Predrag Rajkovic is having a fantastic season with Stade de Reims in the French Ligue 1.
This scout report will look at both Stade de Reims’ tactics and analysis of Predrag Rajkovic to determine exactly why that is. The 24-year-old goalkeeper joined Reims in 2019 and has been linked to clubs like Arsenal as well as tipped for greatness from an early age. He has won many youth cups with Serbia including the U-19 European Championships and the U-20 World Cup. Rajkovic’s one year at the club has been phenomenal. Before we dive into the scout report of Rajkovic, let’s look at the tactical analysis this season for Reims.
Stade de Reims have had a great season so far. They are currently fifth in the table, looking to maintain their good form with PSG at the top. Currently, Reims’s expected points are 40.42, which is very similar to their current 41. The xPTS actually has them in seventh position (in comparison to fifth). Goals scored seems to be worsening their situation. Reims’ goals of 26 is the second-worst in the league, behind only Toulouse who sit rock bottom of the table (17 points from safety). The reason that Reims seem to be performing so well is Rajkovic.
Rajkovic has had a monumental impact for Reims this term. In terms of xGA, Reims are outperforming the expected 26.47 with 21. This stat isn’t completely exclusive to the performance of Rajkovic as it includes missed and blocked shots. However, the difference does show a clear change in the expected outcome and performance. To understand this better, let’s take a closer look at some goalkeeping statistics for Rajkovic.
Predrag Rajkovic’s stats
Firstly, Rajkovic has kept 12 clean sheets this season in 27 appearances. He currently has a clean sheet percentage of 44.4% which ranks first in Ligue 1 this season. As mentioned before, Rajkovic has conceded 18 goals this season. This is the best in the league this year (to have played a minimum 1000 minutes), showing the team’s defensive prowess. This isn’t exclusive to goalkeeper performance, so let’s look deeper.
Next, Rajkovic has a saves per goal ratio of 3.61, ranking first in Ligue 1 and 3rd in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season. He is only beaten by Allison and Szczesny but he has played more minutes than both of them as well as playing for a lesser team. Rajkovic has made 2.41 saves per 90 minutes this season. It is safe to say that he has been quiet considering his team’s quality. This season, Rajkovic has a save percentage of 79.8% which means he ranks first in the league. Save percentage is an important stat when understanding a goalkeeper’s shot-stopping ability, something that Rajkovic is proving to be very good at.
It’s all well and good making lots of saves, but it doesn’t account for the difficulty of each save. This is where PSxG difference can come in. Rajkovic has performed to such a standard, that he has kept out 8.5 more goals than expected. This is crazily good and he ranks in the top 2 percentile in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season. This is a PSxG/90 of 0.32 which still ranks top in the league. It’s no secret that goals win games, and Rajkovic is doing everything to ensure that Reims is not losing games.
Whilst it’s true that most leagues have a corner resulting in a goal percentage between 2% and 3%, it is still something goalkeepers have to deal with. When it comes to set pieces, Rajkovic has been great. He has conceded one free kick and two corners. Of course, both of these set pieces are team dependent, but Rajkovic ranks fourth for corners conceded.
Many teams operate different types of build-up sequences depending on the managers preferred style. This starts at the goalkeeper. In terms of distribution, Rajkovic has a long passing accuracy of 36.3%, ranking 16th this season. Rajkovic also has a tendency to play short, kicking short more than two-thirds of the time. This pass tendency shows he likes to play the ball short and look for a passing orientated build-up, presumably for Reims to keep the ball in their major quest to not concede. With style, Rajkovic throws the ball 14.9% of the time, ranking in the lower 20th percentile in Europe for launching counter-attacks from his hands. Rajkovic has been instructed to take short goal kicks, opting to go long 53% of the time, the fifth-lowest in the league. This shows a clear build-up philosophy for Reims.
There are not many better things for a defender for the goalkeeper to come out and claim a cross. By coming off the line and claiming a cross, the goalkeeper completely eradicates the chance of xG being created. That’s not to mention the opportunity to attack the opposition whilst they transition. Rajkovic has claimed 18 crosses this season at a rate of 9.8%. This high claim percentage is rather average and ranks eighth in the league this season.
