FBref Blog

The Worst Goalkeepers at the 2022 World Cup

Posted by Ben Curttright on November 21, 2022

If you’re coming over from (Top ten goalkeepers at the 2022 World Cup), you know the drill. All goalkeepers who’ve been officially named to World Cup squads (as of November 13) have, for this post, been sorted and ranked according to each of the categories tracked by Opta. This time, though, we’re looking for the guys who can’t keep a clean sheet to save their life; the guys who, through either poor positioning or slow reflexes, are letting in goals you’d expect a replacement-level keeper to save; the worst goalkeepers, statistically, at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.


Worst Shot-Stopper:

Danny Ward headshot

Danny Ward

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

191cm87kg (6-3, 192lb)

Born: June 22, 1993 (Age: 29-152d) in Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom wal

National Team: Wales wls

Club: Leicester City

Wages: £ 40,000 Weekly Expires June 2025. Via Capology.

Twitter: @dan_ward52

2022-2023

Premier League

MP

15

GA

25

PSxG

20.7

SoTA

69

Save%

65.2

GA90

1.67

* see our coverage note

Leicester City have had a relatively slow start to the Premier League season, and while it’d be harsh to blame it all on Welsh goalkeeper Danny Ward, he’s not entirely blameless. The keeper they let go to OGC Nice on a free, Kasper Schmeichel, is having a totally average year, with a post-shot xG minus goals allowed of 0.01; Ward, on the other hand, is well below average at -0.24 PSxG-GA. So far this year, he’s at -3.3 PSxG-GA total, meaning he’s let in about three goals that you’d expect an average keeper to save. Wayne Hennessey doesn’t even show up in this data set because he hasn’t played regularly at club level since 2018, but he’s still starting for Wales, and Ward’s underperformance this year won’t have done much to change manager Rob Page’s mind.


Second-Worst Shot Stopper:

Alfred Gomis headshot

Alfred Gomis

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

196cm86kg (6-5, 190lb)

Born: September 5, 1993 (Age: 29-077d) in Ziguinchor, Senegal sn

National Team: Senegal sn  Other: Italy

Club: Rennes

Wages: € 10,577 Weekly Expires June 2025. Via Capology.

The Senegalese was dealt a bit of a bad hand last season, facing some really excellent shots (post-shot xG per shot on target of 0.33), but -0.22 PSxG-GA suggests he didn’t help himself out, either. Rennes sporting director Florian Maurice took the somewhat unique step of publicly calling Gomis’s season “average”, telling TV Rennes, “The idea is to find a new goalkeeper while finding the best solution for him.” Rennes subsequently moved for France international Steve Mandanda, whose numbers look a lot better, but the shots he’s faced are significantly less dangerous at 0.26 PSxG/SoT. Football is cruel.


Most Goals Against Per 90:

Mathew Ryan headshot

Mathew Ryan

Mathew David Ryan

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

184cm73kg (6-0, 161lb)

Born: April 8, 1992 (Age: 30-227d) in Plumpton, Australia au

National Team: Australia au

Club: FC Copenhagen

Wages: € 9,615 Weekly Expires June 2023. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Superliga

Champions Lg

MP

6

2

GA

7

3

PSxG

 

2.7

SoTA

23

6

Save%

73.9

50.0

GA90

1.17

1.50

* see our coverage note

The one caveat here is that this chart doesn’t include Ryan’s six appearances for FC Copenhagen in the Danish Superliga, where he’s allowed a much more reasonable seven goals (1.17 GA/90). It does include matches in the Champions League for Copenhagen and in the Europa League for former club Sociedad, and in those matches, the Australian conceded 2.17 goals per 90.


Lowest Save Percentage:

Alfred Gomis headshot

Alfred Gomis

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

196cm86kg (6-5, 190lb)

Born: September 5, 1993 (Age: 29-077d) in Ziguinchor, Senegal sn

National Team: Senegal sn  Other: Italy

Club: Rennes

Wages: € 10,577 Weekly Expires June 2025. Via Capology.

It’s possible to be both harsh and correct, right? Because, as mentioned above, Gomis faced fairly difficult shots in 2021/22, but he’s the only goalkeeper in the data set with a save percentage below 60%. Funnily enough, his Senegal colleague, reigning Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, is also well below average in both PSxG-GA/90 (-0.20) and save percentage (66.4%) over the last 365 days. In fact, Mendy has had a negative post-shot xG minus GA over his whole Chelsea career; by that metric, at least, the Champions League and AFCON-winner is no better than Gomis.


