Chelsea seem to have finally arrived at a short(-ish) shortlist of goalkeepers for this window: Mike Maignan of Lille, Alphonse Areola of PSG, and Édouard Mendy of Rennes — a rather interesting and varied collection of No.16s.
Maignan makes a strong case for why young goalkeepers should leave big clubs at the earliest possible opportunity in order to get game time at smaller clubs. Areola is an example of how staying at big clubs for too long can hamper a player’s development. And Mendy has one of the most unusual trajectories in the sport: he made his professional debut at 24 in Ligue 2, and has just three full seasons of experience at the age of 28.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the above three, and the current incumbent Kepa Arrizabalaga, fare against each other in different aspects of goalkeeping.
Note: all stats have been taken from FBRef and Understat unless mentioned otherwise. Areola’s 2018-19 stats have been considered because he did not play enough in 2019-20. The most recent stats have been used for everyone else.
Areola is quite clearly the best shot-stopper linked to Chelsea, with Mendy behind by some margin. Maignan has always been close to a net-zero contributor when it comes to this aspect of the game, and it is not surprising to see him where right along that line once again. Nevertheless, all three would be huge upgrades on Chelsea’s current options from a pure shot-stopping perspective, as shown by Kepa’s position in the chart.
Goals saved above average (GSAA) is a different metric than we’ve used before to measure shot-stopping quality, which was post-shot expected goals +/- (PSxG +/-). GSAA is the difference between actual save percentage and expected save percentage, and it acts as a more well-rounded way of measuring shot-stopping as it accounts for the number of shots faced by a goalkeeper.
Even though he is shorter than Areola and Mendy by a couple inches, Maignan ranks as the best cross-collector among the three. And he is no one-hit wonder in this regard, with his cross-collection numbers ranking among the best in France since 2017-18.
Mendy uses his sizes well and collects over 10% of the crosses faced by his team. Areola ranks poorly in this regard, but this could very well be down to his manager’s tactics. Areola’s cross-collection numbers were reasonably good in 2017-18, adding further credence to the theory that he was instructed not to come for crosses.
Passing stats are as much a function of the team’s tactics as the player’s ability. Areola ranks extremely well in this regard and finds himself in elite company. Mendy and Kepa are both reasonably good passers of the ball. One could think Mendy will improve further if he moves to a better team.
Maignan’s stats in this regard are a bit worrying, although it could very well be down Lille not being a possession-based team. Maignan himself does not seem to lack confidence on the ball and is more than willing to take risks. Like Mendy, he could improve in this regard on a better team.
Kepa, Mendy and Areola all perform roughly the same number of defensive actions outside the box. This means that neither Mendy nor Areola should (in theory) have issues playing behind a high line.
Maignan is slightly inferior when compared to the rest again, although this could once again be down to Lille’s tactics. But given that Mendy plays in an even more possession-shy team and puts up better metrics, this could be a slight on Maignan (as well as an indication of Mendy’s excellence).
PROS AND CONS
Mike Maignan has effectively been discarded as an option by most media outlets, largely down to the €35m tag placed on him by Lille. It is not a stretch to say he is not worth anywhere near that amount at this point in time.
While Maignan’s cross collection metrics are good, his stature and the way he plays are not entirely convincing. His cross collection is based on him using speed to get to the ball first, and it is not easy to predict whether that would translate to the Premier League.
With the exception of Manchester City’s Ederson, most elite cross-collectors in the Premier League ply their trade by virtue of their size more than speed.
Besides, Maignan’s other metrics are not particularly impressive, and there are too many ifs and buts associated with him improving on those numbers here. For the price tag quoted, Chelsea cannot deal with so many question marks for the second time in running. Buying a cheaper goalkeeper might be a smarter move.
That leaves Chelsea with two options, three if you count not doing anything.
Alphonse Areola is extremely impressive in most metrics, and he’s been around big clubs most of his career. At the same time, he carries with him the caveat of far too little game time. This may not be an issue in the end, but for me, it is a huge worry.
Since his loan spell at Villarreal, Areola has had four seasons to establish himself as a starting quality goalkeeper at Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid. Yet, he has struggled to do so.