In the modern era, goalkeepers are asked to station themselves higher up the pitch to allow the defence to be higher to allow a full team press. Looking at Rajkovic’s stats, we can see that he is positioning himself close to his line with 14m being his average distance of defensive action outside the area, ranking sixth shortest this season. As well as this, we can see Rajkovic makes 0.59 actions outside the area per 90, which is average in comparison to the rest of the league (ranks ninth).
Radar showing Predrag Rajkovic and Walter Benitez during the 2019/2020 season. Stats show save percentage, post-shot xG, Shots on target faced/90, High Claims/90, Outside Penalty Area actions/90, Saves/Goals, Clean Sheet % and Goals Against/90.
Looking at the radar, we can see that Rajkovic is performing extremely well with the results side of the radar (top left). Not only that, but his PSxG is immense. Benitez has been a little busier though. We can also see in comparison to Benitez that he is not only performing well but getting the outcomes required also.
Radar showing Predrag Rajkovic and Walter Benitez’s distribution in the 2019/2020 season. Stats include short pass tendency, short GK tendency, passes per 90, long pass accuracy, throwing tendency and xGChain.
In terms of distribution, it’s clear to see that Rajkovic plays more passes per 90 than Benitez.
In comparison to Benitez, we can see that Rajkovic is more likely to use his feet than throw long. This does tie in with the manager’s preference, and maybe Rajkovic should continue to play to his strengths and utilise his short passing more.
Radar showing Rajkovic’s (blue) and Benitez’s (orange) goalkeeping style in the 2019/2020 season. Stats show short-passing tendency, throwing tendency, tendency to claim a cross and amount of actions outside the penalty area.
We can see from the radar that Rajkovic is more of an aggressive goalkeeper when choosing whether to leave his line for crosses. Rajkovic seems to opt to use his feet as distribution more than other goalkeepers. It is quite hard to compare to Benitez, Rajkovic still uses short passes effectively.
Radar showing traditional goalkeeping for Rajkovic (blue) and Benitez (orange) in the 2019/2020 season. Stats show save percentage, saves/goals, saves/90, PSxG difference, Corners conceded/90 and high claim %.
It’s clear to see that Rajkovic is more of a traditional goalkeeper. His stats are almost perfect and he can’t exactly help how many shots he faces during a game. This is a testament to Reims style of defending to not concede many shots on goal.
Sweeper keeper radar showing Rajkovic’s (blue) and Benitez’s (orange) 2019/2020 season. Stats include actions outside of the area/90, average distance of actions, passes/90, short pass tendency, throwing tendency and xGChain.
This sweeper-keeper radar is less flattering for Rajkovic although the theme of him playing many short passes with his feet remains.
Predrag Rajkovic in action
Goalkeepers are regularly tasked with stopping shots. The most common type would be a diving save. This technique usually requires the goalkeeper to be on his toes to propel to one side of the goal, then choosing to push the ball away or attempt to hold the ball. Diving saves are usually made when the ball is hit from further out. This is mainly because it allows the goalkeeper time to perform the action. This is the standard technique that is quite the opposite of a modern one-on-one save.
Rajkovic can always be seen with two hands behind the ball, showing a textbook-like technique on many occasions.
One-on-ones are a very difficult situation for goalkeepers. Goalkeepers must do everything in their power to cut down angles. It is also a situation that the goalkeeper is usually 100% responsible for the defending team. This puts more pressure on the goalkeeper to make the correct decision. There are lots of different ways to approach this for a goalkeeper. This first decision is to either come off the line or stay relatively close to the line. This may change depending on the situation, although you are more likely to see Manuel Neuer come charging off his line than David De Gea.
Rajkovic’s one-on-one technique is very much a modern technique. It is clear that Rajkovic uses a method not too dissimilar from Peter Schmeichel’s handball technique. This technique is almost all dependent on the goalkeeper making himself as big as possible. By covering as large a surface area as possible, jumping at the same time. This, in theory, means that the goalkeeper will cover more of the goal and stop more goals than a smaller surface area. There is an argument that this aggressive style of goalkeeping has a major mental advantage over the goalkeeper. The main drawback to this is that it does not allow the goalkeeper to react in any way. The goalkeeper’s choice is made and any changes to the scenario cannot be responded to as effectively.
