I read today (in this piece on The Tomkins Times) that Pepe Reina saved 69% of the shots he faced in the Premier League this season, which happened to be the average percentage figure for all of the ‘keepers who made at least ten appearances in 2011/12.
Pepe Reina? An average goalkeeper? Whilst that initially seemed surprising to me, thinking back it’s clear that he didn’t seem at his best last season, and indeed he hasn’t since Rafa Benitez left Anfield in the summer of 2010.
I have previously looked at Reina’s form as part of other articles (here and here), but I thought it would be interesting to assess his statistics now that his seventh season on Merseyside has concluded. Below is a table showing the trend of his Premier League save percentage across his time at Liverpool:
It’s interesting to note that Reina has never performed as well as he did when he first arrived in England; logic would dictate that it might take time for a 23-year-old Spaniard to adapt to the hustle and the bustle of the Premier League, but that wasn’t the case whatsoever.
Perhaps of greater interest, and also concern, is the very apparent downward trend to the graph as time has passed. Of course, it’s hugely important to consider the calibre of teammate he has had in front of him (starting with Hyypia and Carragher at their peak in 2005) as well as the changes in managers, and therefore tactics, that have occurred over the past two years.
Here are the figures by manager; whilst the above graph makes it fairly clear how this will look, it certainly emphasises the massive differences between the three men Reina has served under:
The top keeper in the Premier League this season, in save percentage terms, was David de Gea, who stopped 78% of the shots he faced. Coincidentally, that is the same figure as Reina has averaged across his whole Liverpool career.
Disappointingly for the Reds, had Reina merely saved his previous average save percentage figure last season, then he’d only have conceded 24 goals instead of 35; Pepe’s average under Benitez would have seen a further three goals prevented on top of that.
Considering that Liverpool lost fourteen games, and drew six matches where they conceded last season, even an average performance by Pepe would surely have brought the Reds far closer to the top four than the seventeen points adrift they ultimately finished.
Whilst Rafa was in charge, Liverpool had two goalkeeping coaches; Jose Ochotorena from 2004 to 2007, and then Xavi Valero until Benitez was dismissed in 2010. How has Reina’s form varied under his differing coaches at Anfield?
Top of the tree is Jose Ochotorena, and comfortably so. In his recent autobiography, Reina was fulsome in his praise of his fellow Spaniard:
I have worked with some great coaches, but the one who is the absolute master is Ochotorena. He knows me better than anyone else, understands everything about my strengths and weaknesses, and working with him has been one of the greatest experiences of my career. Ocho is the one who knows me better than anyone else and the one who can bring the very best out of me…(Ocho) is the best goalkeeping coach on the planet.
Whilst it is often tempting to take any such praise in a footballer’s autobiography with a pinch of salt, the statistics certainly suggest that Reina is spot on with his assessment of Ochotorena. Pepe has also clearly not been as good since his departure.
So what does this mean going forward? Could it even be time to wave goodbye to the popular Spaniard and cash in so that the team can be rebuilt?
Certainly his form suggests that it might be, and at thirty years of age in August, this may be the last time Liverpool could extract top dollar from a purchasing club. Also, whilst acknowledging that Doni only had a small sample of games last season, the Brazilian did save 73% of the shots that he faced, showing he could well be a suitable replacement should Reina move on.
That said, the appointment of Brendan Rodgers should ensure Reina recovers his form to some extent, as the Ulsterman will be looking for Pepe to play as a sweeper-keeper, much like he did under Benitez when he displayed his best form.
The deeper defensive line employed by Dalglish, and especially Hodgson, meant that Reina was asked to play within himself and was not able to dominate the backline as he prefers, and that will undoubtedly have had an effect on his form.
Of course, after a topsy-turvy few years at Anfield, Reina may take the decision himself and decide that a change of scene (and no doubt Champions League football on his part) would be best for all concerned.
But Reina is the best Liverpool goalkeeper that I have seen in my lifetime, so I certainly hope he lines up for Liverpool in 2012/13. If the Reds are to finish in the top four though, Pepe’s form will need to be much closer to his level during the Benitez years than it has been recently. Has anyone got Ochotorena’s phone number?