Why Hugo Lloris could be France’s Achilles heel

Hugo Lloris saves a soccer ball – Why Hugo Lloris could be France’s Achilles heel – Youssef Loulidi/Getty

Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final between England and France will be a defining moment in the international careers of Jordan Pickford and Hugo Lloris. Pickford will make his 50th appearance for England while his counterpart Lloris will earn a record 143rd international cap for France.

At 35, Lloris is the most experienced and decorated goalkeeper. But analysis of their respective performances this season shows that, in many key areas, it is Pickford who have the advantage over the French No.1.

stop shot

The goalkeeper’s role has changed dramatically over the past decade, but shot-stopping remains his most important skill. In this most fundamental aspect of goalkeeping performance, Pickford have clearly outperformed Lloris so far this season.

According to data from Goalkeeper-XG, a goalkeeper-specific analytics company within the Goalkeeper.com group, Pickford has stop 5.14 goals more than expected based on the shots he has faced for Everton in the Premier League this season. Lloris, on the other hand, has conceded 0.71 goals more than expected.

Unlike more traditional analytics companies, Goalkeeper-XG’s models take into account a wider range of variables, including the power of a shot and the positioning adjustments a goalkeeper would have to make before being struck. The model was created by Dr John Harrison, who has a doctorate in astronomy and now works with top-flight clubs across Europe.

Pickford is particularly dominant in one-on-one situations, preventing 0.34 goals more than expected. Lloris struggled in those moments, conceding 2.84 goals more than expected. Those numbers should give Gareth Southgate’s counterattacking England side plenty of optimism, especially as Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford have already scored in one-on-one attacks in Qatar.

One area where Lloris excels, however, is in his ball handling. Data from Goalkeeper-XG shows that the Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper has made just four ‘dangerous parries’ (blocking a shot in the path of an attacker) this league season, compared to 13 for Pickford.

Both players are known for making mistakes in the Premier League, but this year Lloris has been the less reliable of the two. His unnecessary mistake against Arsenal, when he dropped the ball at the feet of Gabriel Jesus, was one of the most publicized mistakes of the domestic campaign so far. It came with the scores level at 1-1 and proved to be a turning point in the North London derby in October, which Arsenal won 3-1.

Distribution

With Olivier Giroud serving as an effective target up front, France have been more willing than England to play long balls at this World Cup. Opta data shows that only 37% of Pickford’s passes were played for long, compared to 54% for Lloris.

Of the two goalkeepers, Pickford has been more involved in warm-up play than Lloris. So far in this tournament, he has played more passes, with more precision, than the French keeper.

That doesn’t mean Pickford is incapable of launching attacks with long, drilled passes, though. Indeed, for Everton, the accuracy and distance of his passes often make him a valuable attacking weapon. According to data from Goalkeeper-XG, he has been the Premier League’s most effective ball distributor this season, ahead of Brentford’s David Raya and Manchester City’s Ederson. Lloris ranks below average.

When Lloris plays long passes in the final third, he finds a team-mate with a below-average 23% success rate. Pickford is successful with 28% of those long passes, which is above the Premier League average.

Penalties

Pickford has also proven to be the superior kicking keeper. Goalkeeper-XG data shows that on average, a goalkeeper saves shots on goal approximately 17.5% of the time. Pickford has done better than that average over his career (saving 18.2% of the penalties he has faced), while Lloris has fared far worse on penalties, saving just 12.2% overall.

The Englishman also has more experience winning international shootouts. Pickford won two of his three shootouts with England, producing a crucial save against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup and then again in the Nations League against Switzerland the following year. Against Switzerland, Pickford even scored an impressive penalty.

Even in England’s losing shootout in last year’s European Championship final against Italy, Pickford performed well saving two of the five penalties he faced.

Lloris, on the other hand, lost the only penalty shootout he had with France. He came on against Switzerland, in the last 16 of last year’s Euros, and the Spurs keeper conceded all five penalties he faced.

John Harrison is @Jhdharrison1 on Twitter. Goalkeeper-XG is a goalkeeper-specific data company that works with professional football clubs to help improve the quality of their goalkeeper service by streamlining the scouting and recruitment process, as well as providing match day performance analysis and training routine advice.

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