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Big shoes to fill - an early review of Danny Ward

A Probably Too Soon Evaluation of the New Leicester Starting Goalkeeper


Whenever a club legend like Kasper Schmeichel departs, fans will always heavily scrutinize their replacement. And that’s especially true for someone like Danny Ward who’s been waiting four years for his chance, all the while Brendan Rodgers called him ready to be a Premier League #1.

Leicester City fans were ready to give him that chance, but conceding 8 goals in 3 matches has diminished that trust (at least among Twitter and YouTube reply guys). Daniel Iversen saving three penalties against Stockport won’t help Ward’s case much either. So while it’s not a huge sample size, I wanted to take a look at Ward’s play this season.

Over 3 matches, the new #1 has faced 36 shots, 13 of which were on target (17 off target and 6 blocked). 8 goals from 13 shots on target doesn’t look great for a goalkeeper, but let’s see whether we really should have expected better from Danny.

Looking at the numbers, those 13 shots led to around 5 Post-Shot xG (essentially expected goals based on where the shot was actually going, not just where it was taken from). So, he’s giving up about a goal more per game than what the data would expect from an average keeper.

But let’s watch some film. Against Brentford, he faced 3 shots on target. He saved the first on a shot right at him, but I think it’s fair to say that saving either of the two Brentford goals would have been totally unexpected.

Arsenal had 7 shots on target, and there was nothing Ward could do about Jesus’ two initial goals. The first was deflected just over his fingertips and I’m not sure anyone saw it coming, while the second was down to other Leicester errors giving Jesus a free header. Ward did get himself low and wide to deny Jesus a hattrick (and keep out a last ditch Ndidi tackle), but I don’t think it was an abnormally good save. Nothing to say about the third goal other than that it was a massive handling blunder. I did notice that he didn’t even attempt to make a save on Xhaka’s shot. Obviously a much harder reaction in real time, but something to keep an eye on as one thing we could count on was Kasper always giving 100%.

Martinelli placed Arsenal’s fourth goal pretty brilliantly and Ward made a couple decent saves after that. But generally the trend continues that he saves what he should and doesn’t really look like he’s going to make any spectacular stops. Both of Southampton’s goals on the other hand were hit relatively close to Ward, but with such power that I wouldn’t have expected a save on either of them.

In general, I think it’s fair to say Ward’s statistical “underperformance” so far is largely due to great finishing by opponents. But if the trend continues throughout the season, I think we’ll need to start asking larger questions about his positioning, reactions, and diving.

Some other things to keep an eye on:

  • So far, Ward is much less successful as a long passer than Kasper.
  • He’s launching less and shorter open-play passes, but more and longer goal kicks.
  • On the other hand, he is coming out for crosses more than Kasper and also holding a bit of a higher line for sweeper defensive actions. Of course, it would be hard to do less than Kasper here, but we’ll take a win where we can.

Certainly, these stats are quite dependent on how we’ve been playing and our defensive organization. But as they stabilize over the course of the season, I think they’ll tell a fuller story about Ward’s playstyle, as for the most part it still remains a mystery. The grass will always be greener with a keeper of Iversen’s potential on the bench, and Ward has some work to do to shore up confidence in his abilities. But with Leicester’s level of investment in him, I expect he’s done enough to keep the starting job and let the squad settle with him for at least a few months after the transfer window closes.