Goalkeepers can often be the most undervalued players in any team, and it is true that a truly great one can be the difference between winning and losing a title or survival from the drop. Therefore, we have decided to analyse those who have been key to their side's respective success this season by calculating the best number one's across each of the top 5 leagues in terms of save success rates.
Such figures were calculated by collating the percentage of shots on target faced that each individual has saved this season. As well as highlighting the best in the business this term, we take a look at those whose statistics leave a lot to be desired, with the results showing that the best and worst stoppers may well have played a big part in title races and relegation battles alike.
We start in Serie A, where an all too familiar figure leads the way in this regard, with Juventus' Gigi Buffon having saved a higher percentage of the shots on target he faced than any other keeper in Europe. The Old Lady's defensive record can of course be credited to an exceptional backline this season, conceding a league low of just 9.3 shots per game, but it is equally impressive that on the 96 occasions that Buffon has been tested, he has been alert enough to keep out 82% having made 79 saves this season. A keeper's concentration can often waver when the ball spends so little time in their danger area but this has clearly not affected the Italian international this season as he played an integral role in what was a remarkable, unbeaten and eventual Scudetto winning season for the Turin club.
At the opposite end of the scale in Italy, Roma's decision to allow Alexander Doni to leave for Liverpool due to the impending arrival of Maarten Stekelenburg didn't really pay off. The Dutchman admittedly played in a side playing a far more open and expansive brand of football than that of Juventus, but the fact that the former Ajax stopper saved just 56% of the shots on target he faced doesn't make for pleasant reading.
Moving into Germany and the Bundesliga, one man has stood out in particular this season, though he can only just be classed as an adult having turned 20 in April. Gladbach's Marc-Andre ter Stegen has done enough to earn a call-up to Germany's provisional squad for the Euros and his emergence puts pressure on a seemingly assured starting berth for Manuel Neuer over the years to come. The young stopper played every minute of Lucien Favre's side's outstanding league campaign, producing over 100 saves. The fact that he faced 131 over the course of the season left him with a save success rate of 78%, which trumped Neuer's 73% and left him top of the Bundesliga keeper charts.
In contrast, relegated FC Cologne keeper Michael Rensing faced as many as 82 more shots than ter Stegen during the season but made just 10 more saves than the youngster. His save success rate ranked lowest in the Bundesliga at 61% and, in turn, his side will not be participating in the elite league next season.
It's fair to say that Manchester United keeper David De Gea got a fair amount of stick at the start of his tenure at the club, but he went on to answer the majority of his critics as the campaign progressed. The summer signing from Atletico Madrid seemed to be affected by the large price tag looming over his head but has overcome any such issues to put in some assured displays between the sticks for Ferguson's side. In fact, he ended the season with the strongest save success rate of any Premier League keeper to make 10 or more appearances (78%), with only teammate Anders Lindegaard fairing better (82%) to set up an intriguing battle for the number one jersey next season.
*Table including goalkeepers to appear in at least half of their side's Premier League matches
At the wrong end of the Premier League standings here, and like Rensing, mirroring his clubs final position, Blackburn's Paul Robinson had the lowest figures in England's top flight. Over 34 appearances, the former England international made just under 100 saves (96) but faced as many as 167 shots on target as the last line of a frail Rovers defence, meaning he ended the season with a save success rate of just 57.5%.
In France's Ligue 1, Brest's survival by as few as three points can largely be attributed to the third best defensive record in the division. Backing up that defence was 31-year-old Steeve Elana, whose save success rate of 77% was superb given the fact that he faced as many as 167 shots, saving 128, and serves as proof that a decent stopper can be the difference between survival and the drop.
Lorient keeper Fabien Audard is at the other end of the spectrum in Ligue 1, with his side narrowly avoiding the drop on the last day by just a single point. Making 29 appearances, Audard faced significantly fewer shots on target per game than Elana (3.65 to 4.51) and managed less than half the number of total saves (59 to 128) to leave him with a league low success rate of 56% - the worst of any keeper in the top 5 leagues to play at least 10 games.
Last up, we look at Spain's La Liga, where Valencia's Vicente Guaita stands out for all the right reasons, keeping new signing Diego Alves on the sidelines in the process. The Spaniard made 26 league appearances and produced 71 saves having faced 93 shots on target (3.58 per game). With a save success rate of 76%, the perennial third place finishers may have a regular first choice for the years to come in the 25-year-old.
Given the fact that 4 of the 5 keepers who ranked top in their respective divisions played for sides who will be playing Champions League football next season, and 3 of the previous 4 lowest performers played for teams who were either relegated or in a scrap at the bottom, Victor Valdes' inclusion in the latter cluster is perhaps the most alarming. Facing only 91 shots on target over the season, Valdes saved just 60 (66%) ranking him bottom of La Liga's keepers to appear in at least half of the league matches, though the save success rates of those in Spain were far higher on average than in any other league.