Parts 1 and 2 in this series analyzing Roman Burki’s past, present, and future at Borussia Dortmund have shown that the Swiss goalkeeper is a stereotypical modern goalkeeper, capable of sweeping up any threats in behind his defense, and comfortable with the ball at his feet. However, the analysis in the first two parts of the series demonstrated that Burki is also a sub-par shot-stopper. To add fuel to the fire, Part 3 highlighted the significant decline in his shot-stopping this season. It seems that now might be the time for BVB to look for a replacement.
To bring this series to a close, I will identify a shortlist of goalkeepers that could potentially replace Burki, before evaluating them all using the same criteria that was used to analyze Roman Burki in the previous articles. Finally, I will pick the goalkeeper that I believe should be BVB’s primary transfer target this summer.
Finding Burki’s Replacement
I think Dortmund should be looking for an all-rounder, with a particular focus on shot-stopping. This may seem relatively obvious, but given some of the names that have been thrown out there, I don’t think it is. A traditional goalkeeper that is focused on shot-stopping would limit the way that BVB play, and I think that Marco Rose will want someone that can contribute with the ball at their feet and can protect the back line by sweeping up any threats in behind them.
Additionally, I think Borussia Dortmund need a confident communicator that is comfortable marshalling his backline and keeping things organized defensively, and someone that is capable of being aggressive without being erratic or chaotic. BVB need someone that can keep things calm at the back and that is resistant to the chaos that develops in front of him.
The Shortlist of Potential BVB Goalkeepers
The goalkeepers included in the shortlist are: Alphonse Areola, Walter Benitez, Koen Casteels, Martin Dubravka, Bartlomiej Dragowski, Paulo Gazzaniga, Rafal Gikiewicz, Mike Maignan, Neto, Predrag Rajkovic, and Thomas Strakosha. In addition to these 11 goalkeepers, I have included Roman Burki, Peter Gulacsi, Lukas Hradecky, Manuel Neuer, and Yann Sommer for the purpose of comparison.
Reports have also linked Borussia Dortmund to Peter Gulacsi, Andre Onana, and Odysseas Vlachodimos, however, I won’t be analyzing these three in this article. If Onana or Gulacsi become available, I would view them as a top target for Dortmund, but I chose not to include them here because Onana is currently suspended for doping, and Gulacsi appeared to rule himself out after he was linked with the club. As to Vlachodimos, there simply isn’t enough data available for the Portuguese league for me to analyze him in this context.
This shortlist isn’t exhaustive. There are other good goalkeepers out there. Two such goalkeepers are Illan Meslier at Leeds and Robert Sanchez at Brighton. However, both are young and there is limited data available for them. This is a shortlist of potential targets, but I’m sure there are plenty names missing from the list.
Analyzing the Shortlisted Goalkeepers
Shot-stopping was the area of Burki’s game that was the most questionable. As a result, it should come as no surprise that almost all goalkeepers on the shortlist are better than Roman Burki as shot-stoppers.
In particular, Neto, Walter Benitez, Martin Dubravka, Alphonse Areola, and Paulo Gazzaniga are all tremendous shot-stoppers, conceding 10% fewer than their PSxG totals. All of these goalkeepers would place in the top ten best goalkeepers in the last four seasons (though Gazzaniga didn’t qualify in the previous analysis, because he had not played sufficient minutes), which is extremely impressive.
Turning to shot prevention, Burki’s performances are a bit more of a mixed bag. He is at best average when facing crosses into the box, and compared with the goalkeepers on the shortlist, he again looks average.
The standout performers when it comes to cross handling are Mike Maignan and Koen Casteels. They are the only two goalkeepers on the shortlist that successfully stop more than 10% of crosses into their penalty area, which is impressive. For comparison, Maignan and Casteels ranked third and fourth of all goalkeepers over the last four seasons.
In addition to these two keepers, Gikiewicz, Rajkovic, Dubravka, and Areola all have higher success rates handling crosses than Burki. Gikiewicz, Areola, and Rajkovic also concede a lower share of goals from set pieces, however it’s probably not fair to judge goalkeepers on this basis, as this is so heavily influenced by their teammates.
The other aspect of shot prevention, and an element that I think should be a priority for a BVB goalkeeper, is sweeping. I think that Burki’s profile is more or less correct for Borussia Dortmund, but the club needs a better version of him (sorry Roman). When it comes to defensive actions outside their penalty area, Burki is actually pretty good. In fact, there is no one on the shortlist that is clearly much better than him on this front.