Fewest Clean Sheets:

Oliver Christensen headshot

Oliver Christensen

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

190cm82kg (6-2½, 181lb)

Born: March 22, 1999 (Age: 23-244d) in Kerteminde, Denmark dk

National Team: Denmark dk

Club: Hertha BSC

Wages: € 8,654 Weekly Expires June 2026. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Bundesliga

MP

15

GA

22

PSxG

20.1

SoTA

61

Save%

65.6

GA90

1.47

* see our coverage note

This is the other side of Hertha Berlin goalkeeper Oliver Christensen’s game: for every statistical category where he’s strong (he’s a good passer, gathers crosses well, and is very proactive), there’s another where he… isn’t. Christensen is near the bottom of eligible keepers in save percentage, post-shot xG minus goals allowed, and clean sheet percentage; in his 15 Bundesliga starts this year, Christensen has kept just two clean sheets. Hertha’s giving up a lot of shots, yes, but Christensen isn’t doing much to keep them out. The silver lining here is that he’s young and is already starting for a big club; he’s got time to work the kinks out of his game and to become a more well-rounded player.


Easiest Shots Faced:

Marko Dmitrović headshot

Marko Dmitrović

Марко Дмитровић

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Left

194cm89kg (6-4, 196lb)

Born: January 24, 1992 (Age: 30-301d) in Subotica, Serbia rs

National Team: Serbia rs

Club: Sevilla

Wages: € 18,269 Weekly Expires June 2025. Via Capology.

2022-2023

La Liga

Champions Lg

MP

3

2

GA

3

0

PSxG

2.6

0.9

SoTA

14

4

Save%

78.6

100.0

GA90

1.20

0.00

* see our coverage note

It’s probably wrong to look at this chart and conclude that Dmitrovic deserves a place on a “worst goalkeepers” list. It’s not his fault that he’s had so little to do. Still, it’s worth noting that 0.18 post-shot xG per shot on target is spectacularly low. “It’s a save he really should be making,” the commentator says, and their partner replies, “Yes, but you still have to make the save,” which is true. But really, those are saves he should be making.


Fewest Touches:

Rui Patrício headshot

Rui Patrício

Rui Pedro dos Santos Patrício

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Left

189cm86kg (6-2, 190lb)

Born: February 15, 1988 (Age: 34-279d) in Marrazes, Portugal pt

National Team: Portugal pt

Club: Roma

Wages: € 74,038 Weekly Expires June 2024. Via Capology.

Instagram: @rpatricio1

2022-2023

Serie A

Europa Lg

MP

15

5

GA

14

5

PSxG

9.5

2.7

SoTA

44

15

Save%

68.2

66.7

GA90

0.93

1.00

* see our coverage note

Over the past five seasons at Wolves and Roma, Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio has a very, very low 26 touches per 90. Only 2.69 of those touches are short passes, and another 6.67 are medium-length passes; compare that to Oliver Christensen, who makes 4.47 short and 12.8 medium passes per 90. For whatever reason, Patricio’s teammates and managers seem to have collectively decided, half a decade or so ago, not to pass him the ball.


Highest Launch Percentage:

Jordan Pickford headshot

Jordan Pickford

Jordan Lee Pickford

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Left

185cm77kg (6-½, 170lb)

Born: March 7, 1994 (Age: 28-259d) in Washington, England, United Kingdom eng

National Team: England eng

Club: Everton

Wages: £ 100,000 Weekly Expires June 2024. Via Capology.

Twitter: @JPickford1

Instagram: @jpickford1

2022-2023

Premier League

MP

14

GA

17

PSxG

20.4

SoTA

77

Save%

80.5

GA90

1.21

* see our coverage note

This is more a stylistic measure than a true mark of ability, and it could be argued that Pickford’s high launch percentage (the percentage of passes he hits long, not including goal kicks) is a positive for certain managers or playstyles. In general, across the data, a high number of touches correlates with a low launch percentage, which make sense intuitively if you imagine a goalkeeper playing short passes as their team builds from the back. Pickford, with 38.03 touches per 90 and a 61.4% launch percentage, is an exception. Should he play it short more often? Well, his completion percentage on those launched passes is only 35.8% over the course of his career, so… maybe.


Most Conservative:

André Onana headshot

André Onana

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

185cm82kg (6-½, 181lb)

Born: April 2, 1996 (Age: 26-233d)

National Team: Cameroon cm

Club: Internazionale

Wages: € 74,038 Weekly Expires June 2027. Via Capology.

Twitter: @AndreyOnana

Instagram: @andreonana.24

2022-2023

Serie A

Champions Lg

MP

7

6

GA

9

7

PSxG

6.8

9.9

SoTA

26

33

Save%

73.1

78.8

GA90

1.29

1.17

* see our coverage note

Relatively unexpected, given that he came through the youth ranks at famously progressive Ajax. The keeper who replaced Onana at Ajax, Remko Pasveer, makes 1.52 defensive actions outside his area at an average distance of 20.0 yards; this season, Onana is at 0.43 and 12.1, respectively. The precipitous mid-career decline in sweeping tendencies coincides with Onana’s nine-month doping suspension in 2021, which could be, well, a coincidence.


