Pep Guardiola recently garnered attention online when defending his £100 million signing Jack Grealish after being asked about Grealish’s underwhelming goal and assist tally for Man City this season. The City boss stated, “There are players that make the team play good when they are not in the statistics.”. The sentiment behind this point will not be lost on anyone who plays Fantasy Football. There are often players who are integral to their team but are not flattered by traditional performance metrics and thus don’t earn a lot of points.
For this post I want to focus on a player who I think is possibly one of the most underrated defensive assets in the Premier League because his performances don’t generate impressive traditional statistics, Illan Meslier. The young French goalkeeper is currently playing in a struggling Leeds United side languishing towards the bottom of the table. The poor performance of his team and their current dismal goal difference of -31 is definitely not flattering the twenty-two-year-old, but I think this is due to the sporting media’s over concentration on traditional defensive metrics like clean sheets and save percentage. The issue with using clean sheets as a proxy for a goalkeeper’s performance is that it is an imperfect measure of individual ability. For a keeper to win a clean sheet there are a number of variables which need to accompany his own individual performance such as the performance of his back four, the retention of possession by his midfield, and the finishing ability/inability of opposition he faces.
Meslier only has 3 clean sheets so far this season after 26 games (joint lowest in the league). In addition to this he has the 2nd worst save percentage in the league (60.9%). While most would argue that’s pretty poor for a keeper, the context of the games Meslier has to play in can shed light on why he is undervalued. Meslier may have the 2nd worst save percentage in the Premier League but as the graph below shows, he is also the most tested keeper in the league (161), and also somehow has more saves (98) than any other keeper in the Premiership.
Illan Meslier seems to be a keeper who is undervalued much in the same way current Arsenal keeper Aaron Ramsdale was when he signed for the Gunners. Most people thought Arsenal were mad to pay so much money for a goalkeeper who had been relegated in each of his previous two seasons with Bournemouth and Sheffield United. Since arriving at the Emirates though Ramsdale has thoroughly impressed both his club and national coach by earning the number one spot at Arsenal and his first senior cap for the English national team. The reason Ramsdale was undervalued was because he played in two very poor teams and as a result was tested more rigorously than other keepers. Now that he is playing behind an improved back four and midfield, traditional performance metrics seem to flatter him where they couldn’t before. I’d wager that a move to an improved side would show Meslier to be far better a keeper than most would think he is currently.
*The statistics for this post are valid as of 04/03/2022.