The goalkeeper: the last line of defence. Some say the most important man in a team, others say less so, possibly in the hope that they will not be needed if the outfielders do their jobs properly. The fact of the matter is, though, that goalkeepers are key to a team's success, and a good goalkeeping performance can often coincide with a positive result.
Of course most important in a goalkeeper's game is his shot-stopping, so here we take a look at how much success 'keepers across Europe's top 5 leagues have had in keeping the ball out of the net, concentrating on the best, and worst, goalkeepers in terms of save success rate. That is, those that have saved the highest and lowest proportions of the shots on target they have faced this season, with only those to have made at least 10 appearances considered.
Manuel Neuer's reputation continues to grow and grow, and at 26-years-old he could well retain both the Bayern Munich and Germany no. 1 jerseys for a long time to come. Nobody would doubt his capabilities, but one might reasonably assume that his job behind sturdy, well-organised defences could be easier than other stoppers. With Bayern only having allowed their opponents 47 shots on target this season - the fewest in Europe's top 5 leagues - that is certainly the case, but Neuer's save success rate of 85.1% is not to be sniffed at, it being the best rate going. Bayern have only conceded 7 league goals all season, and Neuer's 40 saves have most certainly helped out, with the vast majority (31 out of 47) of the shots he has faced coming from inside the penalty area.
Paris Saint Germain's Salvatore Sirigu is currently on a run of 686 minutes without conceding a Ligue 1 goal; a run stretching back over his last 8 appearances. The Italian has only let in 8 goals all season and has saved a massive 83.3% of the shots on target he has faced. PSG restrict their opponents to almost half their shots on target from outside the area and so this may well have a hand in Sirigu's impressive saving stats.
The only other 'keeper across the top 5 leagues to keep out over four-fifths of the shots on target he has faced is Swansea's backup stopper, Gerhard Tremmel, who was only given a run in the team due to the absence through injury of WhoScored's 2011/12 Premier League goalkeeper of the season, Michel Vorm. Vorm has, though, been outperformed by his understudy in terms of shots-to-saves rate, with Tremmel keeping out 81.5% of shots faced compared to Vorm's 65.7%. While there is more to keeping goal than shot-stopping, it could well be that Tremmel deserves more of run in the team regardless of Vorm's return to action.
Not far behind Tremmel is the third most expensive goalkeeper in footballing history; Manchester United's oft-criticised David De Gea. People regularly focus on the young Spaniard's flaws when coming for crosses rather than the great shot-stopping abilities that were on show, in particular, in United's recent draw at Tottenham. While he was once again unconvincing under crosses, he excelled when facing attempts on goal, many of them from close range. His save success rate of 78.7% is the joint 4th best in Europe's top 5 leagues.
Making up the top 5 is Malaga's number 1, Willy Caballero, who has made exactly the same number of saves (59) from exactly the same number of shots faced (75) as De Gea, resulting in the same save success (78.7%). Caballero has similar struggles to the former Atletico keeper as well, with both possessing 'shot stopping' as a WhoScored strength, but 'catching crosses' as a weakness. Caballero has, though, conceded fewer goals (17) than De Gea (19) despite making 5 more appearances, and has 9 clean sheets already this term, fewer only than 6 goalkeepers across Europe's top 5 leagues.
Bastia currently sit fairly comfortably in 13th place in the Ligue 1 table, although, in spite of there being 7 teams below them, they possess the French top flight's most leaky defence, having already let 44 goals through their grasp in 21 games this season. However, whilst many will phrase this the 'worst defence' in the league, they have not had all that much help from their man between the sticks, Magno Macedo Novaes. It is fair to say that Brazil aren't famed for producing lots of quality keepers, and Novaes fits the bill, making only 30 saves and conceding 29 goals in his 12 appearances, giving him a save success rate of just 50.8%. There is little surprise that he was dropped at the start of November and hasn't regained his place in the team.
Deportivo La Coruna's return to La Liga began so well. They started the season with a 4 match unbeaten run, before the wheels quickly, and quite dramatically, came off. They are bottom of the table having conceded more goals than any other team, and goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia has provided little in the way of resistance, preventing only 52.9% of shots on target from going in, the second worst rate in the top 5 European leagues.
When Hugo Lloris arrived at Tottenham, many thought he would walk straight into the starting XI and solve whatever goalkeeping deficiencies Brad Friedel might have. The most prominent of those was thought to be his lack of agility and reluctance to come off his line. However, it seems that shot-stopping was also a problem, with the American keeping out just 55.8% of the shots on target he faced; the 3rd worst rate in Europe. However, Lloris has not fared much better, the Frenchman maintaining the 9th worst save-to-shots ratio in Europe's top 5 leagues this season (61.0%). The fact that Spurs have allowed a Premier League-low of just 16 shots on target from outside the box compared to a massive 64 inside the penalty area, may have something to do with it, but that is not to excuse such poor rates on both of their parts.
Werder Bremen, Bundesliga champions just 9 years ago and runners up in 2008, have slid down the table in recent years, and are in a disappointing 12th place just after the halfway mark this season. Only two teams have let in more goals than Werder (34) this season, though it is not as if they allow their opponents a shed load of shots - the 7th fewest, in fact, in the Bundesliga (222). The result of that is ever-present goalkeeper Sebastian Mielitz's extremely poor save success rate of just 59.0%.
Finally, the 5th worst between the sticks this season, has been Lloris' number 2 in the France squad, Steve Mandanda. The Marseille stopper has kept out a below par 59.4% of the shots on target he has faced in his 21 league appearances in 2012/13, but will surely need to do more for his club if they are to push on and challenge for honours at the top of Ligue 1. The fact that France's supposed top two goalkeepers both rank in in the bottom 10 for save success this season certainly does not make for pretty reading for Didier Deschamps, and he might even consider looking elsewhere if things continue in the same vein for much longer.