Lowest Penalty Save Percentage: 32 players

The list of World Cup goalkeepers with a 0% penalty save record over the last 365 days is long and includes (deep breath): Onana, Ivo Grbic, Franco Armani, Dominik Livakovic, Ethan Horvath, Alphonse Areola, Alfredo Talavera, Robert Sanchez, Sean Johnson, Andries Noppert, Keylor Navas, Justin Bijlow, Simon Mignolet, Weverton, Kevin Trapp, Guillermo Ochoa, Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, Alfred Gomis, David Raya, Unai Simon, Philipp Kohn, Diogo Costa, Steve Mandanda, Jordan Pickford, Ederson, Edouard Mendy, Hugo Lloris, Danny Ward, Geronimo Rulli, Aaron Ramsdale, Manuel Neuer, and Nick Pope. 

What can we learn from that? Well, penalties go in about 85% of the time in normal match situations, and there are a lot of good goalkeepers on that list. The main takeaway is: don’t concede a penalty! You’ll probably give up a goal!

Brief Note: data current as of November 12. Also, this piece has a companion, linked here.


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Posted in 2022 Men's World Cup | Comments Off on The Worst Goalkeepers at the 2022 World Cup

Top 10 Goalkeepers at the 2022 World Cup

Posted by Ben Curttright on November 21, 2022

Group stage, Qatar 2022. Your country is currently defending against one of those long, probing attacks; the ball is recycled from winger to central midfielder to center back, then switched across to the opposite winger. He takes a touch, jinks inside, looks up. The striker has dropped back to the top of the D. You’re screaming at the TV for someone to step up and get tight to him, but it’s too late – the ball comes in, and he hits it first time, a sweet curling effort that you can tell immediately is on target.

How confident are you feeling in that moment? How confident should you be feeling?

Advanced goalkeeping data from Opta via FBref can help answer that question. Post-shot expected goals, explained here in detail by StatsBomb’s Mike Goodman, measures shot stopping ability using the trajectory and pace of shots on target, as well as the location from where the shot was taken and whether any blocking defenders were in the frame of the goal. By subtracting goals allowed from post-shot expected goals (on a per-90 minutes basis), it’s possible to use the measure as a mark of goalkeeper quality; positive numbers indicate that the keeper is saving more shots than an average keeper would, and negative numbers indicate he’s letting a couple in that he really could’ve gotten.

Of course, shot stopping ability isn’t everything. In recent years, managers like Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter have famously opted for ball-playing goalkeepers over one-dimensional shot-stoppers. Playing the ball out from the back is tough if your keeper can’t play a six-yard ground pass under pressure.

FBref scouting reports capture both qualities, as well as a few other goalkeeping tendencies that can help determine whose gloves are safest right now. All goalkeepers who’ve been officially named to World Cup squads (as of November 13) have, for this post, been sorted and ranked according to each of the categories tracked by Opta. Here, because he’s first on the list in alphabetical order, is England / Arsenal keeper:

Aaron Ramsdale headshot

Aaron Ramsdale

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

195cm79kg (6-4½, 174lb)

Born: May 14, 1998 (Age: 24-191d) in Staffordshire, England, United Kingdom eng

National Team: England eng

Club: Arsenal

Wages: £ 60,000 Weekly Expires June 2025. Via Capology.

Twitter: @AaronRamsdale98

Instagram: @aaronramsdale

2022-2023

Premier League

Europa Lg

MP

14

2

GA

11

2

PSxG

10.2

1.8

SoTA

37

7

Save%

73.0

71.4

GA90

0.79

1.00

* see our coverage note

We can use a radar chart, popular in soccer data analysis, to visualize his contributions over the past 365 days. Percentiles here are calculated compared to Qatar-bound keepers with sufficient minutes played in Opta-tracked leagues. Sorry to David De Gea (staying home), Simon Ngapandouetnbu (called up by Cameroon, no senior appearances in his career), Yousef Hassan (Qatari third-string, club football for Al-Gharafa); you might be the best, you might be the worst, but you’re not in this data set.

Stats here are broken up into categories: light green for shot-stopping (post-shot xG prevented, goals against per 90, save percentage, difficulty of shots faced, clean sheet percentage), dark green for involvement in buildup (touches per 90, percentage of goal kicks launched long, goal kicks per 90, average length of goal kicks), and red for sweeping (crosses stopped, defensive actions outside penalty area, average distance from goal). Larger slices mean better shot-stopping, more involvement in buildup (more touches, shorter passes, lower launch percentage), and more positive activity (higher cross stopping percentage, more actions outside the area). We see here that Ramsdale is a pretty average, maybe even below-average, shot-stopper, very proactive, and that he tends to go long on goal kicks. Overall, Ramsdale is… fine. But who, in each of these categories, is the best of the best?


