Saturday, October 15, 2011

Contrary to Popular Belief, De Gea is Really Good

Throughout the season, there has been no summer signing subject to more scrutiny than United's new goalkeeper David De Gea. Somehow, every game people have been questioning his positioning, or his ability to deal with crosses, or his command of his penalty area. And yet, somehow, he's not only been good, he's been the best goalkeeper in the league through these first eight games.

Judging goalkeepers is somewhat easier than other players because they are solely limited to the defensive side of the ball. The best measure of a goalkeeper is what I term the Opponents' Finish Rate, or the percentage of shots on goal that lead to goals for the opposing team (G/SOG). In games that De Gea has started this season, he has posted a 13.5% Opp FR, best in the league among starters (though his understudy Lindegard has a 0% Opp FR thanks to his one clean sheet). The next few names on the list are Krul at Newcastle (mainly due to Newcastle's easy schedule thus far; I expect him to drop), Begovic at Stoke, Hart at Man City, and Given at Villa. Krul aside, those are some of the best keepers in the league.

To be sure, that one statistic doesn't tell us everything. What about his struggles with crosses? Actually, we would expect that to show up in the above statistic. Think about it. Shots on goal directly from crosses produce goals at a higher rate than other shots on goal, mainly because they tend to be taken closer to the net. If De Gea were struggling with crosses and allowing opponents chances that are easily convertible, we would expect his Opp FR to be high, but it's not.

A more legitimate concern would be the command of his penalty area. It's possible that if he can't direct his defense, opponents will get more quality opportunities. Since Opp FR is a rate stat not a counting stat, this would not show in the data. There may be some truth to this as United have allowed a lot more shots on goal this year compared to last. However, I don't think the blame should be entirely directed at De Gea: as I pointed out in a previous post, United's defense has actually been very poor this year. Even if it was true, I would expect it to improve as De Gea improves his English and gains experience in the EPL.

It's funny, but I believe United to be very overrated and their most commonly called-out player to be very underrated. I expect City to win next weekend, but I don't think De Gea will be the reason.

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