It is time to reflect on Tottenham’s goalkeepers based on last season
Many times, at the highest levels of professional football the first-team keeper plays almost all the games, less an odd cup match or two. Due mostly to injury Tottenham Hotspur called upon three keepers at the first-team level during the 2019-20 season. So how did they do and what does the future look like for Spurs: Hugo Lloris, Paulo Gazzaniga, and Michel Vorm.
Goalkeeping by the Numbers at Tottenham
From a statistical perspective, the keepers for Tottenham Hotspur played about the same as they have the previous two seasons. While the overall save percentage was down from the previous season .734 to .738 in 2018-19, that .734 was the exact same save percentage Spurs had in 2017-18 when the team had 22 shutouts on the season, compared to just 11 this past season.
However, this quick look at save percentage tells us that the lack of clean sheets was not from a drop in the performance of the stoppers at the Lane, rather, it was the fact that they just faced a lot more shots. The Tottenham keepers face 241 shots ON TARGET, which is an increase of 53 shots (22%) on target from two seasons ago.
More shots on targets with the same basic save percentage mean giving up more goals, and over the last three seasons, Spurs have seen the goals against total go from 54 in 55 games (2017-18), to 65 in 58 games (2018-19) to the current 71 goals against in just 52 games. In other words, Spurs have gone from giving up LESS than 1 goal per game on less than 3.5 shots against on target per match to now giving up more than 1.36 goals per contest on more than 4.6 shots against on target.
All this goes to say that we cannot blame the lack of clean sheets or the rise in goals against completely on the goalkeepers as performance has been comparable. That said, change is likely coming to the Tottenham goalkeeper room in the next year so how did the three do individually and what does the future hold?
Michel Vorm – Retiring Mentor
We know Michel Vorm will not be back with the club next season. It was believed he was gone from the club before this past season, only for Vorm to be brought back after Hugo Lloris was seriously injured in a match. Vorm only made a single appearance for Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup Fifth Round loss to Norwich. Vorm made 5 saves on the day, unfortunately, he faced six shots on target giving up a 78th-minute tying goal to Josip Drmic.
Ultimately, Spurs lost in a penalty shoot-out with Vorm failing to save any of the Norwich players kicks, although one did miss. Speaking of misses Gedson, Parrott, and Lamela all missed for Spurs and they lost the shootout 2-3. While his only official appearance on the season, judging by the sendoff he received from Spurs at the end of the year, it is clear Vorm is well thought of within the squad and club. Good luck to Michel wherever he goes, which might be retirement or back to Holland to play out his days on the pitch. Frankly, he will make a good goalkeeping coach sooner than later for someone.
Paulo Gazzaniga – Featured Back-up
Paulo Gazzaniga joined Tottenham Hotspur before the 2017-18 season and prior to this past season had made all of 12 appearances in all competitions for the club. However, 2019-20 was different as Hugo Lloris went down and Gazzaniga more than doubled his career appearances for the club starting 24 times and playing in 25 matches.
Tottenham managed 9 wins in those 25 matches, a .360 winning percentage, and Spurs gave up 33 goals (1.32/game) and managed to keep 5 clean sheets a 20% rate. Compared to the overall team, Gazza’s save percentage is a bit lower, but his per-game goals against is slightly better. While there were times when Paulo proved a solid shot-stopper, it is between the ears, not the sticks where questions remain.
Gazzaniga at times lacked confidence in the penalty area. This was particularly evident on corner kicks and free kicks. While an enormous keeper at some 6 foot 5 inches or 1.96 meters tall, Paulo did not always dominate in the air and failed to attack and grab some balls he should be easily winning given his size and athleticism. Some of this can be attributed to first-team minutes and experience, but the overall improvement during the season was not as great in this area as one would have hoped.
Additionally, Paulo’s overall decision-making can at times be lacking. Thinking back to his biggest miscue of the season, his wild tackle on Chelsea’s Marcos Alonzo – which lead to a penalty kick and ultimately a 2-0 defeat – a more controlled approach could have won the ball and avoided contact. Yes, at times football goes extremely fast and it is tough to make all the right calls, but the lack of game experience showed at times like the Alonzo play and others where instead of just booting the ball away, Gazzaniga might have tried to get too cute.
