Since joining Borussia Dortmund from SC Freiburg, Roman Burki has made over 200 appearances for the club. In that time, he has faced a lot of criticism, and has never really won over a section of the fan base. In this article, Part One in the series, I will evaluate Burki’s shot-stopping over the last four seasons and compare him to other goalkeepers in Europe’s big five leagues.
Measuring Shot-Stopping Over/Underperformance
In order to evaluate shot-stopping, I measure the number of goals a goalkeeper concedes as a percentage of post-shot expected goals (PSxG). I refer to this as PSxG %. The figure below plots goalkeeper PSxG % in the big five leagues across Europe, and places goalkeeper over/underperformance in rank order. Burki has slightly underperformed expectations (averaging a little over -5%) over the last four seasons, falling into bottom half of the performance table.
To add context to Burki’s performance, we can also consider his workload, and the quality of shots that BVB concede. Interestingly, Burki faces a high PSxG/Shot, which is the average value of the shots on target that the keeper faces. Burki’s average PSxG/Shot is 0.328, which would place him 19th out of 74 goalkeepers that have clocked up over 6000 minutes. This shows that Burki isn’t being helped a great deal by his defenders. The figure below plots PSxG % and shots on target against per 90, as a further illustration of workload.
Burki sits just inside the bottom-left quadrant, as a not busy and underperforming goalkeeper. This is interesting because it paints a slightly different picture than the PSxG/Shot figures. While BVB are not conceding a huge amount of shots, the shots they face are high value, making Burki’s job a lot more difficult.
This certainly suggests that Burki’s struggles are in part due to the poor defense in front of him. Dortmund concede an average of almost four shots on target per game, and those shots, on average, are worth a little over 0.3 PSxG. That means Burki is dealing with around 1.2 PSxG/90. It’s hard to succeed in those circumstances, but it’s also true that Burki has underperformed expectations too. Burki’s PSxG % highlights his sub-par performance in recent years, but are there any recurring problems that contribute to this?
Explaining Burki’s PSxG % Underperformance
Burki’s positioning has been criticized before, and while I think there are some issues, I think it’s also worth pointing out that the examples highlighted below are all negative. It would also be possible to go through and highlight moments where Burki’s positioning has been perfect too, so this is worth keeping in mind.
First, I want to touch on Joshua Kimmich’s chipped goal against Burki last season, which earned Bayern Munich all three points and effectively wrapped up the title.
There has been plenty of discussion about this goal, so I’m not going to rework old material (for a comprehensive breakdown of this goal, check out this Between the Sticks piece). However, it’s fair to say that Burki was far off his line, and stepped forward anticipating a potential 1v1. This gave Kimmich an opportunity, which he took very well.
The Kimmich goal highlights one of Burki’s persistent flaws. He tends to anticipate what the opponent is going to do, and steps up into no-mans land. This might help to explain some of the success that opponents have had shooting from distance. Burki tends to position himself a little higher in the box, and you can often see him stepping up anticipating potential threats in behind his defense, however, when those moments don’t materialize, Burki’s position doesn’t give him enough time to judge the trajectory of the shot and make a save. Kimmich’s goal was as much about Burki’s forward momentum as it was Burki being stranded, but we have also seen him step too high up in his box and get beat by a long-distance strike on a number of occasions this season.
Another area in which Burki’s positioning raises some question marks is when facing shots to his far post, from tight angles. I think he sometimes gets caught out overprotecting his near post. There’s an inherent trade-off between the near and far post when a goalkeeper takes up their position to defend a shot from wide. As Kasper Schmeichel once said:
Anyone who has played in goal knows it’s a huge area and you try to cover the whole goal. You can’t try and cover the whole goal and guarantee the ball won’t go in at the near post if it’s a great shot. Near post, far post, you try to cover it all and you’re not happy if it goes in anywhere.
The goalkeeper wants to protect against the opponent’s best shot on goal, but doing so can open up other areas. If you cover the near post too aggressively, you increase the angle for the opponent to hit the far corner. This seems to be something that Burki does on occasion.