While it is perhaps not fair to expect him to be better than Thibaut Courtois or Keylor Navas, his previous competition included players such as Kevin Trapp and a painfully past-it Gianluigi Buffon.
This is not to say Areola is not a phenomenally gifted keeper. In terms of technique and athletic attributes, Areola is capable of being one of the best goalkeepers in the world. But for reasons unknown, he has struggled to build on his talents and finds himself in limbo. Again.
Areola would be an enormous gamble with potentially enormous upside. If he does move and everything goes well, Chelsea will have gotten a starting goalkeeper for the next half-decade.
Edouard Mendy’s peaks are not as high as Areola’s, and his technique is nowhere near as refined. However, he is a “younger” goalkeeper (in terms of experience and game time), and he could improve exponentially in the next few years.
Mendy’s Ligue 1 basic metrics are uncannily similar to Petr Čech’s. The Chelsea legend played for worse teams and as thus faced more shots; but in terms of overall efficiency, the similarity is striking.
This is not to say Mendy is, or will be, as good as the best goalkeeper in Premier League history, but it is worthwhile statistical coincidence to point out.
In terms of all-round advanced metrics, Mendy profiles even more impressively. In 2019-20, he was the only goalkeeper across the top 5 leagues to fulfil the following criteria:
- 190cm or taller.
- Net positive shot-stopping contribution.
- Cross collection efficiency (percentage) better than the median.
- Long passing (percentage) better than the median.
- More defensive actions outside the box than the median.
He is no one-season wonder either, with his statistics from 2018-19 also very impressive.
But Mendy is not world-class, like the likes of Manuel Neuer, Jan Oblak, or Marc-André ter Stegen would be. And for all we know, he may never reach that level. At present, he is merely a reliable option who has an impressive all-round profile.
In terms of shot-stopping, he saves most shots one would expect him to. He is no Oblak at close range efforts, but is at least above average when it comes to medium-quality and big chances. Overall, he is a net positive contributor — albeit not one at a world-class level.
Kepa, by comparison, is a far less impressive shot-stopper. He has been done no favours by his defence and faced a lot of big chances during his two years at Chelsea, but he is not expected to save a lot of big chances anyway. The major gripe throughout his Chelsea career has been his inability to save easier chances.
As a pressing team, Chelsea are more vulnerable to conceding big chances than the average team. Most goals conceded by City (in their pomp) and Liverpool are high-quality chances. That is merely part and parcel of being playing an aggressive pressing style.
In this context, the job of a goalkeeper is to ensure “easier” chances do not lead to goals. Saving roughly 30-35% of big chances, 40-50% of medium-quality chances and 80-85% of easier chances can be viewed as a job well done.
Furthermore, many “big” chances conceded by Chelsea this past season had come as a result of not having a commanding goalkeeper to collect crosses, be they from set pieces or open play. And Mendy could go a long way towards fixing this.
In terms of negatives, the first thing that stands out when watching Mendy is his tendency to parry the ball back into danger. This is a big concern but many big goalkeepers — Pope and Courtois, to use a couple quick examples — have this problem as well. It is certainly “coachable” to an extent, and in Mendy, Chelsea might be getting a player with raw upside overall.
A bigger worry might be Mendy’s capacity to adapt to a bigger club and the added pressure. After all, playing for Chelsea is a different beast altogether when compared to Rennes.
Is Mendy capable of making the jump in terms of language, culture, style and pressure? There is no metric that can predict this and we can only wait and watch and hope. But Mendy’s good enough otherwise to be first choice at least for a season at Chelsea. His success or failure would ultimately come down to his ability to cope with such a step up.
Chelsea seem to be treating the next goalkeeping signing as a mere stop-gap, targeting a bigger signing next summer — Oblak? Donnarumma? Onana? Rajkovic? — or hoping for a sudden development from Arrizabalaga.
To that end, the order of preference from the analysis is Mendy first, followed by Areola and then Kepa. As one would expect with signings of this profile and stature, there are risks associated with each option and none of them are perfect. But Mendy ticks more boxes than Areola, and both tick more boxes than Kepa.
Your move, Chelsea.