However, Koen Casteels and Alphonse Areola are pretty close, and given that the average distance of Areola’s defensive actions is greater than Burki’s, I think he just about edges Burki out.
On the distribution front, there are some excellent performances by the shortlisted goalkeepers, especially when it comes to long-ball distribution. There are four potential transfer targets that are significantly more accurate than Roman Burki when playing it long: Rafal Gikiewicz, Koen Casteels, Thomas Strakosha, and Alphonse Areola.
Of those four keepers, Strakosha is about level with Burki when it comes to total pass completion, of which Burki performs pretty well, and Areola is way out ahead. In fact, Areola’s pass completion percentage is over 80%, and he’s the only goalkeeper that comes close to Manuel Neuer on that front. Despite his incredibly impressive pass accuracy, he actually attempts fewer passes and touches the ball less frequently than his compatriots. I don’t think this is driven by a lack of ability with the ball at his feet though. I think he’d be very capable of contributing offensively if asked.
I think there are four standouts when it comes to offensive distribution: Areola, Casteels, Strakosha, and Walter Benitez, who is pretty similar to Burki in terms of long-ball distribution (slightly better, in fact), while also maintaining a high total completion percentage. Finally, Casteels deserves mention for his very solid numbers while being extremely active in the buildup. He’s a much more active part of the offense than the other standouts, making his performance all the more impressive.
Picking BVB’s Next Goalkeeper
Having analyzed the goalkeeper shortlist in terms of shot-stopping, shot prevention, and distribution, I have been able to identify five goalkeepers that I think BVB should consider signing in the summer: Areola, Benitez, Casteels, Rajkovic, and Strakosha.
However, I think Rajkovic and Benitez are better served as fallback options. Rajkovic is a little too erratic so he might not be a great fit for BVB, and while I think his long-ball distribution is actually a lot better than the numbers suggest, he is a little awkward in possession, and Benitez’s shot prevention is pretty limited, and having recently signed an extension with Nice, I think BVB would be better served targeting the other keepers on the list.
In reality, I’d be pretty happy if BVB signed any of my top three keepers, Areola, Casteels, and Strakosha. However, I think there is one goalkeeper that is far and away better than the rest: Alphonse Areola. He is an impressive physical specimen, an excellent technician, and he plays with a confidence that makes him a good fit for Borussia Dortmund. His lateral movement and reflexes are tremendous, and coupled with his size, he is able to play aggressively, sitting back on his line and daring his opponents to have a go, but with the capability to close the angle at impressive speed.
The French goalkeeper has spent the majority of his career at PSG, but has also spent time on loan at Real Madrid, Lens, Bastia, and Villareal. He is now plying his trade on loan at Fulham, where he has been briliant so far this season. He is a vital part of Fulham’s campaign to stay in the Premier League, and his availability is likely to hinge on this effort. Fulham have an option-to-buy, and if they avoid relegation, it is highly likely they will trigger this clause and sign Areola on a permanent deal.
If they do end up going down, I think BVB should move to sign Areola immediately. It will likely cost around €30m, but for a 27 year old goalkeeper with a great skillset and plenty of experience, that is a bargain.
If Areola isn’t available, then Casteels and Strakosha are good consolation prizes. Casteels is tremendous all-rounder that is familiar with the league, while Strakosha is a little less of a statistical standout, but age is on his side. I’d be confident that either of these goalkeepers would be an immediate upgrade, but if BVB really want to challenge for a title, I think Areola is the world-class keeper that the team needs.
So we are finally coming to the end of this lengthy series analyzing Roman Burki. I came into this with the hope that I might be able to settle some of the debate about his performances at Borussia Dortmund. In reality, I think opinions are probably so entrenched at this point that this won’t change things a great deal. Nonetheless, I think this series has demonstrated that Burki is a decent all-rounder, but his shot-stopping is below average, and he seems to be a bad fit for this chaotic, mentally fragile Borussia Dortmund side.
With all this in mind, I have identified Alphonse Areola as the ideal replacement for Burki. I think he is a tremendously gifted keeper, with the kind of mentality that would help cure some of the chaos we see all too often. If Areola isn’t available, I think Koen Casteels and Thomas Strakosha are both very solid alternatives, and if Onana or Gulacsi are available, they would immediately become excellent alternatives to Areola. If Onana is available, I would put him level with Areola, and I’d put Gulacsi just behind them both, held back only by his age.
There we have it. Alphonse Areola. Go and get him Watzke! What do you guys think? Is Areola the man for the job?