Above are four different situations that I’ve identified, where Burki seems to be too far over to his near post. The Leipzig and Paderborn examples are more egregious, but I think there is a case to be made that he is slightly off center in the Koln and Werder Bremen examples too. The dashed line represents the line between the ball and the approximate center point of the goal, and the red area shows the additional angle that I think Burki is giving up by overprotecting his near post.
Note: Due to the different, and less than perfect, camera angles in each example, there is plenty of uncertainty here.
However, the Koln goal demonstrates that there is more to these situations than the angle at which a goalkeeper faces the opponent.
This is an excellent finish, and sometimes the opponent is going to score from tight angles, and it isn’t anyone’s fault. However, in this instance, I think Burki is slightly too close to his near post, and he appears to get his foot out to make the save a little too late. He appears to plant his feet after a short bound, making it difficult for him to get his feet from under him in order to make the save. By the time he is able to get his left foot out to try to stop the shot, it is on its way past him.
Another instance where this seemed to hurt Burki is the headed goal he conceded to Lewandowski earlier in the season. The header was perfectly placed, so he may not have got it either way, but Burki seemed to have his feet planted and he was unable to take a produce enough power in his leap to get near the ball.
Confidence & Burki’s Hesitations
While there are some technical question marks, I think Burki’s biggest issue is mental in nature. He sometimes hesitates before making decisions, which delays his response or leads him to take actions that lack conviction. I think this is a confidence issue, more than anything, though I’m unsure whether it’s a lack of confidence in himself or a leaky and error prone defense that leaves Burki so mentally taxed that his cognitive function is impaired.
Unfortunately for Burki, there is no room for hesitation or self-doubt. Burki seems acutely aware of the possibility that his decisions might be wrong, and instead of committing to a decision, he sometimes seems uncertain. One example of this is RB Leipzig’s third goal last season:
Burki is slow to respond to Dayot Upamecano switching the play, and he is in a sub-optimal position as he tries to close Nordi Mukiele down. He comes out and tries to spread himself, but Mukiele is able to dink it over him for it to fall to Patrick Schick to finish.
As is often the case, this goal doesn’t lie squarely at Burki’s feet, as Guerreiro goes wandering and leaves Mukiele completely open. That said, Burki was slow to respond, and he seems caught in two minds when he spreads to defend Mukiele, his momentum carrying him past the RB Leipzig player, as it is dinked over his right arm. At this point he is too far out to get back and get anything on Schick’s effort, though the fact that Schick gets a virtually uncontested shot is not Burki’s fault.
Against Hoffenheim, a general lack of control across the BVB backline, and a botched effort at intercepting a cross into the box leads to a scramble on the edge of the six yard box, and Burki seems in two minds as to how to react.
This goal is a good illustration of the fact that Burki’s defense don’t do him any favors either, and I think it’s fair to question whether his hesitation is in part due to a lack of confidence in his defense. However, I don’t think he covers himself in glory here. Burki appears to think about coming for the ball when it loops up into the air. Instead, he drops back closer to his line, which I think is the right call, and when the ball bounces free in the six-yard box, he comes out to engage, but seems to be torn between spreading, smothering, and making a tackle with his feet. The end result seems to be some mix of all three. I think he was better off either trying to smother the ball or committing to making a tackle with his feet, but I think the failure to commit to one or the other probably hurts him here.
I think some of the criticism of Roman Burki’s shot-stopping is warranted. He gets caught in no-mans land and his footwork seems questionable on occasion, but his biggest issue seems to be hesitation in and around his box. I think it’s fair that the defense share some of the blame on that front. There’s a possibility that a goalkeeper with unshakeable confidence and a stern stewardship of their defense might alleviate some of these issues, but at the same time I think it’s unfair to lay all the blame at Burki’s feet for failing to adequately herd cats.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive study of Burki’s shot-stopping. That would require an even longer article, and someone with greater goalkeeping expertise would be better placed to do such a study justice. But I think this highlights a couple issues that point to flaws in Burki’s shot-stopping technique.
In Part 2 of the series, I’ll take a look at the other facets of goalkeeping, comparing Burki’s shot-prevention and distribution with other keepers in Europe’s big five leagues. Stay tuned!