Is Hugo Lloris the best goalkeeper in the world? Perhaps it is a question that should be asked more often.
Lloris is rarely labelled 'the best goalkeeper in the world' yet is always included in a discussion on the topic of the top five. Last year the website spursstatman.com published a piece comparing Lloris with Manuel Neuer, David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois that showed Neuer to be superior in terms of saves per goal for the 2014/15 season as well as accuracy of distribution - but Lloris made more saves per game in general and, despite criticism, his distribution was shown to be at a similar level to de Gea and a lot better than Courtois.
Last year Lloris was the only goalkeeper ranked in the world's top ten out of the Premier League, according to rankings in the 'Football Observatory'. Overall he was rated seventh, behind the likes of Claudio Bravo (5th), Gianluigi Buffon (3rd) and Neuer (1st). But the argument is to be made that, this year, Lloris ranks ahead of the lot.
This is not just based off the matches in the Champions League during the week but one could not help but look at Lloris' outrageous save against Bayer Leverkusen and compare it to Neuer's weak effort at saving Narsingh's shot for PSV Eindhoven. And while Neuer is still outrageously brilliant, let us consider the environment in which he parades his talent compared to that where Lloris has to operate on a weekly basis.
Our man Hugo Lloris making an incredible save last night! #OnlywithEliminators pic.twitter.com/jQ0TPAIorz
— uhlsport UK & IRE (@uhlsportUK) October 19, 2016
On the aforementioned spursstatman.com Lloris was the number one puncher of the ball, and this is no surprise given that he plays in the Premier League - and, while not wishing to engage in any 'best league in the world' debate, one must acknowledge that the Premier League is the most physical of the top leagues and one of the most testing for goalkeepers - therefore less conducive to building up decent stats. In addition, Neuer's high percentage of total short passes needs to be accounted for when looking at his kicking accuracy stats - this propensity for working the ball out from the back with short kick-outs is arguably easier in the slower-paced Bundesliga and on the slightly wider Allianz Arena pitch (105 × 68 m compared to 100m x 67m for White Hart Lane).
Spurs fans are divided on Lloris' kicking ability, some feeling that Spurs' propensity for playing the ball short between the goalkeeper, central defence and (typically) Eric Dier needs to be considered, as well as Lloris often being forced to, under pressure, 'hoof' the ball long; others feel he has improved from his shaky earlier days at Tottenham. But it is hard to think of another goalkeeper in the Premier League whose distribution is notably better than his. Even David de Gea, known for his accuracy off the boot, has a pass success percentage of 57.5% compared to Lloris' 76% in the Premier League so far, according to 'whoscored.com'.
David De Gea's world class save to deny Coutinho ⚽️ #MUFC https://t.co/zIdDIW7woi
— Manchester United (@ManUtds_News) October 17, 2016
The mighty Gianluigi Buffon, of course, still has to be taken into consideration when considering this topic and with twelve saves and four clean sheets in Serie A so far as well as three clean sheets in the Champions League, he hasn't lost his touch (although only five saves in three games in Europe indicates the strength of his defence). Only the rest of the season will tell if Buffon can match his past glories this term - certainly, he didn't look out of place at the Euros. But Lloris still edges it, one would feel - with the younger man's superior shot-stopping ability just getting him the nod.
We aren't even considering poor old Claudio Bravo after his wretched start to the season at Manchester City. Courtois has failed to reach the levels it looked like he would when he joined Chelsea and Petr Cech, while superb, isn't at the same level as Lloris any more. Ter Stegen needs to take over Neuer's spot as the German number 1 before we can ask whether he is the world's best, but he isn't far off.
Lloris has made sixteen saves in six Premier League games, keeping three clean sheets in the process - de Gea, with twenty-one saves in eight games and five clean sheets, almost mirrors this. And his silly save against Liverpool (see above) was right up there with Lloris' against Leverkusen.
Neuer, Lloris, de Gea. Three greats of the modern game. Which one is the best? It's worth at least giving the Frenchman some serious consideration.