Shot Stoppers:

Simon Mignolet headshot

Simon Mignolet

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

193cm87kg (6-3½, 192lb)

Born: March 6, 1988 (Age: 34-260d) in Sint-Truiden, Belgium be

National Team: Belgium be

Club: Club Brugge

Twitter: @SMignolet

Instagram: @22mignolet22

2022-2023

First Division A

Champions Lg

MP

17

6

GA

20

4

PSxG

 

9.7

SoTA

65

34

Save%

72.3

88.2

GA90

1.18

0.67

* see our coverage note

The first thing that should be noted here is that post-shot xG minus goals allowed, while it’s the best metric available, is relatively volatile; that is, sample size can really affect these numbers, and there’s still some debate as to how stable they are over time. If a striker scores well above their expected goals for one season, we’d say they’re on a finishing hot streak; if a keeper saves well above post-shot xG, we should say, “He’s playing well,” not, “He’s suddenly the best in the world”; if his numbers remain great as the sample size increases, we can start polishing the Yashin.

All that said: former Liverpool and Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is having an astounding Champions League campaign for Club Brugge. Advanced stats aren’t available for the Belgian Pro League, but in European competition, Mignolet has prevented 0.64 goals per 90 above what you’d expect from an average keeper, based on the quality of shots he’s faced. Brugge were surprise qualifiers from their group, beating out Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid for a spot in the knockouts, and Mignolet is a huge reason why. (He’ll, of course, back up Thibaut Courtois at the World Cup.)

Franco Armani headshot

Franco Armani

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

189cm84kg (6-2, 185lb)

Born: October 16, 1986 (Age: 36-036d) in Casilda, Argentina ar

National Team: Argentina ar

Club: River Plate

2022

Primera Div

Libertadores

MP

24

7

GA

21

4

PSxG

 

8.1

SoTA

75

31

Save%

77.3

93.5

GA90

0.87

0.57

* see our coverage note

Similarly to Mignolet, there’s a sample size issue here; we don’t have league numbers for Argentina’s Franco Armani, but in the Copa Libertadores, he’s been stellar for River Plate. The 36-year-old won the starting job from Willy Caballero midway through Russia 2018, and this time around, he’ll be competing with Aston Villa’s Emiliano Martinez for a place in manager Lionel Messi Scaloni’s starting XI.

Matt Turner headshot

Matt Turner

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

191cm78kg (6-3, 172lb)

Born: June 24, 1994 (Age: 28-150d) in Park Ridge, New Jersey, United States us

National Team: United States us

Club: Arsenal

Wages: £ 35,000 Weekly Expires June 2025. Via Capology.

Twitter: @headdturnerr

Instagram: @headdturnerr

2022-2023

Europa Lg

MP

4

GA

1

PSxG

2.6

SoTA

8

Save%

100.0

GA90

0.25

* see our coverage note

Curious case, Matt Turner. In the 450 minutes captured by his 2022 scouting report, he looks awful, conceding -0.10 goals per 90 compared to expectation; however, when you expand the data set to include the 2021 MLS season, the former New England Revolution keeper is one of the best in the bunch. 0.43 post-shot xG per shot on target goes a long way towards explaining why: the Revs defense was allowing really good shots in 2022, and attackers were really wellying the ball against Turner. (He’d also already agreed a midseason move to Arsenal.)

Alisson headshot

Alisson

Alisson Becker

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

193cm91kg (6-3½, 201lb)

Born: October 2, 1992 (Age: 30-050d) in Novo Hamburgo, Brazil br

National Team: Brazil br

Club: Liverpool

Wages: £ 150,000 Weekly Expires June 2027. Via Capology.

Twitter: @Alissonbecker

Instagram: @alissonbecker

2022-2023

Premier League

Champions Lg

MP

14

6

GA

17

6

PSxG

24.6

7.5

SoTA

63

15

Save%

76.2

66.7

GA90

1.21

1.00

* see our coverage note

Liverpool and Brazil keeper Alisson Becker is near the top of almost every statistical category here, and there are no caveats this time – he’s been consistently good for Liverpool, he was good at Roma, he’s good for Brazil, and he’ll probably be good in Qatar. He, along with one other keeper we’ll look at later, could reasonably call himself the best in the world right now.


Most Involved:

Yann Sommer headshot

Yann Sommer

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

183cm77kg (6-0, 170lb)

Born: December 17, 1988 (Age: 33-339d) in Morges, Switzerland ch

National Team: Switzerland ch

Club: Mönchengladbach

Wages: € 42,308 Weekly Expires June 2023. Via Capology.

Twitter: @YannSommer1

Instagram: @ysommer1

2022-2023

Bundesliga

MP

10

GA

14

PSxG

16.7

SoTA

60

Save%

80.0

GA90

1.40

* see our coverage note

Familiar to many for his penalty-saving heroics at Euro 2020, Switzerland’s Yann Sommer leads World Cup goalkeepers with 53.88 touches per 90 for club side Borussia Monchengladbach. He prefers to go short with his goal kicks (average length of 35 yards; launch percentage of 27.8%), and he’s remarkably consistent when he does: this season, he’s completed 404 of 410 attempted short and medium-length passes (between 5-30 yards), a very healthy 98.5%.

