I’m a passionate supporter of Chelsea FC (stay with me, it gets better), the United States’ men’s and women’s national teams, and I’m looking forward to St. Louis City SC’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer in 2023. However, like a lot of fans in this country, my love for the beautiful game began while watching international soccer at the FIFA World Cup.
It’s a blessing every time we get the opportunity to watch the best in the world combine with their fellow countrymen in an attempt to achieve eternal glory for their homeland. It’s the memories of stunning goals, the thrill of victory, and the quest for redemption that makes the four years between each World Cup go by so quickly, along with all the other soccer in between. While maybe held in a slightly lesser light, the European Championships throughout its history have offered the same high stakes and elite competition that you would find in any of the biggest tournaments in the world. However, the buildup to this edition will stand alone in history.
The still aptly named UEFA Euro 2020 was postponed last year due to the pandemic and justifiably so. It’s possible that the extra year’s delay has given a handful of players the opportunity to earn a spot on their respective national teams that they wouldn’t have gotten had the tournament gone on as scheduled. Nevertheless, the majority of the best in the game are set to battle it out across the continent in a few weeks’ time.
To help prepare you for the summer’s biggest tournament, I’ll be writing a series of pieces highlighting the best players at certain positions in a lead up to a full-scale team-by-team preview that will drop the week of the opening match.
Today, I’ll be focusing on the top 10 goalkeepers who are set to feature for the majority of their team’s matches at Euro 2020 (one player per national team). The last line of defense, these are the men best suited to positively swing a result in their team’s favor this summer.
Without further ado, let the debate commence:
Lukáš Hrádecký, Finland (Bayer Leverkusen)
While maybe not a name that comes to mind when thinking of top goalkeepers, Hrádecký has been doing great work in the German Bundesliga since joining Eintracht Frankfurt in 2015. He’s spent the past three seasons at Bayer Leverkusen, who haven’t finished below sixth place during that time. Hrádecký led a defense that conceded the third fewest goals in the Bundesliga this past season, keeping eight clean sheets in the process. While not the biggest goalkeeper, he’s comfortable with the ball at his feet and coming off his line to claim crosses. While he faces competition from Jesse Joronen of Brescia in Italian Serie B, Hrádecký should be the one in between the pipes for Finland, who will need all the help they can get if they want to make some noise at the Euros this summer.
Anthony Lopes, Portugal (Lyon)
While the reigning Euro champions might opt to go with Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Rui Patricio, Lopes is the one who has earned that opportunity. Having started every match this past season for Lyon in French Ligue 1, Lopes made 94 saves and kept 11 clean sheets, while also finishing in the top 30 in PSxG +/- (Post-Shot Expected Goals minus Goals Allowed). Lopes is going strong at 29 years old and is coming off a solid showing during Portugal’s recent string of World Cup qualifying matches. While Portugal’s defense is improved, Lopes will be depended upon to come up with some clutch stops to help fuel their quest to repeat as champions.
Kasper Schmeichel, Denmark (Leicester City)
A chip off the old block, Schmeichel is actually coming off of a bit of a down year at Leicester, conceding a few more goals and seeing a notable drop in his save percentage. Still, he managed to make 87 saves and helped keep 11 clean sheets, while also starting every league match. Schmeichel isn’t afraid to get physical in the box due to his frame, but he’s also athletic enough to make the spectacular save. He kept a clean sheet in each of Denmark’s World Cup qualifiers this year and is one of team’s biggest leaders. His intangibles, as well as his skills, will need to be at their best if Denmark wish to be competitive this summer.
Péter Gulácsi, Hungary (RB Leipzig)
A big part of RB Leipzig’s recent success in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League, Gulácsi tied for 6th this past season in Europe’s Big 5 leagues with 15 clean sheets. While the advanced analytics aren’t in his favor, his skills as a distributor can’t be denied. He completed 65 percent of his passes that were 30 yards or longer, good for a top 10 spot among goalkeepers. He’s very comfortable playing out from the back and taking action farther away from his goal. Gulácsi will be under a lot more pressure playing for Hungary than with Leipzig, but he’s capable of putting on a showing that will get people talking.
