How Burnley's Nick Pope has been the Premier League's best goalkeeper this season

Daniel Zeqiri
·3 min read
 Nick Pope of Burnley punches clear - Bradley Ormesher
Nick Pope of Burnley punches clear - Bradley Ormesher

Nick Pope is making a compelling case to be England's No 1 goalkeeper after another impressive performance at Liverpool the Burnley man is statistically the most valuable goalkeeper in the Premier League this season.

Goalkeepers are difficult to analyse statistically. They do not produce quantifiable output like goals and assists. The shots they face and clean sheets they keep are inextricable from the standard of team they play in. Goalkeepers often look great in poor sides when they are peppered with shots, but struggle to step up a level with decision-making such a big part of the job.

A metric called expected goals on target can help us, though. XGoT, unlike vanilla expected goals, is a post-shot model. That means it takes into account not just the location and quality of the shot, but the goalmouth location where it finishes. XGoT throws out attempts that end up off target regardless of their xG value because counting shots that do not test goalkeepers could prove misleading.

Moreover, it paints a more accurate picture of goalkeepers' performances on long-range efforts. A shot from 30 yards might have an xG value of 0.03, meaning any goal from that range reflects badly on a goalkeeper statistically. As we all know however, there are occasional shots from distance that leave goalkeepers with little chance, and XGoT takes that into account.

Based on this metric, Pope is clear. Excluding own goals and penalties, he has conceded just 13 goals from 20.5 xGoT faced, a positive difference of 7.5. That speaks to the quality of his shot-stopping but also the way Burnley put defenders in the way of the shot-taker and the goal, showing them to one side. Burnley have frequently overperformed their defensive xG, in part because they are experts at blocking shots and barricading the box.

The next five best performing goalkeepers in the league are: Alphonse Areola, Hugo Lloris, Ederson, Alisson and Emiliano Martinez. Areola has flapped at crosses in defeats against Chelsea and Manchester United but has made Fulham more secure while Arsenal sold an excellent goalkeeper in Martinez who has proved a key addition for Aston Villa.

David De Gea, Edouard Mendy and Bernd Leno have had so-so seasons, all three with a slightly negative differential. For Chelsea, that is a significant improvement on Kepa Arrizabalaga who was bottom of these rankings last season though Mendy has not been spectacular.

The worst five shot-stoppers in the league in descending order are: Illan Meslier, Mat Ryan, Aaron Ramsdale, Rui Patrício and Vicente Guaita. Guaita has conceded 30 goals from 21.1 xGoT faced, though in his defence Crystal Palace's 7-0 loss to Liverpool is bound to skew things.

As many observers suspected, Sheffield United have downgraded by swapping Dean Henderson for Ramsdale. Ryan has joined Arsenal on loan, who will be hoping he rediscovers his better Brighton form if he is called up. The Australian conceded 14 goals from 8.7 xGoT earlier in the season before he was dropped.