Robert Sanchez will start at Wembley against Manchester United, but how does Jason Steele compare?
In December 2020, it was confirmed that then-Brighton manager Graham Potter had decided to give a 22 year old Robert Sanchez an extended run of games in the Premier League.
Coming off the back of an impressive loan spell at Rochdale in the 2019/20 season, Brighton's Spanish goalkeeper had deposed Australian international Mat Ryan from the starting spot. Sanchez made the number one shirt his own, and upon Graham Potter's appointment at Chelsea in September 2022 (bringing goalkeeper coach Ben Roberts with him), it was rumoured that Sanchez may follow suit.
Alas, Potter couldn't work his magic on a Chelsea side in a transitionary period, and Sanchez stayed put. Potter's replacement at Brighton, Robert De Zerbi, has kept the energy high and results coming on the South Coast, but since March, has installed a different pair of gloves between the sticks.
It's fair to say that Jason Steele's career has taken a somewhat unique trajectory, but the Englishman has seized his chance in the limelight since coming into the Seagulls' side. In five years at Brighton, he had only made one Premier League appearance before stepping in for Sanchez this term. Despite Brighton's growing top flight pedigree, in many ways, Steele's time at the Amex been marked more prominently by FA Cup exploits
His debut had come in the historic tournament - a 3-1 win away at Bournemouth in the third round of its 2019 edition - but Steele would have to wait a further two years a five days for another FA Cup outing. That moment came in a 1-1 draw with Newport County, followed by no less than four penalty saves in the subsequent 4-3 shootout win. A day later, Steele committed his future to the Seagulls until June 2023.
It would be another near-on two years until the Englishman started for Brighton again in the FA Cup. He helped the Seagulls through in the fourth round of the FA Cup - a 5-1 demolition of Middlesbrough this January gone. In similar fashion to his last outing in the 2020/21 edition of the tournament, the victory was followed by another contract extension, and arguably a sign of things to come.
Manager De Zerbi started Steele ahead of his Spanish colleague Sanchez later that month in a 2-1 victory against defending FA Cup Champions Liverpool in the fourth round, before being handed the starting jersey in the league. De Zerbi assured the press that Sanchez still had a future at the club, and was impressed with his contribution in last week's win away at Chelsea. However, he admitted Steele better suits the build up style that he wants to deploy on the south coast.
Goalkeeper xG statistics shine a light on the numbers behind De Zerbi's decision. In the Premier League matches he's played, Steel has bettered Sanchez's distribution numbers, posting a return of +0.03 value in goals per ninety against the average Premier League goalkeeper compared to Sanchez's -0.06 value in goals per ninety. Out of the 25 goalkeepers to play five games or more so far this season, Steele ranks third in distribution compared to Sanchez in 17th.
There isn't much in it, but Steele does has a better overall goal value per ninety minutes (OGV/90) than his Spanish colleague.
Robert Sanchez so far in the Premier League: -0.18 OGV/90
Jason Steele so far in the Premier League: +0.19 OGV/90.
‘I was always confident in my ability,’ said Steele, talking to Sussex Live.
'When you have got a boss like we have, who gives you the ultimate confidence, I can't even describe that feeling. You are going out on the pitch and you are full of belief in yourself. It is something that I have not had for a long, long time'.
Steele has grasped his opportunity in the top flight with two hands, and the number one shirt seems to be his to lose at this stage. However, De Zerbi confirmed that Sanchez will start at Wembley against Manchester United this evening, having started against Grimsby Town in Brighton's 5-0 Quarter Final victory.
The Brighton boss has been pleased with Sanchez's attitude since being dropped, commenting 'when I explained to him my decision one or two months ago, I told him there was an opportunity for him to improve.
‘I think he answered in the right way, working harder than in the past and he is improving for it’.
Brighton's opponents this evening, Manchester United, will be looking to secure a second Wembley final appearance of the season after winning this year's Carabao Cup in February. David De Gea, who currently posts a -0.05 OGV/90 in the Premier League this season, will be looking to put in a big performance after a disappointing outing against Sevilla in the Europa League Quarter Final this Thursday gone.