David Raya headshot

David Raya

Position: FW-GK ▪  Footed: Right

186cm81kg (6-1, 179lb)

Born: September 15, 1995 (Age: 27-067d) in Barcelona, Spain es

National Team: Spain es

Club: Brentford

Wages: £ 25,000 Weekly Expires June 2024. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Premier League

MP

15

GA

25

PSxG

21.4

SoTA

87

Save%

72.4

GA90

1.67

* see our coverage note

Unai Simon looks likely to get the nod for Spain at the World Cup, but Luis Enrique’s inclusion of Brentford goalkeeper David Raya in his squad over Manchester United’s David De Gea is a great indicator of how he wants his side to play. Raya is a less consistent shot stopper, but he gets a lot of touches, and he’s comfortable coming out of his box to sweep up behind the defense. If Simon scores another ridiculous own goal, Raya could slot in just fine.


Most Likely to Play it Short:

Keylor Navas headshot

Keylor Navas

Keylor Antonio Navas Gamboa

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

183cm78kg (6-0, 172lb)

Born: December 15, 1986 (Age: 35-341d) in San Isidro, Costa Rica cr

National Team: Costa Rica cr

Club: Paris Saint-Germain

Wages: € 314,615 Weekly Expires June 2024. Via Capology.

Twitter: @NavasKeylor

Instagram: @keylornavas1

2019-2020

Ligue 1

Champions Lg

MP

21

9

GA

18

6

SoTA

66

26

Save%

72.7

76.9

GA90

0.86

0.68

* see our coverage note

Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas splits time with Gianluigi Donnarumma at PSG these days, but he still gets enough time in the Champions League and domestic cups (1226 minutes in this sample) for his +0.08 post-shot xG minus goals allowed and 80% save percentage to be impressive. He also, as you’d expect for PSG in Europe, never, ever goes long from goal kicks (12% launch percentage; average length of goal kicks, 21.6 yards). Funnily enough, the most similar goalkeeper to Navas in the top five European leagues, according to fbref’s player comparison tool, is: Donnarumma.


Cross-Stopper:

Emiliano Martínez headshot

Emiliano Martínez

Damián Emiliano Martínez

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

193cm84kg (6-3½, 185lb)

Born: September 2, 1992 (Age: 30-080d) in Mar del Plata, Argentina ar

National Team: Argentina ar

Club: Aston Villa

Wages: £ 120,000 Weekly Expires June 2027. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Premier League

MP

15

GA

18

PSxG

14.8

SoTA

55

Save%

69.1

GA90

1.25

* see our coverage note

You’d expect a taller keeper to take this category – Martinez is listed at 6’3” – but, in all of Europe, Martinez is in the 99th percentile for percentage of crosses stopped, based on 3544 minutes for Aston Villa in the Premier League. He is, in every other statistical category, average or below average; over his career, he’s at +0.05 PSxG-GA/90. But he can certainly grab a cross!


Sweepers:

Oliver Christensen headshot

Oliver Christensen

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

190cm82kg (6-2½, 181lb)

Born: March 22, 1999 (Age: 23-244d) in Kerteminde, Denmark dk

National Team: Denmark dk

Club: Hertha BSC

Wages: € 8,654 Weekly Expires June 2026. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Bundesliga

MP

15

GA

22

PSxG

20.1

SoTA

61

Save%

65.6

GA90

1.47

* see our coverage note

Unfortunately for him, Kasper Schmeichel is Denmark’s vice-captain and the third-most-capped player on their 2022 squad; fortunately for Denmark, the 35-year-old Schmeichel has a capable understudy in 23-year-old Hertha Berlin sweeper-keeper Oliver Christensen. Relatively middling shot-stopping numbers are made up for by Christensen’s proficiency stopping crosses (8.6%), his involvement in buildup play (40.8 touches per 90), and his ability to come out of his area to clean up behind the defensive line (2.4 defensive actions outside area per 90, average distance of 17.9 yards). The Bundesliga seems to produce a lot of these proactive keepers, probably at least in part due to the influence of:

Manuel Neuer headshot

Manuel Neuer

Manuel Peter Neuer

Position: GK ▪  Footed: Right

193cm92kg (6-3½, 203lb)

Born: March 27, 1986 (Age: 36-239d) in Gelsenkirchen, Germany de

National Team: Germany de

Club: Bayern Munich

Wages: € 403,846 Weekly Expires June 2024. Via Capology.

Twitter: @Manuel_Neuer

Instagram: @manuelneuer

2022-2023

Bundesliga

Champions Lg

MP

12

3

GA

11

0

PSxG

14.7

1.8

SoTA

44

9

Save%

79.5

100.0

GA90

0.92

0.00

* see our coverage note

With the highest average distance of defensive actions not only in our data set but in all of Europe, Neuer more than lives up to his reputation as the archetypal sweeper-keeper. What makes Neuer so special is that he’s also an excellent shot-stopper, even at 36. Whether you’d take Neuer or Alisson for your World XI probably depends on who you’ve seen play more recently, and either way, you’d be correct.

