– The first-choice goalkeepers at last season’s top two were both under 21
– Of the top 20 keepers aged under 21 who played the most European top-flight minutes during 2018, both are in the top five for keeping goals prevented
– During 2018 both keepers were stylistically different in their approaches to handing, sweeping and distribution
Prior to Karl-Johan Johnsson’s 2016 move to Guingamp, the total number of ‘big-5’ league appearances made by Swedish goalkeepers in the ten previous seasons was just 20.
Now following his compatriot Robin Olsen’s switch to Roma, Sweden now have two keepers appearing regularly in Ligue 1 and Serie A. Although Johnsson has recently lost his place, with Guingamp sitting bottom of the French top flight, the strength of Swedish goalkeeping appears to be healthier than it has been for some time – a point reinforced by the performances of two emerging goalkeepers domestically last year.
Oscar Linnér and Isak Pettersson, both aged 21 last season, were the first-choice goalkeepers at AIK and IFK Norrköping, who finished first and second in Allsvenskan. Whilst many young goalkeepers are playing regular top-flight football around Europe, notably in Serie A and Eredivisie, no other league can boast two U21 goalkeepers occupying the starting berths at the top two teams.
Both keepers were rewarded for their performances by being awarded their senior international debuts in January and in this blog we are going to analyse their performances from last season, to provide an insight into what made them stand-out from their more experienced domestic counterparts.
Keeping out high probability goal bound attempts
During the 2018 calendar year, Linnér and Pettersson were in the top ten U21 goalkeepers in terms of league minutes played across Europe.
However what makes them stand out is their goals prevented totals, which compares the total number of goals they conceded during the season against their xGOT projection, a metric explained in further detail in a recent blog by Jonny Whitmore.
Of the top 20 U21 keepers with the most minutes played, Petterson ranks top for goals prevented, with a rate of 4.74 across 30 matches. Linnér ranked fourth, but his figure of 3.41 is arguably more impressive because in the 21 games he played, he faced only 2.05 shots on goal per 90, compared to Petterson’s 3.97. Linnér conceded just nine goals in 2018 and whilst he went through long periods of play without being tested, when called upon he was still making important saves.
Approaches to handling
During 2018, AIK and Norrköping defended the second and fourth fewest number of crosses respectively and generally both keepers displayed clean handing.
However despite his side defending only 15.5 crosses per 90, Pettersson was the fourth highest goalkeeper for crosses claimed (18) and second for punches (20). Since his move from Halmstad in 2017, he now elects to punch more regularly, both from open play and set pieces.
Linnér, on the other hand, has roughly claimed the same number of crosses over the past two seasons, with the majority occurring in open play in his six-yard box, indicating he prefers to stay near his line. However he changed his technique at corners last season, punching on every occasion, which saw his total punches per 90 nearly doubling.
|Crosses claimed per 90||Punches per 90|
During 2018, Pettersson faced almost double the number of shots compared to Linnér.
As displayed by their respective pitch maps below, Pettersson stopped a number of shots from close range which had a high xG probability. When facing shots inside his penalty area, his goals prevented figure went up to 5.82, indicating he is strong at making instinctive reaction saves. However, he may have a weakness dealing with long-range shots. As shown by his shot map below, he conceded eight goals from outside the box, collectively averaging 0.03 xG, from 44 attempts on target.
In contrast Linnér conceded only four goals that had an xG probability of less than 0.1, however the lack of circles on his shot map emphasises how little he was tested, particularly in his own six yard box. Whilst making important saves, none of his stops had a probability higher than 0.2 xG, which demonstrates how effective AIK’s back three were in restricting high-quality goal attempts.
Linnér’s involvement in AIK’s play was limited. He completed just 9.24 passes per 90 and his completion rate of 44.4% was the second lowest of Allsvenskan keepers that played a minimum of 1000 minutes. As shown by his heat map, on most occasions he elected to clear his lines into the opposition half.
Norrköping adopted a possession-based approach last season, ranking in the league’s top four for sequences of six passes or more and average sequence time.
As a result of this approach Petterson adapted his distribution after joining Norrköping, with a greater emphasis put on playing the ball out from the back.
During 2017, Petterson tended to distribute the ball long into the opposition half. In 2018 the majority of his passes went into the central defenders and central midfield. He was also alert to using width higher up the pitch as a means of gaining territory quickly – his left wing back, Guðmundur Thorarinsson, was the most common receiver of Petterson’s passes played into the middle third.
Despite Norrköping’s possession-based approach, there were many occasions where Petterson pushed the central defenders up so he could play long. He delivered 6.7 passes into the attacking third per 90, the second highest of all Allsvenskan goalkeepers.
One big stylistic difference between Linnér and Pettersson last season was how they dealt with long balls played in-behind their back line.
During 2018 Linnér only came off his line once to sweep up behind, whereas Pettersson cleared his lines 16 times, ranking him second of all Allsvenskan keepers.
But whilst it appears Pettersson excels at being quick to spot danger and coming off his line quickly, it could be a result of his team adopting a defensive higher line compared to AIK. In 2017 their clearances per 90 figures were more comparable, (0.28 for Linnér and 0.35 for Pettersson), so it may be premature at this stage of their careers to define only Pettersson as being a sweeper-keeper.
Competition for places at international level
Over the course of 2018, both keepers were successful whilst demonstrating different traits. From a scouting perspective, Pettersson demonstrated a versatility in being able to adapt his game in line with a new playing style, but it would be wrong to say that Linnér would not be able to follow suit if required, having only played regularly for two years.
It may still take some time for Linnér and Pettersson to challenge Robin Olsen for the Sweden number one shirt, but the number of emerging keepers currently coming out of the country could result in healthy competition for places.
In addition to the AIK and Norrköping keepers, the current first choice for Sweden’s U21 side, Pontus Dahlberg, is currently at Watford. Dahlberg joined the Hornets last year after just one season of regular first-team football in Allsvenskan with IFK Göteborg, which reinforces the league as offering a potential pathway to a career in the big-5 leagues.
Other young Swedish goalkeepers currently based in England include Viktor Johansson (Leicester City) and Simon Andersson (Brentford), whilst 16-year old Filip Jorgensen is in the youth set-up at Villarreal.
2018 marked the end of an era for Swedish goalkeeping following Andreas Isaksson’s retirement, but whilst the country’s second most capped keeper enjoyed a stranglehold on the national team’s jersey for 15 years, Olsen may face stiffer competition from a new generation.