Jan Oblak has won four Zamora trophies in a row. However, he was often not in the top 3 in the official polls for Goalkeeper of the Year. People may underestimate him, thinking there’s not much work to do if you sit behind the legendary defence. However, statistics may show you that in the 2018/19 season, it was mainly Oblak who made Atletico Madrid look hard to penetrate. In this scout report, we will use tactical analysis to prove why he is one of the best, if not the best goalkeeper in the world right now.
Oblak started his career at Olimpija Ljubljana. He then moved to Benfica and was sent on loan to multiple clubs before coming back, taking the No.1 spot after a series of impressive performances in 2013/14. He has been Atletico Madrid’s goalkeeper since the 2014/15 season, having kept 119 clean sheets after 212 appearances for the club and won the last four Zamora trophies. His current contract will end in the summer of 2023. Since the first call-up in 2012, he has won 22 caps for the Slovenia national team. Valued at 100 million Euros, he is currently the goalkeeper with the highest market value in the world, according to Transfermkt.com.
Continual injuries forced Simeone to use nine different defenders throughout the season, and the reliability of the ageing Godin, Filipe and Juanfran was not a good indicator of stability.
As you can see from the image below, Atleti’s expected goals against in La Liga last season was still the best in the league, but nowhere near their usual level. In 2015/2016 for example, their xGA was only 27.8.
However, you can notice that Atleti only conceded 29 goals, beating their xGA by 12.43. That was the second-highest xGA beater in the league, only behind Levante. That gives you a hint about Oblak’s importance to Atletico’s solidity.
Oblak’s Statsbomb radar after his first 16 matches of 2018/19 may show important things about his playstyle and performances.
- He is a rather conservative goalkeeper, who rarely moves out of his position to make tackles, clearances or interceptions.
- His saving performances were much better than the average goalkeeper.
- He doesn’t try to come out and claim aerial balls often.
There are many instances where we saw the keeper making some wonderful acrobatic saves. Oblak doesn’t seem to do too many of those. The reason is that he is very good at predicting and anticipating the opponent’s shot direction; he can simply catch those shots.
Here, the opponent had a clear chance to head the ball into the net, but Oblak moved just enough out of his position and made himself as big as he could.
In the below instance, he quickly moved towards his right to close down Busquets’ shooting angle right after the corner.
Here, he quickly responded to the loose ball after a chaotic situation in the box. He rushed as fast as he can towards the ball and cover all shooting angles. Varane was very close to the ball but still couldn’t score.
Oblak is a reliable keeper with one-on-ones, often choosing the right moment to come out and cover all possible shot directions. In these cases, he only dives after the opponent took a shot or when the opponent has a wide-angle to score – he would try to make himself as big as possible. Here, he anticipated the fact that Asensio was about to receive Kroos’ through ball. He moved out of his position just in time to cover all shooting angles. The red circles in all of the pictures in this article indicate the shooting areas that Oblak could block.
In the below instance, Bacca even had space and time to dribble past Oblak. Here, after Bacca changing his direction, hoping to shoot into the open net, you can see Oblak positioning accordingly, raising his arms to prevent the shot. He then stopped took the ball away from Bacca with his hand.
In most cases, Oblak only gathers aerial balls towards the six-yard box – he’s fairly static in this regard. However, he is very reliable with catching balls – he almost always comes out at the right time keeps the ball safe in his hands. Here, Cancelo’s cross could not trouble Oblak at all.
Oblak’s save percentage last season was 77.6%. His saves per goal percentage in La Liga last season was 3.61 (third in La Liga), higher than the Premier League figure of Alisson (3.2) or De Gea (2.47). The two keepers with the best save percentage in La Liga both faced far fewer inside-the-box attempts. 54 out of Oblak’s 86 saves were from shots inside the box – an indicator of Oblak’s saving abilities, as well as the problems of the Atleti defence this year.
These stats already proved that he has top-class reflexes. He has great anticipation to the opponent’s attacking situations. This, along with his ball-catching ability and positioning, makes it relatively easy for him at times to catch difficult shots cleanly. In addition, he consistently parries the ball to the sides, not giving the opponents a second chance to score.
Let’s take an older example from the 2017/2018 Champions League match between Chelsea and Atletico. Here, Zappacosta ran towards his right and suddenly shot towards his left, through the legs of two Atleti players. The shot placement was understandably against Oblak’s movement, and most keepers wouldn’t have adjusted his body quickly enough. However, Oblak was somehow able to readjust himself and stretch his right arm just in time to deny Zappacosta’s clinical finish. In addition, that was a shot through the legs of his two teammates! The way he saw and react to the ball was phenomenal.
In the following situation, Arnautovic took a low shot to the far corner from close range, but Oblak responded superbly to get a hand to the ball.
Oblak’s poor performance in the penalty shoot-out of the 2015/2016 Champions League final may prompt people to think that Oblak is bad at saving penalties. In fact, he saved 13 out of 41 penalties that he faced, or a rate of 31.7% – which is quite a high one.
Atletico’s system does not require the goalkeeper to possess wonderful passing ability. Oblak’s usual duty is to go for a long pass, while his teammates up high have already grouped in the middle of the pitch, looking to win the second ball. This season, only 19% of his passes were short.
He is not comfortable with the ball as well as having trouble passing under pressure. He would play long in whenever an opponent tries to close him down. That’s part of the reason why his long ball accuracy is just 37%.
Oblak doesn’t need to contribute much to the build-up. When he has the ball, Atleti’s defenders and pivots are also not in good positions to support the keeper. It’s not surprising that Oblak often just launched the ball forward. In the example below, the defenders were higher upfield to fight for the second ball. No one was in a suitable position to receive the keeper’s short pass.
However, when he sees the available space for a quick counter, he can quickly launch a long pass with accuracy. Here he found Saul up high with a wonderful long through ball behind the opponent’s defence.
Our analysis showed that Oblak is a top performer when it comes to goalkeeping abilities. His positioning, anticipation, catching ability and reflexes are all among the best in world football. It’s no doubt that he is a first-class goalkeeper. However, his contribution to possession is rather limited compared to some other top goalkeepers such as Ederson, Alisson or Ter Stegen. He is now where he best fits in – an Atletico side whose tactics doesn’t demand a solid passing game from the goalkeeper. There are definitely teams who are ready to pay a large sum of euros to get him. Aged only 26, this already phenomenal goalkeeper still has a big chance to further develop his abilities.
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