Champions League: Mike Maignan Makes Top Save But Courtois' Performance Stands Out

By Sam Hudspith,Dr John Harrison, PhD

News • May 12, 2023

Champions League: Mike Maignan Makes Top Save But Courtois' Performance Stands Out

Dr John Harrison analyses the shot-stopping from the first leg of the Champions League Semi-Final matches.

Some say that shot-stopping is goalkeeping's lost art.

With the emphasis that has been placed on the auxiliary skills of those between the sticks, it's fair to question whether what was once the undisputed main aim of the goalkeeper has been condemned to footballing antiquity. Today, a goalkeeper must do so much more than stop shot.s  

Nonetheless, the work of Goalkeeper xG has proven - definitively - that the single most important tool in the goalkeeper's toolkit remains their ability to keep the ball out of the net. 

This week's round of heavyweight clashes in the late stages of the UEFA Champions League saw a mixture of goalkeeping styles grace the goalposts of some of Europe's most recognisable stadia. Thibaut Courtois faced off against Ederson in Manchester City's 1-1 draw with Real Madrid, and Mike Maignan's opposite number was Andre Onana as the two Milan sides locked horns. Onana's Inter variant would give themselves a 2-0 aggregate advantage going into the second leg by the end of the evening. 

The week's Semi-Final action kicked off at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ederson put in a good performance, although the goal he conceded wasn't unsavable. 

On the whole, Ederson's shot-stopping performance was solid. His Expected Saves (ExSave) value finished in the green at +0.01. The best save he pulled off on the night was a top hand parry from Aurélien Tchouaméni, which actually garnered a relatively high 81.9% save probability.

Nonetheless, a significant part of goalkeeping is doing the seemingly ‘easier’ things solidly and smoothly. Likewise, given the scoreline, it was crucial that Ederson made saves of this nature. The save was well executed in a technical sense, as Ederson led with two hands before reaching with the right top hand in adjustment to the pace and trajectory of the shot. 

It was a good night for Manchester City's number one, who actually had more touches than Erling Haaland up front during the ninety minutes.

In the home goal stood Belgian giant Thibaut Courtois. Celebrating his 31st birthday yesterday, Real Madrid couldn't find a winner to prematurely mark the occasion. Nonetheless, Courtois would come out as the first leg's best shot-stopper overall by the end of play in Italy on Wednesday night. 

It's easy to forget how young Courtois was when he burst onto the scene. It seems as if the Real Madrid number one has been around for some time now. It was in the Spanish capital that he announced himself as one of Europe's most promising goalkeepers over a decade ago, and it's in the same city that his game has reached new heights. 

Courtois posted a positive +0.5 ExSave value, with his most difficult save coming from another long shot. This time, it was Rodri who drove the ball low towards Courtois' bottom right hand corner (the second clip in the video below). 

The Belgian got down well and his strong right forearm provided the barrier needed to keep Rodri's shot out. Whilst the save may initially have seemed fairly 'routine', the Goalkeeper xG model actually shows it to have drawn a 65.5% save probability. Nearly a third of goalkeepers don't save that shot. 

On Wednesday night, the attention moved east across the continent to Italy. 

By the time Mike Maignan was properly called into action against Inter Milan, the city's boys in blue  were already two goals to the good. Maignan was really just keeping the score down, but did so by executing a good spread save from an Edin Dzeko shot. 

Fed through by Alessandro Bastoni (himself making a daring venture upfield from centre back), the French goalkeeper timed his approach well and rushed into a spread shape save, ultimately denying Dzeko with his left thigh. 

This save is made, mathematically, by less than half of goalkeepers, drawing a 49.4% save probability. However, it was a disappointing evening for the Frenchman overall. He finished the ninety posting an ExSave value of -0.31.

Finally, we turn to Andre Onana. His career is one that, to date, has been marked by controversy, but seems to have had something of a rebirth at Inter Milan. It looks as if Onana and Inter will reach the Champions League final for the first time since they won the tournament in the 2009/10 season, and were helped, no doubt, by a no-frills performance from their goalkeeper.

Onana recorded a +0.05 ExSave value, placing him in second for shot-stopping performance out of the four goalkeepers who played in the Semi-Finals across the week. The Inter goalkeeper had relatively little to do, with AC Milan spurning a series of chances wide and high of the mark. His best save, per the Goalkeeper xG model, was from a weak Tommasso Pogeba shot which didn't make it onto the highlight reels. It drew a 97.2% save probability. 

Onana and his defence have also kept the most clean sheets in the season's Champions League, with seven in the 11 games he's played. He becomes the first Inter Milan goalkeeper to achieve such a feat in Europe's premier tournament. 

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