David de Gea, Spain (Manchester United)
De Gea is far and away the hardest goalie to properly rank on this list. Once an undisputed top three goalkeeper in the world, and primed for a big move to Real Madrid, de Gea has fallen off considerably over the years by his standards. This past season, he made his fewest league starts for Manchester United since the 2012/2013 season, conceding time to English national team goalkeeper Dean Henderson. His 67.1 save percentage was the second lowest of his career, just ahead of his first professional season with Atlético Madrid. So why rank him this high? It’s because he still remains one of the biggest threats in the world when it comes to making the “oh my goodness!” save. His ability to cover from post to post is still elite and now he’s in a position where he has to prove himself. Spain is not what they used to be, so de Gea will have plenty of opportunities this summer to remind the world just how good he is.
Wojciech Szczesny, Poland (Juventus)
Juventus’ tumultuous road to barely qualifying for the UCL next season had less to do with Szczesny and more with the team as a whole. He still managed to finish with a 1.08 Goals Against per 90 minutes average and a 70.5 save percentage. He’s also one of the better distributors at the position, completing 89.7 percent of his passes, which was the number one mark for goalkeepers in Europe’s Big 5 leagues. At 6’4½”, Szczesny is able to use his big frame to stop shots and other action inside the box. He has plenty of experience playing in big matches and should be a consistent force for Poland in net this summer.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Italy (AC Milan)
The heir apparent to Gianluigi Buffon, standing at 6’5½”, Donnarumma is as imposing as his name. At just 22 years old, the Italian goalkeeper is fresh off of leading AC Milan to a second-place finish in Serie A, keeping 14 clean sheets in the process. When he isn’t making big saves or snuffing out crosses, Donnarumma is actually pretty comfortable with the ball at his feet despite his size. He’s had a meteoric rise since debuting for Milan in 2015 at 16 years old, and he’s only going to get better. Playing for a country that prides itself on defense, Donnarumma will have plenty of help around him as Italy are primed for a run at the Euros this summer. If you asked me which goalkeeper I’m looking forward to watching the most, this would be my pick.
Hugo Lloris, France (Tottenham Hotspur)
Still going strong at age 34, Lloris did all he could to cover up Tottenham’s inefficiencies this season. The French goalkeeper finished in the top 10 in save percentage, PSxG +/-, and kept 12 clean sheets while starting every league match. While he may not be the flashiest goalkeeper, consistency is the most important aspect for the position, and that’s the best way to describe Lloris’ game. The fact that he is both the captain for France and Tottenham says a lot about his character and his knowledge of the game. He’ll be playing for a much more talented team this summer, but he’s perfectly capable of standing on his head when called upon.
Thibaut Courtois, Belgium (Real Madrid)
If you want to go ahead and say that Courtois is deserving of the number one spot on this list, you won’t get an argument for me. Alongside Karim Benzema, Courtois was almost able to drag an under-performing Real Madrid team to a La Liga title and a UCL final appearance. The Belgium goalkeeper led Europe’s Big 5 leagues with an 81.1 save percentage and was top five in wins, clean sheets, and GA90 average. At 6’6”, Courtois is basically a skyscraper in net, but moves fairly well for a big man. Opponents have very little margin for error when trying to place their shot past Courtois. Belgium’s defensive personnel leaves a lot to be desired, so Courtois may be depended upon more than normal if they hope to achieve Euro championship glory.
Manuel Neuer, Germany (Bayern Munich)
Now while someone like a Jan Oblak or an Ederson may have a better claim to the “best goalkeeper in the world” title, Neuer is just as good or maybe even better than anyone else on his day. Health issues over the past few years had many calling for him to be dropped from the German national team and Bayern Munich, but Neuer has since put those calls to rest. Ranked solidly on the analytics spectrum, Neuer still continues to play the role of sweeper-keeper better than anyone, covering a ton of ground outside of his penalty area to put offensive attacks to bed. His aggressive style of goalkeeping leaves him open to making the occasional blunder, but the number of chances he’s able to stop is worth the risk. With the news that Marc-André ter Stegen has been ruled out for Euro 2020, there is no one around to challenge Neuer for his spot. Germany are looking to erase the embarrassment of the 2018 World Cup and it begins with getting the consistently great performances we are so accustomed to receiving from one of the world’s best.
So, there you have it. Did I leave anybody out? Is someone ranked too high or too low? Let me know what you think, but I guarantee, we are in for quite the goalkeeping clinic at Euro 2020. For more of my soccer coverage, check out “Atletico TV” on Facebook and the “Gateway to Soccer Show” on YouTube.