Brief Note: data current as of November 12. Also, this piece has a companion, linked here.


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Posted in 2022 Men's World Cup | Comments Off on Top 10 Goalkeepers at the 2022 World Cup

The 10 Best Playmakers in the World Right Now

Posted by Ben Curttright on November 14, 2022

Measuring playmaking in soccer can get relatively complicated. The old adage about Lionel Messi being able to “do it on a wet Wednesday night in Stoke” applies here; Messi has 215 assists across his seventeen-year club career, which is obviously stellar, but it’s easier to get assists playing off peak Luis Suárez than it is Dwight Gayle. To separate out playmaking ability from team quality, we can look at a couple individual statistics that, when considered together, give a pretty good picture of how often a player makes things happen on a football pitch. 

Expected assists (the likelihood each completed pass becomes a goal assist given the pass type, phase of play, location and distance) per 90 minutes played are preferred to actual assists because they give a clearer idea of the quality of chance created, and xA is plotted here with shot-creating actions to capture players who create chances by dribbling or drawing fouls. Data is from Opta, filtered to include midfielders, fullbacks, and attackers in Europe’s top five leagues (English Premier League, Ligue 1, Serie A, La Liga, and the Bundesliga) with at least 500 minutes played in 2022/23. The final list was arrived at by averaging the percentile across the two categories; it’s subjective to say they matter equally, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

Honorable Mentions

These are some unexpected players that showed up. West Ham’s Saïd Benrahma is creating a lot of shots but is only in the 72nd percentile for expected assists, suggesting that the chances he’s creating aren’t very good; a look at his player profile reveals that he’s taking 3.61 shots per 90, which probably means he’s shooting from range a lot and that he should stop doing that. Ditto Napoli winger Matteo Politano, whose 2.98 shots per 90 is high, but whose xG per shot is, at 0.07, low. Reims midfielder Alexis Flips stands out as a young playmaker to watch at age 22, though he seems to be Reims’s main corner taker, which will always inflate these numbers; set piece ability is a skill, certainly, and you could call it “playmaking” at a stretch, but it’s kind of like penalty taking in that there are a few exceptional takers but most players are interchangeable. Stuttgart left back Borna Sosa crosses a lot and takes set pieces.

Finally, Napoli number 10 Piotr Zieliński’s numbers are almost identical to Benjamin Bourigeaud’s. Speaking of whom:

Benjamin Bourigeaud headshot

Benjamin Bourigeaud

Position: FW-MF (AM-CM-WM) ▪  Footed: Right

177cm66kg (5-9½, 146lb)

Born: January 14, 1994 (Age: 28-301d) in Calais, France fr

Youth National Team: France fr

Club: Rennes

Wages: € 32,308 Weekly Expires June 2026. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Ligue 1

Europa Lg

MP

14

6

Min

1090

421

Gls

1

0

Ast

4

2

xG

2.4

0.3

npxG

1.7

0.3

xAG

5.1

1.6

SCA

65

22

GCA

7

3

* see our coverage note

Funnily enough, with the World Cup approaching, the first player on this list is uncapped. Rennes midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud, 28, is having something of a late-career breakout. He had 11 goals and 12 assists in Ligue 1 last season, splitting his time mostly between right wing and central midfield, and he’s kept pace in terms of expected assists and shot creation into 2022/23. At 0.59 non-penalty expected goals plus expected assists per 90 over the last 365 days, Bourigeaud is a big part of how Rennes qualified for last season’s Europa League group stage, and he’ll be hoping they can stay third this year and make it back to the Champions League.


Khvicha Kvaratskhelia headshot

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

Position: FW-MF (AM, left) ▪  Footed: Right

183cm73kg (6-0, 161lb)

Born: February 12, 2001 (Age: 21-272d) in Tbilisi, Georgia ge

National Team: Georgia ge

Club: Napoli

Wages: € 29,615 Weekly Expires June 2027. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Serie A

Champions Lg

MP

12

5

Min

869

366

Gls

6

2

Ast

5

3

xG

3.3

2.7

npxG

3.3

1.9

xAG

4.2

1.3

SCA

58

17

GCA

11

5

* see our coverage note

“Kvaradona”, as they’re somewhat presumptuously calling him in Naples, is undoubtedly making The Leap this season. The 21-year-old Georgian was signed from Dinamo Batumi for what transfermarkt call €10.00m, having left Russian side Rubin Kazan in March, and, based on his performances in Serie A and in the Champions League since then, he’ll go for five times as much if (when?) Napoli decide to sell. Kvaratskhelia is an elite dribbler, he’s fantastic at finding space in the final third, he takes a lot of high-value shots, and he creates them for his teammates, too.


