At the tender age of 24, Łukasz Fabiański was rounded by Didier Drogba to concede the winning goal in a 2008/09 FA Cup semi-final. Despite his error in rushing out so enthusiastically, his manager, Arsène Wenger, strongly defended him. “Let’s see him recover and not speak too much about what he has done”, the Frenchman said. “I believe he will be one of the best goalkeepers in the world.”
Over 10 years later, Fabiański is back in London and occupying the net for West Ham United. This article shall combine statistical and performance analysis to understand his effectiveness this season. We shall dissect three games. These games were selected due to them showing his most, least and average number of saves per game. This will allow us to evaluate the Pole’s shot-stopping, claims/ rushing out and distribution. Through doing so, we shall be presented with a neat cross-section of his season.
Arsenal vs. West Ham – 3-1 – 25 August 2018
The West Ham stopper made a season-high of nine saves in one game when he faced his former club. On the surface, this sounds very impressive. However, when we consider that Arsenal only recorded an xG of 1.79, this means that the home side scored 1.21 more goals than expected. Furthermore, Fabiański had four comparatively easy saves to make from shots taken outside the area.
Issa Diop’s own goal in the 69th minute won’t show up as an Arsenal attempt. Even so, this means that Arsenal were still not expected to score a second goal so easily. Danny Welbeck’s late goal has the lowest xG of the goals scored, at 0.44. Fabiański was unlucky here. As a wonderful pull-back from Héctor Bellerín found Welbeck in space, Fabiański’s positioning was flawless. He watched the ball across his goal, anticipating a shot into the open side of the net. Rather, Welbeck decided to go against the obvious choice and aimed for the bottom right corner.
Claims/ rushing out
Sofascore.com shows us that against his former side, Fabiański made no high claims and made no successful rushes out. To add context, West Ham were facing a high-intensity pressing game from their rivals. The Irons were often defending in their own penalty area and Fabiański’s opportunities to sweep up or face one-on-ones were therefore limited.
Despite this, Fabiański could have been more proactive. Nacho Monreal’s goal in the 29th minute arguably came from Fabiański’s rigidity on his goal line. Despite the ball passing rather close to his body, the ‘keeper was unable to get any contact to divert Bellerín’s initial cross. The background to Diop’s own goal also saw an opportunity to mop up the danger missed. Diop’s diabolical clearance hung in the air for as long as 4:35 seconds. Admittedly, it was due to land close to the edge of the penalty area, over a crowd of players. However, more dynamic goalkeeping could have cleared the danger.
Statistics show that Fabiański made 29 passes in total, although only 12 of these were accurate. On paper, Fabiański’s passing looks very weak in the game, as only 46% of his total passes hit their target. This set of statistics again needs to be placed within the context of what West Ham were facing, however. Arsenal’s press meant that often Fabiański was given less time on the ball and potential passing options in the backline were also tightly marked.
There was also a hint of a game plan in Fabiański’s decisions to move the ball forward quickly, be it through long or short passing. Throughout, West Ham hoped to utilize the tireless and line-splitting running of Michail Antonio, Felipe Anderson and Robert Snodgrass. The two short passes which Fabiański made in the second half, both within the same minute, were throws to midfielders in advanced positions. Here he was hoping to initiate counter attacks whilst Arsenal had overcommitted. Fabiański sacrificed his passing accuracy to carry out West Ham’s strategy.
West Ham vs Tottenham Hotspur – 0-1 – 20 October 2018
With Spurs attaining an xG of 1.12, arguably Fabiański outperformed despite just making one save in this game. Whilst it appears on whoscored.com that he’d conceded down low again, Érik Lamela’s first-half goal was just too well placed. Lamela managed to get the faintest of touches on Moussa Sissoko’s drilled cross. Fabiański was slightly too close to his near post, yet, the reverse cross caught all of the West Ham backline off-guard. Rather than a goalkeeping error, it was West Ham’s inability to track Lamela that was to blame.
More concerning for Fabiański was a parry made in the 46th minute. Despite positioning well and getting low to tip Lamela’s shot away, the ball was directed to Davinson Sánchez’s feet. Fortunately, Sánchez could only scuff his shot at the prostrate goalkeeper. Against Arsenal, we saw a similar mistake whereby Monreal was given a simple tap-in. The goal was chalked off as the Spaniard was eventually ruled offside, however. In both of these instances, Fabiański was given a reprieve for rather poor goalkeeping.
Claims/ rushing out
Fabiański was required to make two clearances of the ball and one claim from a cross. Of the clearances, the first was a punch and the second was the aforementioned parry. Both of these were made within his six-yard area. This does show that when faced with danger in the penalty area, Fabiański was more enterprising than he showed against Arsenal. This was assisted by Spurs not necessarily pressing their opponent’s back line into the area, however.
