I first set eyes on Jack when he was a lad at the 2012 Olympics. He was 19, a mixture of good and terrible, of confidence and over-exuberance.
Three years on, and Butland is finally a first choice Premier League goalkeeper. He's had a great start: conceding less than a goal a game and keeping 7 clean sheets in the process. Stoke sit comfortably in 11th position right now. I reckon The Potters would be right in the relegation mix without his contribution and my xG model says he's prevented 5-6 goals more than expected for the shots he's faced.
Many fanalysts have written off keeping metrics as 'voodoo' because data-wise, there's no repeatability in performance from one year to the next. Well, that's not a reason to dismiss it and leave it there, that's a reason to go and find the reasons why.
Lack of anticipation of the shot is huge. There are tons of tiny technical goalkeeping details that are barely noticeable in real time. You have to slow the game footage right down and watch it again and again. Whether it's mis-timing the take-off bounce when trying to increase diving power, or a small step the wrong way just before the shot comes in, getting set properly matters.
I correspond with a Polish goalkeeping coach that has worked with his national side. He talks about crouching at the right moments. He talks about teaching better anticipation. He talks about reading of attacker/defender dyads and measuring movement patterns in training with strategically based cameras.
Remember Carragher and Neville pulling Tim Howard and Simon Mignolet apart? Watch it again. Even if you disagree with some of the points made, it's the best piece of football analysis and discussion there's been on TV in a long time.
Butland's performances this season have been an absolute lesson in all of those technical details. Below is a graphic of all the shots on target he's faced this season (yellow dots are goals). I've highlighted the danger zone SoTs. Currently, Butland's save % here is at 85% - 20% higher than any keeper's ever finished the season with:
I fully expect that DZ save % to come down (there's just a 0.5% chance he concedes only 3 of these so far) but for now I'm simply enjoying the performances. Here's as much footage of those danger zone SoTs as I've managed to swipe. There's some unbelievable saves in there and only on the Rondon goal does Butland get it wrong to any great degree:
Joe Hart finally has some real competition for the England No.1 jersey. Follow me on Twitter @footballfactman
Merry Christmas, and enjoy the Boxing Day games!
Article by Paul Riley