Vincenzo Grifo headshot

Vincenzo Grifo

Position: FW-MF (AM-WM, left) ▪  Footed: Right

181cm74kg (5-11, 163lb)

Born: April 7, 1993 (Age: 29-218d) in Pforzheim, Germany de

National Team: Italy it  Other: Germany

Club: Freiburg

Wages: € 18,269 Weekly Expires June 2023. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Bundesliga

Europa Lg

MP

14

6

Min

1045

389

Gls

6

2

Ast

2

1

xG

3.9

1.5

npxG

1.4

0.7

xAG

3.3

1.2

SCA

65

30

GCA

6

5

* see our coverage note

SC Freiburg have been quietly good this season; they sit second in a more-open-than-usual Bundesliga, and, with the third-best expected goal difference in the division, there’s every reason to think their performances are sustainable. Grifo leads the team in goals (6) and assists (2, tied with several others) and also ranks highly for progressive passes. 


Ousmane Dembélé headshot

Ousmane Dembélé

Position: FW-MF (AM) ▪  Footed: Both

178cm60kg (5-10, 132lb)

Born: May 15, 1997 (Age: 25-180d) in Vernon, France fr

National Team: France fr

Club: Barcelona

Wages: € 230,769 Weekly Expires June 2024. Via Capology.

Twitter: @Dembouz

Instagram: @o.dembele7

2022-2023

La Liga

Champions Lg

MP

14

6

Min

866

413

Gls

4

1

Ast

5

2

xG

2.4

1.1

npxG

2.4

1.1

xAG

3.4

1.5

SCA

53

28

GCA

9

4

* see our coverage note

The first properly big name on this list, Dembélé is justifying Xavi’s decision to re-sign him over the summer by putting up an impressive 0.64 xG+A per 90 in league play for a resurgent Barcelona. Dembélé doesn’t score as many goals as you’d expect him to, but he’s one of the best dribblers in Europe, and he’ll be hugely important for Didier Deschamps’s France side in Qatar.


Dominik Szoboszlai headshot

Dominik Szoboszlai

Position: MF (AM) ▪  Footed: Right

186cm73kg (6-1, 161lb)

Born: October 25, 2000 (Age: 22-017d) in Hungary hu

National Team: Hungary hu

Club: RB Leipzig

Wages: € 80,769 Weekly Expires June 2026. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Bundesliga

Champions Lg

MP

12

6

Min

864

492

Gls

1

1

Ast

7

2

xG

1.0

2.1

npxG

1.0

2.1

xAG

4.1

1.4

SCA

61

23

GCA

11

4

* see our coverage note

The latest Red Bull product, 22-year-old Hungarian attacking midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai is living up to the expectations placed on him by Football Manager 2019 players worldwide. He was eased into the Leipzig side last season after his move from sister club RB Salzburg, starting only 15 times in the league but making a further 16 appearances off the bench, but he’s been given the keys to Leipzig’s attack this season. Unlike most of the players on this list, Szoboszlai doesn’t dribble a lot, preferring to create through passing (3.27 shot-creating passes in open play per 90). He’s in the 92nd percentile for both expected assists and progressive passes, showing that he’s useful creating from deep as well as near the goal. 


Raphinha headshot

Raphinha

Raphael Dias Belloli

Position: FW-MF (AM-WM, right) ▪  Footed: Left

176cm78kg (5-9, 172lb)

Born: December 14, 1996 (Age: 25-332d) in Porto Alegre, Brazil br

National Team: Brazil br

Club: Barcelona

Wages: € 240,385 Weekly Expires June 2027. Via Capology.

2022-2023

La Liga

Champions Lg

MP

13

5

Min

570

294

Gls

2

0

Ast

2

2

xG

2.8

0.5

npxG

2.8

0.5

xAG

2.7

1.1

SCA

41

15

GCA

6

4

* see our coverage note

The second properly big name on this list, Raphinha is justifying Xavi’s decision to sign him over the summer by putting up an even more impressive 0.85 xG+A in league play etc. It’s impossible not to compare him to Dembélé, given they play the same position for the same club, so here goes: Raphinha creates less off the dribble but more with his passing, and he’s more involved defensively than Dembélé. He only has one goal and two assists for Barcelona, but his underlying numbers are healthy, albeit in limited (557) minutes. There’s every reason to believe he’ll come good for them.


Neymar headshot

Neymar

Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior

Position: FW-MF (AM-WM, left) ▪  Footed: Right

174cm68kg (5-8½, 150lb)

Born: February 5, 1992 (Age: 30-279d) in Mogi das Cruzes, Brazil br

National Team: Brazil br

Club: Paris Saint-Germain

Wages: € 1,083,846 Weekly Expires June 2025. Via Capology.

