When you think of Europe's best goalkeepers, Levante's 27-year-old Costa Rican international Keylor Navas probably would not feature on most people's top 20, let alone top five. But this scouting report will shed light on Navas' outstanding season thus far.
Navas' reflexes are a key factor in him leading La Liga in saves made (95).
In a 3-2 win over Sevilla, he pulled off an outrageous diving save to deny Ivan Rakitic from heading home after a pin-point cross from his teammate Coke.
Navas made seven saves that game.
Speaking of seven, Navas conceded seven in Levante's first league game against Barcelona. But in his second game against the Catalan club, he made four important saves that were crucial to Levante clinging to a point in a 1-1 draw against Barca last month.
He stopped Barca deep-lying forward Lionel Messi from scoring in a one-on-one situation.
The ball rebounded to Barca centre midfielder Xavi, whose shot was blocked by Levante centre-back Juanfran, which deflected straight to Messi, and his header was palmed away by Navas.
While Messi was flagged offside for his second goal-bound attempt, Navas would not have known, so he showed extraordinary quickness around his penalty box in reacting to all three plays.
Messi, who has a 65 percent shooting accuracy (14 percent higher than Real Madrid left attacking midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo), generally converts clear-cut goalscoring chances.
However, Messi failed to do so against Navas on that occasion, which was an example of his world-class shot-stopping.
That was what happened to Real Sociedad centre forward Imanol Agirretxe, who latched on to teammate Antoine Griezmann's header but watched his snapshot get snuffed out by Navas.
Navas went on to make seven saves to help seal a 0-0 draw against Sociedad.
On three occasions, Navas has made seven saves in a league game and has registered five saves or more in nine games—40.1 percent of his matches this season.
He makes game-defining saves.
In the final minute of stoppage time during Levante's 2-2 draw against Almeria, he anticipated Hernan Pellerano winning the header and the direction he was going to head the ball in.
Navas' save was the difference between one point and no point.
He came up big again in a 0-0 draw against Real Betis. He saved Jorge Molina's first penalty but was flagged by the linesperson for prematurely charging off the line. Navas then saved Molina's penalty again.
Statistically Comparing Navas to Europe's Best
You might be thinking: "This is anecdotal and purely subjective. What about an objective analysis: How does Navas statistically compare to goalkeepers in Europe's elite leagues who have accumulated the most clean sheets?"
Here is a select statistical evaluation that will be comparing Navas to Roma's Morgan De Sanctis, Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer, Chelsea's Petr Cech and Atletico Madrid's Chelsea loanee Thibaut Courtois.
Please note Lille's Vincent Enyeama, who has accumulated 15 clean sheets this season, was excluded from the statistical evaluation because Fox Soccer did not have his saves or shots on target faced total numbers.
|Navas' Statistical Evaluation|
|Player||Clean Sheets||Saves||Saves Per Goal Conceded||Save %|
|* 98 saves, per Opta|
Navas' clean-sheets total (nine) is just three behind Neuer despite Levante's back line mainly consisting of modest pros such as Pedro Lopez, David Navarro, Loukas Vyntra and Juanfran.
It is a testament to Navas' ability that his statistics are on par with some of Europe's best keepers.
He has made the most saves (95) and has the third-highest saves per goal conceded (3.7), behind Neuer (6.0) and De Sanctis (4.5).
Navas deserves to be recognised as one of Europe's best keepers right now.