Ultimately, Paulo is a solid back-up keeper, however, I am not sure that he will ever be anything more than a back-up, at least at Tottenham Hotspur. Given his age of 28, it would not be a surprise to see him seeking more playing time elsewhere, while I am sure Spurs would welcome him back, I have to imagine his ambition is more than backing up Hugo Lloris.
Hugo Lloris – Tottenham Captain
Hugo Lloris had an up-and-down season for Tottenham in 2019-20. While not nearly the same highs of 2018 when he captained France to World Cup glory or the lows of that year with his drink-driving charge, but Lloris went through a different kind of low during the season, a major injury.
In his first 9 games of the season prior to the injury, Hugo had some of his best and worst moments as a Spur. In the match against Crystal Palace Hugo stopped all 7 shots he faced securing his only shut out prior to injury.
Of course, in those same 9 games, Tottenham Hotspur also faced Bayern Munich and gave up 7 goals on 10 shots, enough to kill anyone’s confidence.
Prior to the injury versus Brighton, Hugo had given up 17 goals on 51 shots, with just 35 saves for a poor .686 save percentage. Add in the injury and it was suddenly looking like maybe Hugo Lloris’ time with Tottenham Hotspur was coming to an end. However, sometimes some time off helps you out and after recovering from his elbow injury and then sitting out for the COVID break, to close out the season Hugo was as good as he has ever been.
Over the 9 games that made up project re-start for Tottenham Hotspur Hugo Lloris was lights out. While he faced 17 fewer shots on goal, compared to those nine matches to start the season with only 34 shots against, he also managed to save 28 of those shots, for an outstanding .823 save percentage. Add in 4 clean sheets during that time and suddenly any talk of a slow down or demise in Hugo’s play has been quiet for the time being, as it should be. His overall record of 14-8-7 on the season and .483 win percentage are not the best of his career but far outpace the results with Gazzaniga.
Beyond the wonderful performance between the posts there were some other changes notable in Lloris coming back at the re-start. First, was his faster recycling of the ball. One of Tottenham’s strengths is on the counter-attack, sometimes a fast punt can lead to a quick counter and that is a new addition to Lloris’ approach with the ball.
Second, has been the ending of mental errors. Yes, Lloris went kind of wild after one ball in the season finale draw with Palace, but in the games since the restart, Hugo has shown tremendous focus and avoided the silly, mental mistakes that have happened throughout Lloris’ career – see World Cup Final for an example. In fairness mental errors by goalkeepers are compounded because they almost always lead to goals and even the best make them – see David DeGea. Regardless, limiting silly mental mistakes is important for success and a trademark of Jose teams and a moment the coach described as “beautiful”.
Speaking of trademarks of Jose teams, you need vocal leadership and that is not something Hugo Lloris has always provided – at least publicly – for Tottenham. All that changed in a few minutes at the end of the first-half versus Everton. Lloris could be seen verbally chastizing Heung-Min Son and then actually ran after him at the half-time whistle. In the end, Hugo was doing what a good captain should do, he was holding his mates accountable, bravo. Anyone question Son’s effort the rest of the season? I think not, and some of that is part of the new mentality growing at Spurs, which is good to see from the Captain.
Future of Goalkeeping at Tottenham
Moving forward Spurs have a clear established number 1 in Hugo Lloris who will continue to be captain until at least 2022 when his current contract expires. Spurs also have a solid number 2 in Gazzaniga, if he chooses to stay or if Levy decides not to cash in on the Argentine keeper while he can. From there, there is some youth, but Alfie Whiteman is an unknown, who may end up on loan and then there is some more youth from that point.
Expect Spurs to sign at least 1 first team keeper this summer to compete as the number 2 and possibly be the number 1 a few years down the road. For now the position is set, but as we saw this past season, the team is just one injury away from a different path.