Twitter: @neymarjr

Instagram: @neymarjr

2022-2023

Ligue 1

Champions Lg

MP

13

5

Min

1006

449

Gls

11

2

Ast

9

2

xG

6.3

1.8

npxG

4.7

1.8

xAG

6.6

1.5

SCA

80

36

GCA

13

4

* see our coverage note

The Brazilian has the benefit of playing in the (being generous) slightly unbalanced French league, in a forward line with Messi and Kylian Mbappé, but you can’t argue with six years of over 1.0 xG+A per 90. Per Opta’s expected assists, this is Neymar’s most creative season so far at PSG; a finishing hot streak has sort of masked that his goalscoring output is trending downward over time (11 goals from 6.3 xG in 2022/23), and he’s dribbling less than he did in his flamboyant youth, but there’s an argument to be made that, as a playmaker, at least, Neymar has never been better than he is now.


Kevin De Bruyne headshot

Kevin De Bruyne

Position: FW-MF (AM-CM-WM) ▪  Footed: Right

181cm69kg (5-11, 152lb)

Born: June 28, 1991 (Age: 31-136d) in Gent, Belgium be

National Team: Belgium be

Club: Manchester City

Wages: £ 400,000 Weekly Expires June 2025. Via Capology.

Twitter: @debruynekev

Instagram: @kalle14

2022-2023

Premier League

Champions Lg

MP

13

4

Min

1041

264

Gls

3

0

Ast

9

3

xG

2.4

1.0

npxG

2.4

1.0

xAG

5.9

1.4

SCA

77

18

GCA

16

3

* see our coverage note

When looking at his fbref scouting report, do you count De Bruyne as an attacking midfielder / winger, which he functionally is, or as a central midfielder, which is where he gets listed on the Manchester City teamsheet? De Bruyne has basically a free role in City’s fluid attack, with most of his chance creation coming from the right half-space, though you’ll see him pop up in every attacking or midfield position across the course of any given match. Ultimately, where you class him is academic: compared to central midfielders, his 0.46 expected assists per 90 is the best in Europe over the last 365 days (99th percentile); compared to attacking midfielders, who you’d expect to get more assists on average, he drops all the way to the 98th percentile.


Rémy Cabella headshot

Rémy Cabella

Position: FW-MF (AM) ▪  Footed: Right

171cm66kg (5-7, 146lb)

Born: March 8, 1990 (Age: 32-248d) in Ajaccio, France fr

National Team: France fr

Club: Lille

Wages: € Weekly Expires June 2023. Via Capology.

2022-2023

Ligue 1

MP

8

Min

635

Gls

3

Ast

4

xG

2.0

npxG

2.0

xAG

2.3

SCA

46

GCA

6

* see our coverage note

Okay, the sample size is kind of small (545 minutes played this season, just above the 500-minute cutoff), but, yes, in terms of expected assists, shot-creating actions, key passes, passes into the penalty area, and progressive passes, Rémy Cabella, who spent last season at 13th-place Montpellier and who’s now at 7th-place Lille, is one of the best playmakers in the world right now. The 32-year-old, who spent one largely unremarkable season at Newcastle and who hasn’t appeared for his country since 2014, compares favorably to many, many more expensive and well-remunerated central midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues. With Paul Pogba out, might there be a spot for Cabella on the plane to Qatar with the defending world champions?


Lionel Messi headshot

Lionel Messi

Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini

Position: FW-MF (WM) ▪  Footed: Left

170cm72kg (5-6½, 159lb)

Born: June 24, 1987 (Age: 35-140d) in Rosario, Argentina ar

National Team: Argentina ar

Club: Paris Saint-Germain

Wages: € 1,223,846 Weekly Expires June 2023. Via Capology.

Instagram: @leomessi

2022-2023

Ligue 1

Champions Lg

MP

12

5

Min

1053

433

Gls

7

4

Ast

10

4

xG

7.3

2.1

npxG

7.3

2.1

xAG

4.9

2.0

SCA

79

33

GCA

18

7

* see our coverage note

It had to be, didn’t it? The greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi needs no introduction. It’s worth noting that 2021/22 was a down year for Messi as he adjusted to life outside Barcelona, but a down year for Messi still means 6.31 shot-creating actions (third-best in Europe) and 0.38 expected assists (eighth-best) per 90, meaning that, in the worst season of his professional career, Messi was still the best playmaker in the world. His days of scoring 50 goals a season are over, but if he stays healthy, Messi will probably lead Europe in assists at age 35. In addition to being the best playmaker in football history, Messi is, once again, the best playmaker in the world right now.


FAQ’s

Who is the best playmaker in the world?

The best playmaker in the world remains Lionel Messi. The PSG superstar is averaging 6.31 shot-creating actions and 0.38 expected assists per 90.

Who is the best playmaker in football 2022?

Lionel Messi is the best playmaker in football in 2022, measuring by expected assists and shot-creating actions. By those stats, other contenders include Kevin de Bruyne, Neymar, and, surprisingly, Rémy Cabella.


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Posted in 2022 Men's World Cup, Greatest of All Time Lists | Comments Off on The 10 Best Playmakers in the World Right Now