Premier League

Heroics against 'Big Six' aren't De Gea speciality

 • by Mark Thompson
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David de Gea, you might have heard, is a good goalkeeper.

OK, that might be an understatement. He made 11 saves against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, the most that any goalkeeper has made in the Premier League this season.

It’s not quite as impressive as the 15 he made against Arsenal 13 months ago, but still pretty good going. Oh, and for context, the average number of saves for the other 17 Premier League keepers in action this weekend was 2.47.

De Gea’s habit of showing up in the big games was mentioned on the televised commentary by Martin Tyler, who was perhaps fishing for a nice stat from the production team.

He didn’t get one, and that might be because there isn’t a particularly good one to give.

The difficult second (consecutive) season

Although De Gea had an extraordinarily successful 2017/18 campaign, his 2016/17 was ordinary in the games against the other members of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’. And his 2018/19 was shaping up to be the same until Sunday afternoon.

We can look at save difficulty and goalkeeper performance with a ‘post-shot’ expected goals model, evaluating where a shot was taken from as well as where it was heading after it was hit.

It shows just how good De Gea’s performance was. The shots he faced were worth 2.59 expected goals, according to Football Whispers’ model. To come away with a clean sheet is as impressive an achievement as it first looked.

But the Spaniard is not a consistent show-stopper against English football’s best. In 2016/17, the earliest season Football Whispers has data for, De Gea faced open-play shots worth 10.47 expected goals in ‘Big Six’ match-ups but conceded 11.

The Wembley performance is a handy boost to this season’s numbers, which were remarkably similar before the game — 10.23 expected goals faced from open-play, 11 conceded from those shots.

A pattern at the top

It’s not just De Gea, though; no goalkeeper has managed to put up back-to-back impressive seasons in ‘Big Six’ games.

Hugo Lloris and Petr Čech had strong years in 2016/17, saving 38 and 20 per cent of the expected goals they faced in these matches respectively, but came back down to earth afterwards.

Thibaut Courtois could have been in the running if he’d stayed at Chelsea instead of moving to sunny Spain in the summer, though.

Although the value of saves he made in 2017/18 ‘Big Six’ games (6.93) was lower than De Gea’s (10.57), it was a similar percentage of what he faced — 53.59 per cent vs De Gea’s 54.01 per cent.

Still, in raw terms, Manchester United’s Spanish stopper now has the three biggest performances for goalkeepers in ‘Big Six’ games since 2016/17. And all against North London clubs too, coincidentally.

Last season’s incredible performance against Arsenal saw him save chances worth 4.26 expected goals while he saved 2.02 expected goals against Tottenham as well.

Top performances might not be a habit for De Gea against the other top six sides, but it looks like it’s becoming one when playing Tottenham.

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