Best young football goalkeepers
Brief scouting reports on some of our favourite goalkeeper talents
Goalkeepers are becoming an increasingly more dynamic position in football. Long gone are the days of the simple shot-stopper and long-range kicker. Nowadays, goalkeepers must be proactive in defence and a protagonist in attack. Here are some profiles on some of the best emerging goalkeepers in football.
More profiles can be found in the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, wingers and strikers sections. Below, you’ll find profiles covering backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses, while providing links to where you can find out more about them.
For full in-depth analysis of some of the best young players from all over the planet, check out our profiles page. We have countlesss profiles on players there, focussing on a range of talents from across the world. There are also exclusive interviews too, and plenty more.
Justin Bijlow has battled a number of serious injuries to emerge as the Feyenoord and Netherlands number one. Elbow, foot, knee, thigh, groin and toe injuries, plus a bout of COVID, have seen him miss over 50 games for Feyenoord since 2018. But his great form when he was on the pitch was undeniable.
When fit, he looks likely to assume the responsibility of being the Dutch first-choice goalkeeper now, a position he will have the chance to lock down long-term.
Justin Bijlow's style of play
Bijlow projects confidence on the field. He is athletic and aggressive, throwing himself into packs to claim crosses and putting his body on the line to get anything he can in the way of a shot.
He is a strong shot stopper, whose good body shape puts him in strong positions to propel himself. His quick feet get him set, and he is explosive off the mark. This extends itself to when he is drawn outside of his six-yard box to make saves one-on-one – he is quick to leave his area and can make quick adjustments to the movements of the onrushing attacker.
With the ball, he is an adept short passer but can at times be reluctant to propel the play forward directly with his distribution. He is also a confident claimer of crosses at 6’3” – even if he can be a little erratic in doing so, it is always better than having a ‘keeper rooted to the goal line.
Justin Bijlow is an athletic goalkeeper that commits himself in the air, while he is also quite confident as a short distributor.
Bijlow can be reluctant to go long and direct which can neuter good counter-attacking opportunities. He also has a very sketchy injury history which means he missed a lot of games every season, the exact opposite of what you want from a goalkeeper.
Illan Meslier last season made his 50th Premier League appearance at the age of 21, becoming the youngest goalkeeper in the competition’s history to reach that particular milestone. Meslier has been Leeds’ No. 1 for almost two years, and lately acceded to become first-choice for France’s U-21 side.
Meslier turned down offers from Chelsea while still at local club Lorient in 2018, before signing for then-Championship side Leeds in 2019 on an initial loan. A £5m option-to-buy was triggered upon the team’s promotion to the Premier League and neither party has looked back since, with the Frenchman firmly establishing himself as Leeds’ number one goalkeeper.
Illan Meslier's style of play
Meslier is tall and spindly; he looks fragile but is largely unshakeable, both in mind and body. The Frenchman is consistent, unperturbed by physical attackers who attempt to expose the increasingly incorrect assumption that Meslier is flimsy.
He claims well in the air, pulls off improbable saves and distributes expertly. A key reason Meslier’s place under Marcelo Bielsa and Jesse Marsch has remained unthreatened is his willingness to play out from his own penalty area, clipping passes into full-backs and wide midfielders with ease and regularity, despite occasional errors.
Meslier’s footwork is to a high standard, and allows him to cover ground surprisingly quick for a man of 6ft 5in. This is particularly useful when stretching to prevent efforts which ordinarily would be out of another goalkeeper’s reach.
How he uses his wingspan is another impressive element to Meslier’s game. His arms are freakishly long, which coupled with a tendency to be proactive in smothering attackers as they converge on his goal, is particularly useful.
Russia have a strong history when it comes to goalkeepers, and it appears as though Matvei Safonov is the next in line to be the country’s long-term number one.
Safonov assumed the role during Euro 2020, and seems to have it now locked down, alongside his position as first choice with Krasnodar.
Matvei Safonov's style of play
Safonov is a goalkeeper that has strong fundamentals. He is a good shot-stopper that uses low body position to spring for the ball, and he has strong hands and wrists that allow him to properly parry the ball away from danger.
He specialises in quick double-saves as well, with great agility allowing him to quickly reset and redouble his efforts.
Like the traditional goalkeeper of old, he is not very proactive. He is not a goalkeeper that will be off his line to clear the ball or look to be part of the build-up. It is definitely something he needs to work on if he strives to move to a bigger club in the future.
He does excel distributing the ball with his hands though, creating counterattacks from deep with long throws that look to exploit space out wide.
Matvei Safonov has good fundamental qualities as a goalkeeper as a shot-stopper and commanding his area. He is also good at launching attacks via throws.
Safonov’s weaknesses generally surround his distribution with his feet and his proactiveness as a sweeper ‘keeper.
Robert Sánchez has had an interesting development pathway, leaving Spain as a 16-year-old after Brighton poached him from UD Levante. He subsequently spent loan spells at Forest Green Rovers and Rochdale in League Two and League One respectively, where those clubs’ progressive style of play helped nurture the qualities that now help the Spanish goalkeeper star in the Premier League.
Robert Sánchez's style of play
Sánchez is a force. He is 6’6” and strongly built; he is made to claim crosses and does so confidently and dominantly. He routinely tops cross claiming metrics among all Premier League goalkeepers.
But with the ball on the deck, he is equally effective. He has an expansive and accurate passing game, both in the short and long range. He is comfortable receiving the ball to feet, and stepping outside his box to aid in the progression of the ball.
As a shot stopper, he again ranks very highly for important metrics like save percentage and post-shot xG saved numbers.
Perhaps most impressive is his ability to step off his line and act as a sweeper ‘keeper. A notable moment this season was his red card on Callum Wilson, who was clean through on goal, that rescued a point for Brighton – though normally his defensive actions outside the area are much cleaner.
Robert Sánchez is a fantastic proactive goalkeeper that is excellent at claiming cross and high balls, as well as stepping off his line to quell danger. He also has excellent distribution qualities.
Sánchez struggles with concentration issues and the occasional moment of madness that can detract from his other outstanding qualities.
Gianluigi Donnarumma is probably the holder of that particular title, although he has significant flaws and limitations to his game that don’t align with modern football.
Beyond Ginaluigi Donnarumma, Ilan Meslier (Leeds United), Alban Lafont (Nantes) and Diogo Costa (Porto) are some of the most highly-valued ‘keepers around.