In terms of rushing out, he could have done more when Lucas Moura broke into the area midway through the second half. Whilst taking up a decent position on his near post, the goalkeeper didn’t move towards the ball. Perhaps this was because he was conscious of Lamela peeling off towards the far post. Regardless, good defending spared any blushes. Diop averted a goal by executing a fantastic tackle, allowing the ball to spill into the hands of Fabiański.
West Ham increasingly looked to control the ball as the game went on, greatly reducing their possession deficit. In the first half, the Hammers recorded only 38% possession. The second half saw them with the ball 49% of the time. Fabiański proved effective at recycling possession for his team: 10 of his 26 total passes were short. By doing this, West Ham could shake off the marking of Harry Kane and Lamela, beating the press.
All the same, Fabiański still utilized his long passing ability. Of his 16 long balls, nine found their target. Whilst against Arsenal only 42% of his long passes hit their target; against Spurs, he increased this to 56%. Much of this was due to a more relaxed press from Spurs’ attackers, as well as Marko Arnautović’s qualities as a target man. Arguably, it also demonstrates Fabiański’s ability to play the ball long.
West Ham vs. Fulham – 3-1 – 22 February 2019
Whilst West Ham outperformed their xG rating of 2.73, Fulham were slightly profligate. The away side netted only once compared to their higher xG of 1.24. Fabiański’s positioning was crucial to ensuring that this would be the case. He made four saves in this game, as close as we can get to his season average of 3.7 saves per game. Two of his saves were from long range and two were from within the area.
Ryan Babel’s early goal came from a low cross from the left. Unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, Babel executed his finish well, drilling it low into the bottom left of the goal. Despite this, Fabiański’s positioning could hardly have been faulted. He was slightly closer to his near post but the brilliant first-touch finish from Babel would have left any goalkeeper helpless. This goal should be put down to good attacking play and rather poor defensive tracking. Throughout, Fabiański looked solid.
Claims/ rushing out
Sofascore.com and whoscored.com have him down for making only one claim in this game. Ryan Sessegnon’s cross from deep was watched and held well, despite pressure from the assertive and physical Aleksandar Mitrović. Whilst Fulham only made eight crosses in the game, Mitrović has proven to be highly effective with his head. The former Newcastle target man has headed 1.4 crosses per 90 minutes, this season. His attacking heading ranks within the top 10 players with over five appearances in the league.
Whilst not technically rushing out, we also saw Fabiański’s goal line conservatism lead to a successful save. Within the first minute, Babel found himself one-on-one with Fabiański. The goalkeeper chose to stay on his toes on the edge of his six-yard box. When roughly only 1.5 meters separated the two, Fabiański dropped to his left knee, saving the ball with his face. Babel should have shot earlier or rounded him. Regardless, in both of these situations, Fabiański’s experience proved crucial.
In total, Fabiański made 25 passes of the ball and 14 of these hit their target. The vast majority of Fabiański’s passes were long but they were also surprisingly accurate. An enormous 18 long passes were attempted and 10 hit their target. This equalled the 56% of accurate long passes he had made against Spurs. West Ham could rely on his precise long-range passing to put Fulham on the back foot. Nevertheless, when analysing his long passing, we have to remember the importance of West Ham’s forwards competing against their markers.
Fabiański was also comfortable when playing his seven short passes. Statistics from whoscored.com show that whilst underutilized, Fabiański’s performance represents his short passing game across the season so far. When compared to goalkeepers who have made five or more appearances in the Premier League this season, he only ranks 15th in terms of accurate short passes per 90 minutes. This is largely because West Ham prefer to play quickly and vertically. Still, he’s not made one inaccurate short pass all season.
Fabiański recently gave an interview with West Ham’s official YouTube channel during a mid-season training camp in Marbella. The goalkeeper was quick to state that he considers his handling and experience as crucial to his performances. He went on to state that his distribution was largely affected by the tactics of the opposition, something which goalkeeper coach Xavi Valero encourages.
From analysing his three performances, alongside this season’s statistics, this interpretation is largely accurate. Firstly, his shot-stopping is clearly the dominant part of his game, helped by his well-honed positional awareness. Still, there are some concerns with his ability to parry the ball to safety. Secondly, Fabiański is conservative on his goal line. When compared to his contemporaries, he lacks presence in the whole of his 18-yard box. This perhaps rests on his experience, as he is aware of how a lack of restraint can also be hazardous. Thirdly, his distribution is greatly under-appreciated and flexible, something which is overlooked on paper. In all, Fabiański has been a functional and safe goalkeeper this season.