Last season saw a few questions – that previously fans had only whispered – voiced with concern and an accusatory tone. These questions were levelled squarely at the feet of Pepe Reina. Aware that some mistakes had been costly, with him being the main culprit, he responded to the criticism by saying:
“If I am man of the match, it won’t change anything – the mistakes I’ve made this season wouldn’t be forgotten by me.
“I don’t think my season has been good at all. It has been below my standards and I know I haven’t been great. There have been a number of mistakes by me.
“I had six really good years before this and people got used to that level from me, but sometimes you have a dip in form and must accept it.”
- Pepe Reina
These words were an admission of culpability and spoken with the grace of a true professional. Pepe has set extremely high standards in his previous years at the club and also was a breath of fresh air after our search for a reliable and consistent performer between the sticks. The criticism has been a little louder as of late, so I decided to investigate Reina’s previous form and then to compare him against his peers for completeness.
Firstly we need to acknowledge the loss of Xavi Valero when he left with Rafa. He was a massive loss to both Pepe and Torres for different reasons. Valero came to Liverpool in 2007 just after hanging up his boots. He took over from his personal friend Jose Ochotorena in the goalkeeping coach role. Whilst Ochotorena never really produced a goalkeeper of real ‘presence’ for us, he did well to develop a more rounded and consistent performer than Joe Corrigan had previously.
Although there are no direct quotes attributed to Reina there was speculation that he was unhappy with the level and detail of coaching he had been receiving since Rafa’s departure:
“There’s talk he [Reina] is not happy with the coaching he gets. He has to take a close look at his own form and get to the bottom of why it has dipped.
- John Aldridge
If we take the season we challenged for the title as the starting point of Reina’s analysis, we get the following key statistics from each of those seasons:
So these are the base statistics. We can see that after a flawless 09/10 campaign (the last Valero was here for) that Reina had managed to get his errors down to zero. The season preceding that was three which is a dramatic drop. There isn’t enough data to make a conclusive statement but I would be willing to say that the season-by-season improvement Reina showed as a relatively young goalkeeper under Valero was evident to those who watched us avidly. There is an argument to be had over whether coach and player reached the pinnacle of their relationship in that last season.
What’s interesting to note as well is the goals conceded column and the clean sheets number. Despite finishing with our lowest points total in roughly fifty years we still only conceded the same amount of goals as we did in 09/10 but we finished a massive 11 points off the points total for the same season. In one way this is heartening as it indicates we are not suddenly conceding a massive glut of goals so the quality is still there. The fact our points total has diminished so much though indicates we are conceding more costly goals. This hints at a common problem or team issue and not individual. This is supported statistically by our low goal return to cancel opposition goals, or less so by the weak mental strength or tendency to give goals away in drabs – this could be a genuine mistake or simple lack of concentration.
The following season to go from the lowest number of mistakes possible to more than he had made in the whole of 08/09 indicates that he was missing his coach and perhaps an indication of defensive woes. The season just gone it rose again incrementally by one. So is this a defence problem or can it be attributed more to the goalkeepers performance. In order to start the analysis, we must first find out if the defence has presented more chances to the opposition and if so, has the goalkeeper performed consistently or have the standards dropped?
So, looking at the above table and concentrating just on goalkeeping performance, we can see our goals conceded is a respectable amount but hasn’t got back to our best. We can further see that Reina’s standards have dropped in terms of his save percentage. But then we also have to look at the chances we are conceding, and when we do it’s astounding that Reina has managed to only have a dip and not a full-blown out collapse.
It’s amazing to think that in the years 09/10 and 10/11 we saw a 25% growth on the chances we gave away to opposition. It’s a testament to Clarke that the figures are receding since he has come in but we still haven’t turned the corner, we’ve seen an overall 15% shrinkage but this still doesn’t balance even one year’s growth. At this rate it would take three seasons to get the defence back into the shape it was.
Having said this we must be extremely careful as we have been lucky to have Reina in goal. If we look at Arsenal and United they have both had goalkeeping issues. Spurs and Chelsea seem to have solid keepers but they are still below the quality of Reina. Hart has emerged over the last couple of seasons as a real top goalkeeping prospect though.
So, if we compare Reina to his peers, we can see how he is doing in comparison with our rivals and if there is a standout problem in his game that could be influencing us as a team.
What’s surprising about these stats is that Reina has been beaten the least (by some way as well) from distance. His saves whilst standing hold up well to scrutiny and comparison with other as well which indicates his positioning is fine. His diving save statistic is quite low compared to others though.
Bearing in mind the stats from the above table as well, I think we can see that we are getting an increased number of chances against us and these chances are coming close in to our goalmouth making them more difficult to save. Reina has faced the fewest amount of shots on target this season (119), the others in this piece for comparison are between 126 & 155. I think this also ties into the common sight for most fans this season of us getting done on the counter when we are vulnerable or outnumbered. This would also be supported by the low outside the box scoring numbers.
Lastly we have also spoken about Reina and coming off his line with regards to conceding goals. In terms of himself this has been a poor season for clearances and catches in his own area as illustrated:
The drop is quite substantial, but he doesn’t seem to have any confidence issues with his handling. His saves caught are comparable with others of his ilk and he is not parrying the ball over enthusiastically. Although this is just my speculation, I would hint that major changes like what we see there (which appear to against the natural game of a player) are often coach induced. He may have been instructed to let the defence deal with more or to stay on his line more for example, but this is just idle speculation on my part.
In conclusion I would say Pepe has had a dip overall namely to do with confidence and quality of chances we are giving away. The sight of a striker bearing down on goal usually equates to a goal in the top leagues because they are rare sights relatively speaking. Not last season they weren’t.
Also, this piece highlights just how desperate Arsenal are for another goalkeeper, and have been for many years now. Let’s just be grateful we have Pepe in the meantime