baresi and Arrigo Sacchi watched this. I've never seen Milan push that high even with 11 men. These were nine men and it's something I had never seen."
Vicario is also in the top five Premier League goalkeepers for passes and touches, showing a willingness to get on the ball and play safely out the back. But that has not always been the case.
"He has a lot of qualities, his reflexes, his ability to move fast, to read the situation - and every day he became better," says Ujkani about Vicario's time at Empoli.
"Of all his qualities, I could say at the beginning that playing with his feet was not at 100 per cent. At the beginning, he had difficulties because he needed to find the feeling for it. But in January, he started to be fantastic with his feet.
"But in January of the first season, he started to be fantastic with his feet. He just kept working and talking and listening. That's what makes him stronger. And now at Tottenham, we see he's fantastic at it."
The manner in which Tottenham deploy those skills - the high line and passing out the back - means Vicario is busy most weekends. Throw in the challenge of trying to keep Erling Haaland and Manchester City out of your net and it's one almighty challenge.
In Italian football, Vicario was known for stepping up against the bigger sides. One example was his superb triple save for Empoli against Roma in February of this year becoming a viral clip online.
"Everybody was shocked, but it was funny too," says Ujkani, remembering that moment. "Everyone was sitting on the bench, turning to each other going 'wow'. But I went: 'it's normal, this is Vica'.
"At Empoli, he saved everything against the big teams. It was crazy.
"Every time, the opposition strikers, particularly in the big teams, were looking at each other and say: 'What the **** is happening?'
"Haaland is one of the best strikers in the world, it will be a great game to see. I'll be watching it and hope Vica is going to win the battle."
Watch Man City vs Tottenham live on Sky Sports' Super Sunday this weekend, kick-off 4.30pm. The game can also be streamed using a NOW TV pass.