A split save is a type of saving made from a close-range shot. This save is made using the foot, with the goalkeeper adopting a movement in which it looks like he is performing the splits. This has been made more popular in recent years and is very effective as it gets a body part to the ball as quickly as possible.
In this picture, we can see Rajkovic performing a great split save with his right foot. This is particularly impressive as this shot was classed as a big chance (over 0.35 xG).
Claiming high balls
Goalkeepers usually have a preference when it comes to how aggressive they are with high balls and crosses. This can be determined by the height of the player, but tactics can also play a part. The benefit of coming to claim a cross is to completely nullify the opposition attack. By claiming the ball, the goalkeeper has completed his one true job; keeping the ball out.
In contrast, some goalkeepers prefer to stay on their line more than others. This allows the goalkeeper to set his starting position more effectively. This should also give the goalkeeper the best chance of saving the ball. The reason for this is that the goalkeeper has more time to react to any shot that comes. It also means that the goalkeeper can predict the trajectory of the ball and cut out more angles of the goal to increase the difficulty for the attacker.
Here, it is clear that Rajkovic is happy to come off his line, removing any danger for his defenders.
After a shot has been saved, a goalkeeper’s job is not completed. A goalkeeper must decide what to do with the ball. This is not always down to the choice of the goalkeeper. The power of the shot may force the goalkeeper to opt to push the ball towards the side of the goal. If the shot is central to the goalkeeper or is hit with less power, the goalkeeper may opt to cath and hold the ball. This method is optimal as it is the only way to completely ensure that the opponent’s attack has come to an end. Choosing how to handle a crossed ball is a little different. If it is too risky to perform a catch, It is usually good practice to punch the ball back towards its starting position. Goalkeepers can also take even less risk by tipping the ball over the crossbar.
After reviewing some footage, it is clear that Rajkovic is very adept at handling. Rajkovic actually has a tendency to catch the ball more than most goalkeepers. In line with Reims’s philosophy, Rajkovic often claims the ball in a catch and then proceeds to lie down on the floor. This does stop Reims from attacking quickly in a counter-attack. However, this means that Reims can set up to their build-up and attacking shape allowing a slower and more measured attack. This means that Reims’ does not attack with many players, meaning they are not caught out in transition by the opposition. By slowing the goalkeeper’s distribution this way, it means that Reims can perform more game management, restricting actual game time where needed. All of this summarises Reims’s approach and goes a long way to result in the low GA/90 and high clean sheet percentage.
Goalkeeper distribution has been made more and more important in recent times. Much was made of Guardiola’s decision to drop Joe Hart in favour for Chilean Claudio Bravo. It seems as ever since then, it has been widely accepted that goalkeepers can be more than just a shot-stopper. Coaches theorised that goalkeeper passes could have a domino effect and help with the team’s attacking build-up. As well as this, this distribution could help retain possession. By keeping the ball, there is also an argument that the other team will grow more tired as the game continues, allowing for more space on the pitch. By completing lots of short passes, the opponent can either maintain their shape, without pressure on the ball or apply pressure, leaving themselves more vulnerable to concede. Some coaches are reluctant to apply this method, as the horror of conceding an unnecessary goal once every two years is too much to handle. When you compare this to some goalkeepers, who can average 0.25xChain/90, it seems more favourable to utilise a goalkeeper who is happy to have the ball at his feet.
In this picture, we can see Rajkovic is allowing the attacker to come as close as possible. This will have the domino effect mentioned and allow his teammates more time and space when attacking.
This scout report has clearly shown that Rajkovic is having a remarkable season with Reims. His shot-stopping results (GA/CS) are great and both the stats (PSxG difference, saves/goals) and footage show that his performance is having a direct effect. Rajkovic could turn a lot of scouts heads and could be very high on the list for a lot of European clubs looking for a goalkeeper. His career path has been rather strange with his time in Israel, but now could be a great time for a club to take a risk to buy Rajkovic before his market value drastically increases.