"Soccer sabermetrics"—possibly the only real way to determine whether David De Gea or Anders Lindegaard deserves the No.1 jersey at Manchester United.
At first, everything could scream "Lindegaard!" for the famed No.1 slot, especially given that he's looked solid and reliable in goal for United this season.
Whilst Lindegaard is less error-prone, De Gea is the more talented shot-stopper. Even though a less error-prone goalkeeper instils confidence in his defence, Sir Alex Ferguson is right when he says De Gea's mistakes are emphasized because he plays for the Red Devils.
There are strong points for both goalkeepers in certain matches, but who really is performing better and deserves the jersey?
For an overview, here's how De Gea has performed in his 15 Premier League games this season:
- saves to shots ratio: 75.3 percent (64 saves from 85 shots)
- five clean sheets—one per every three games
- 20 goals conceded in 15 matches—1.33 goals conceded per game
And here's how Lindegaard compares in his eight games:
- saves to shots ratio: 86.9 percent (20 saves from 23 shots)
- six clean sheets—one clean sheet per every 1.33 games
- four goals conceded in eight matches—0.50 goals conceded per game
Everything here would immediately say Anders Lindegaard should be first choice.
Who Deserves Manchester United's Goalkeeper Jersey?
However, Lindegaard's clean sheets came at Old Trafford against Norwich City, Sunderland, Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers, while away from home he kept clean sheets against Aston Villa and Fulham.
All these are teams which, at the time the matches were played, were in the bottom half of the Premier League.
Lindegaard has only played two matches against top-seven teams and has conceded four goals—one to Arsenal at the Emirates and three to Newcastle United at St. James' Park. That's a rate of two goals conceded per match.
Suddenly, Lindegaard's record doesn't look as impressive.
David De Gea's five clean sheets this season have been at home against Tottenham Hotspur and away to Bolton Wanderers, Swansea City, Queens Park Rangers and Everton—where he won the Man of the Match award.
And that MoM award is the lone MoM received by a United keeper this season.
As for De Gea's record against top-seven sides, he has eight games played and 16 goals conceded.
Although he also gives up two goals per game, unlike Lindegaard's matches, De Gea's include a acrimonious 6-1 defeat at home to Manchester City, where standards of the defence dropped statistically well below their normal value.
Without that result, De Gea's record would read—seven games played, 10 goals conceded, at a rate of 1.43 goals per match.
And that would be a much lower total than Lindegaard's against the top teams in the Premier League.
So is the Spain U21 international swinging it over his Danish counterpart?
He is the better player against the top teams, contrary to what some might think. But, overall he lets himself down with those silly errors, which, for example, caused his team to lose 3-2 at home to Blackburn Rovers.
So to really decide who's the better player, how about a look at their distribution?
Anders Lindegaard is accurate with 58.2 percent of the balls he plays out, whereas David De Gea is accurate only 56.8 percent of the time.
However, the young Spaniard sprays out 5.5 accurate goal-kicks each match, while the experienced Dane is only at 3.6 per game.
Again, the hard evidence can't give us a clear-cut answers, as Lindegaard has proven himself as the more reliable distributor, while De Gea is the less reliable but more talented one.
Given that both goalkeepers play long balls more than 50 percent of the time each game, De Gea has to edge it as the better distributor.
So, David De Gea is actually the better distributor of the ball it seems—a vital trait in a goalkeeper as their distributions is the start of most goals and often the most likely way for a team to concede with poor distribution.
On top of that, he's the better against the top teams.
So he deserves the Manchester United goalkeeper jersey, right?
Probably, but the numbers show one area where people think David De Gea is better, when, in fact, Anders Lindegaard prevails.
De Gea comes across as the more talented shot-stopper, having appeared to have made more world-class saves. But, Lindegaard is actually more efficient.
These statistics come from The State of the Game, where Anandu Unnikrishnan does a great job comparing United's two goalkeepers.
The most effective ways to save a shot is to catch the ball, push it out wide, tip it over the crossbar or punch it away.
If a goalkeepers blocks the ball, saves it with their feet or parries it, they've saved the shot but kept the danger alive in the goal or penalty area.
Here are the percentages for Anders Lindegaard's shot-stopping:
- Caught—70 percent
- Punched—9 percent
- Parried—9 percent
- Tipped over—5 percent
- Pushed wide—5 percent
- Stopped with feet—2 percent
- Blocked—0 percent
And here's how De Gea compares:
- Caught—63 percent
- Parried—17 percent
- Punched—8 percent
- Tipped over—4 percent
- Pushed wide—4 percent
- Stopped with fee—3 percent
- Blocked—1 percent
The statistics speak for themselves—Lindegaard is the more effective shot-stopper, even if he can't pull off the world-class saves De Gea can.
So who deserves the goalkeeper jersey now?
They both do, it would seem.
Anders Lindegaard is highly efficient when he plays the lower sides, while good quality football appears to bring the better play out of David De Gea.
While the more experienced option seems the better player against the top teams, it could be the case that the younger and more talented option should play against the better talented, ball-playing teams.
And the older man should play in the more physical games, where hopeful crosses combined with goalkeeper batterings are the norm.
For the rest of the 2011-12 season, when David De Gea is still adjusting to his first season of English football, with the culture, language and lifestyle changes that come with it, perhaps it would be best and most deserved if the Spaniard shares his No.1 jersey with Lindegaard.
That way, Manchester United could get the best of both from their very strong competition in the goalkeeper department.