Welcome to The Debate. Each week, four writers argue a set topic from Monday to Thursday before having their views picked apart in a vodcast/podcast on Friday. Then it’s over to you to choose our winner via a poll on Twitter. Our next topic: who is the most underrated player in the Premier League? Our resident goalkeeper fanatic Pete Sharland makes the case for Vicente Guaita.
If you didn’t pay much attention to Crystal Palace this season then there is probably one moment in particular that would come to mind if someone mentioned the name, Vicente Guaita.
That moment came just a couple of months ago during Crystal Palace’s home clash with Sheffield United at the start of February. On a particularly windy day Guaita misjudged an in-swinging corner from Ollie Norwood and ended up dropping the ball into his own net.
It was a cataclysmic error, every goalkeeper’s nightmare, and it ended up being the only goal of the game. It was the sort of moment that can go viral across social media, and probably gave people the wrong impression of Guaita.
Because if you have watched Palace regularly you will be more than aware that the 33-year-old has a legitimate claim to having been one of the best shot-stoppers in the Premier League this season.
Signed in the summer of 2018, Guaita didn’t make his Premier League debut until December that year where he was fortunate not to be caught out by Jamie Vardy early on but later made an excellent save to deny the forward as Palace beat the Foxes 1-0.
Since then he has been the club’s unquestioned number one and this year he has gone to a new level.
Vicente Guaita of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Crystal Palace at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2020 in Manchester, United Kingdom.
Image credit: Getty Images
Let’s start with the saves, and there have been a lot of them, 87 to be precise, which is the seventh-highest in the league. Now total number of saves is no indicator at all to a goalkeeper’s quality, often more of a damning indictment of the back four (or five) in front of them. It’s not too surprising that the six men in front of Guaita are Martin Dubravka (116), Bernd Leno (103), Aaron Ramsdale (100), Tim Krul (95), Mat Ryan (92) and Ben Foster (89), no elite defences there…
Instead you can try to look at the calibre of the saves, and what they meant at the time.
Let’s start with the calibre of saves, and when you look through the highlight reels some of these are very much in the “right out of the top-drawer” area.
How about the staggering double save in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal for starters? Guaita made a brilliant low stop to tip Nicolas Pepe’s effort onto the post before quickly getting up to smother the follow-up from Alexandre Lacazette.
Then there were the acrobatic stops to deny Raul Jimenez and Chris Wood headers against Wolves and Burnley respectively and his barely believable point-blank stop to keep out Willian at Stamford Bridge.
In terms of the pure numbers Guaita has conceded 28 goals in 27 games (Palace’s other four goals against came in two Wayne Hennessey games) which in terms of goals conceded per 90 puts him behind only Alisson, Dean Henderson, Kasper Schmeichel, Ederson and David De Gea.
As a team Palace have the sixth best defensive record in the Premier League, rare heights for a team that can often be porous at the back depending on who is in the dugout, Guaita has had a huge impact on that which explain the previous goals conceded per 90 stat. You might question De Gea’s presence on the list given his indifferent form but his failing is the number of goals conceded considered next to relatively few number of shots on target faced.
Measuring stats for goalkeepers can be a hazy affair (more on this later) but thanks to Statsbomb’s Post-Shot Expected Goals stat they introduced in 2018 you can get a better picture.
The reasoning behind the stat is fairly complicated and you can see it all in Mike Goodman’s excellent and informative blog post here, but this is a simple break down. Expected Goals is a terrible way to measure keepers as it factors in shots that go off target, this method only considers shots on target and looks more deeply at what kind of shot it is – i.e. was it just completely unsavable for any keeper?
Crystal Palace's Spanish goalkeeper Vicente Guaita (R) saves an attempt by Arsenal's French striker Alexandre Lacazette during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Arsenal at Selhurst Park in south London on January 11, 202
Image credit: Getty Images
So, as we mentioned earlier Guaita had conceded 28 goals this season in the Premier League. However, his Post-Shot Expected Goals figure is 34.1, i.e. of the shots on target he has faced this season a goals conceded figure of 34.1 (or 34) would be more accurate. So Guaita has a differential of +8.1, the second best in the whole of the Premier League. Only Dubravka, who was another worthy consideration for this piece, had a better figure (+8.7).
The fact that there are such convoluted steps to statistically measure goalkeepers is another great example of how goalkeepers are so often overlooked by fans and pundits alike. Of course, it can be difficult to stay on top of 10 games every weekend and if most of your viewing is perhaps two or three live games a week, then a bunch of highlights, you might often miss what a keeper is doing.
That is perhaps why Guaita has gone under the radar so much. He does not play for one of the big six or seven clubs and he is not a (young) English goalkeeper which can explain why he is not getting Henderson’s hype.
If you want any indication as to the esteem with which Guaita is held by those at Palace however, then consider manager Roy Hodgson’s quotes after the Sheffield United howler.
"He [Guaita] was the first one, when he came in after the game to apologise. But from my point of view, the coaching staff and the players’ point was to say: ‘You don’t apologise for anything. Because it is thanks to you that we are where we are. We’ve got 30 points from 25 games. Without you, and without the work you’ve done, we’d have a damn sight less points. So, in fact you owe us nothing and we owe you an enormous debt.’"
The debate as to why goalkeepers are still undervalued by the footballing world is a conversation for another day but everyone who has ever played the game knows the difference it can make when a team has one they can trust.
After so many years of watching Hennessey going from the sublime to the horrendous in a matter of minutes, not to mention the Steve Mandanda failure and gradual ageing of club legend Julian Speroni, Palace fans have fallen in love with a man who oozes class and consistency, on and off the pitch.
He was one supposed to be the heir to Santiago Canizares at Valencia before agent mishap saw him leave his boyhood club. He re-established his career at Getafe before the switch to Palace came.
The move was a gamble, but it’s paid off, before the Coronavirus pandemic struck he was being mentioned as a possible call-up for Spain’s Euro 2020 squad. It’s not as if the two high-profile Spanish keepers in the Premier League are covering themselves in glory this season…
If you need further convincing of the status of Guaita, just scroll through Palace Twitter when there were some suggestions that he could leave in the summer, showing he’s already earned himself a place firmly in the hearts of supporters.
In an era where the Premier League is dissected and discussed to such minutiae detail it is astonishing more people aren’t aware of just how good Guaita has been.
All stats courtesy of WhoScored, FBRef and Statsbomb
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