Chelsea's Spanish number one made better saves in September than the one awarded the Castrol Save of the Month award, according to Goalkeeper xG data…
Despite Chelsea's difficult start to the season, new number one Robert Sanchez has already earned his first piece of personal silverware t Stamford Bridge.
The Spanish goalkeeper replaced fellow countryman Kepa Arrizabalaga in the summer transfer window for a reported £25 million (add-ons included). It seemed a somewhat odd transfer when the deal went through, especially given Sanchez' time out of the starting eleven at Brighton.
Yet, rumours had circulated that Sanchez was on the shortlist for the capital's boys in blue since Graham Potter and goalkeeper coach Ben Roberts made the switch to London from the south coast. This summer, those rumours were realised.
At the time of writing, Chelsea sit 11th in the Premier League table. It's not been the scintillating start to a big-spending season that Mauricio Pochettino would have liked. But Sanchez is winning over doubters, including ex-England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, who described him as a ‘very smooth’ goalkeeper in a piece with the BBC.
Sanchez couped the Premier League's Castrol Save of the Month award with an athletic stop against Aston Villa.
An undoubtedly impressive save in its own right, Sanchez' save definitely passes the eye test. However, the numbers tell a different story. The way the Save of the Month is awarded is intrinsically flawed, much like the Golden Glove and ‘best goalkeeper’ awards around the world. They measure and reward surface level analyses.
Goalkeeper xG data shows that Sanchez actually made two other saves in September that both had a higher expected save percentage ranking than his save against Villa. Not only were they in the same month, but these other two saves occurred in the same game.
His award-winning save drew an expected save percentage of 71%, meaning the majority of mathematically average Premier League goalkeepers would make the save.
Yet, in the same game, Sanchez pulled off a 1v1 save from Moussa Diaby, and an extended low-mid height diving save from Jacob Ramsey. Both occurring after Aston Villa had gone 1-0 up, Chelsea's Spaniard between the sticks faced shots that drew expected save percentages of 66% (Diaby) and 31% (Ramsey) respectively.
There's a lesson to learn here: saves that look good generally are good. There's no taking away from that. On popular vote, it's clear to see why Sanchez's save from the volley in the first half was nominated, and why it won.
But, that doesn't mean that other goalkeeper actions which aren't so spectacular don't have value. More importantly, it's vital to remember that these actions aren't ‘easy' or ‘easier’ just because they aren't as flashy. Data allows us to pick up and look into smaller details that the eye test misses.
Take Diaby's 1v1, for example. The angle was tight, but it takes conditioned, quick thinking to instinctively go for a foot save rather than attempt to make collapse save. Likewise, the decision to hold on his line (given the covering defender's path) was a wise choice. It forced the onus onto Diaby.
We saw Sanchez caught out by a shot of this nature when Ollie Watkins put Villa 1-0 up in the same match. They're not always easy to keep out.
Ramsey's shot seemed ‘easier’ to save than the shot which forced Sanchez's award winning save in the first half. However, closer analysis reveals excellent positioning and movement with the ball as Ramsey lines up to shoot. Sanchez makes a micro-adjustment to his left whilst maintaining balance in his set, allowing him that bit of leeway as he steps into and extends the dive. Also notice the way that he angles his dive ever so slightly downwards.
Those types of small movements will have been worked on for countless hours in training over the course of Sanchez's career. They'll have been extrapolated and emphasises in footwork and shot-stopping drills. In the moment, it's those countless hours of conditioning that form a perception pathway in which he moves with the ball almost subconsciously.
But, it's those hours which cement the fine details that allow Sanchez to make the save impressive.
The next time you see a goalkeeper make a ‘routine’ save, just think that little harder about why it seems so simple.