It's Hugo Lloris vs Jordan Pickford and there's only one winner

Hugo Lloris saving a football - Why Hugo Lloris could be France's Achilles heel - Youssef Loulidi/Getty Images
Hugo Lloris saving a football - Why Hugo Lloris could be France's Achilles heel - Youssef Loulidi/Getty Images

Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final between England and France will be a landmark moment in the international careers of Jordan Pickford and Hugo Lloris. Pickford will be making his 50th appearance for England while Lloris, his opposite number, will be winning a record 143rd international cap for France.

At the age of 35, Lloris is the more experienced and decorated goalkeeper. But analysis of their respective performances this season shows that, in many key areas, it is Pickford who has the edge over the French No 1.

Shot-stopping

The role of the goalkeeper has changed enormously over the past decade but shot-stopping remains their most important skill. In this most fundamental aspect of goalkeeping performance, Pickford has emphatically outshone Lloris so far this season.

According to data from Goalkeeper-XG, a goalkeeper-specific analysis company within the Goalkeeper.com group, Pickford has prevented 5.14 more goals than would be expected based on the shots he has faced for Everton in the Premier League this season. Lloris, by contrast, has conceded 0.71 more goals than would be expected.

Unlike more mainstream analytics companies, Goalkeeper-XG’s models take into account a wider range of variables, including the power of a shot and the positioning adjustments a goalkeeper had to make before it was struck. The model was created by Dr John Harrison, who holds a PhD in Astronomy and now works with top-flight clubs across Europe.

Pickford is especially dominant in one-on-one situations, preventing 0.34 more goals than would be expected. Lloris has struggled in these moments, conceding 2.84 more goals than expected. Those figures should provide Gareth Southgate’s counter-attacking England side with plenty of optimism, especially as Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford have both already scored from one-on-one attacks in Qatar.

One area where Lloris excels, however, is in his handling of the ball. Goalkeeper-XG’s data shows that the Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper has made just four “dangerous parries” (blocking a shot into the path of an attacker) this league season, compared to Pickford’s 13.

Both players have been known to make errors in the Premier League but this year Lloris has been the more unreliable of the two. His needless mistake against Arsenal, when he dropped the ball at the feet of Gabriel Jesus, was one of the more high-profile errors of the domestic campaign so far. It came with the scores level at 1-1, and proved to be a turning point in October’s north London derby, which Arsenal won 3-1.

Distribution

With Olivier Giroud serving as an effective target man up front, France have been more willing than England to play long balls at this World Cup. Data from Opta shows that only 37 per cent of Pickford’s passes have been played long, compared to 54 per cent from Lloris.

Of the two goalkeepers, Pickford has been more involved in the build-up play than Lloris. So far in this tournament, he has played more passes, with more accuracy, than the France goalkeeper.

This does not mean that Pickford is incapable of starting attacks with long drilled passes, though. Indeed, for Everton, the accuracy and distance of his passes often makes him a valuable attacking weapon. According to Goalkeeper-XG’s data, he has been the most effective distributor of the ball in the Premier League this season — ahead of Brentford’s David Raya and Manchester City’s Ederson. Lloris ranks lower than average.

When Lloris plays long passes into the final third, he finds a team-mate with a lower-than-average success rate of 23 per cent. Pickford is successful with 28 per cent of those long passes, which is higher than the Premier League average.

Penalties

Pickford has also shown himself to be the superior goalkeeper from spot-kicks. Goalkeeper-XG’s data shows that, on average, a goalkeeper saves penalties around 17.5 per cent of the time. Pickford has performed better than this average in his career (saving 18.2 per cent of the penalties he has faced), while Lloris has been far less successful from penalties, saving just 12.2 per cent in total.

The Englishman also has more experience of triumphing in international shootouts. Pickford has won two of his three shootouts with England, producing a crucial save against Colombia in the 2018 World Cup and then doing so again in the Nations League, against Switzerland, the following year. Against Switzerland, Pickford even scored an impressive penalty of his own.

Even in the shootout which England lost, in last year’s European Championship final against Italy, Pickford performed well by saving two of the five penalties he faced.

Lloris, by contrast, has lost the only previous penalty shootout he has experienced with France. It came against Switzerland, in the round of 16 of last year’s Euros, and the Spurs goalkeeper conceded all five penalties he faced.

John Harrison is @Jhdharrison1 on Twitter. Goalkeeper-XG is a goalkeeper-specific data company that works with professional football clubs to help improve the quality of their goalkeeping department via streamlining the scouting and recruitment process as well as providing matchday performance analysis and training routine guidance.