Experienced Leeds United youngster facing toughest test of character amid '27 goals' critique
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Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier is no stranger to standing tall but could be needed more than most in United’s final seven games of the season. The 6ft 5in goalkeeper is among those to have come in for scrutiny following the 5-1 and 6-1 hammerings by Crystal Palace and Liverpool this month. United have conceded 16 goals in the month of April, with three fixtures still to play. It is an especially trying time to be tending goal.
Meslier was beaten by each of Liverpool's first six attempts on target on Monday night, and was left to pick the ball out of his net after five of Palace's eight shots on goal just over a week earlier.
The France Under-21 stopper is spared the ignominy of being the worst-performing goalkeeper in the Premier League this season by Southampton's inexperienced custodian Gavin Bazunu. According to football data experts Opta, Bazunu has the poorest post-shot xG (PSxG) record in the division this year - a metric which calculates how likely a goalkeeper is to save any given shot on target.
Much like Expected Goals (xG), where a number between 0.00 and 1.00 is attributed to a shot to determine the likelihood that a player ‘should have scored' an opportunity, PSxG calculates the likelihood from a goalkeeping perspective. An xG value of 1 corresponds to a certain goal so the closer to 1 a chance is rated, the lower the expectation that the goalkeeper 'should have saved' the attempt.
Saints youngster Bazunu has allowed an 'extra' 14.8 goals based on the average goalkeeping performance and quality of the shots he has faced in 2022/23. Not far behind, though, is Meslier. Leeds' No. 1 has conceded an additional 11.1 goals, per Opta data.
Leeds have conceded 59 times in the league this season - excluding own goals - from a PSxG total of 47.9.
Last season, Leeds' PSxG figure for the entire campaign was 61.8 suggesting the team should have conceded 62 goals over their 38 games. Instead, Leeds made 78 concessions - excluding own goals – with Meslier between the posts. As has been the case this season, the 23-year-old started each of the Whites' league games last year and during 2021/22, was the goalkeeper with the Premier League’s worst PSxG performance at -16.2 PSxG.
As of 18 April 2023, Meslier has conceded an 'extra' 27 goals, rounded to the nearest whole number, since the beginning of last season.
But, the blame does not lie solely with Leeds’ Les Bleus hopeful. Meslier's place has rarely been under threat since replacing Kiko Casilla as the Whites' first-choice. Norwegian youth international Kristoffer Klaesson arrived two summers ago but is yet to make his full debut for United. The 22-year-old made his only Leeds appearance as a second half substitute for the injured Meslier away to Wolverhampton Wanderers last season and despite frequently travelling with the team, has not been named in a Premier League matchday squad since early November.
Joel Robles was added on a free transfer last summer and has featured on occasion in the domestic cup competitions this season but is unlikely to make a league appearance for the club as his one-year deal expires in June. His addition was insurance if Meslier were to pick up an injury, but has never been regarded as a serious challenge to the young Frenchman.
Unquestionably, Meslier faces the sternest test of his time as Leeds No. 1: to regard recent form water under the bridge and return to displays synonymous with his breakthrough first season in the Premier League. Admittedly, that’s easier said than done when teams aren’t peppering the goalmouth as often as Leeds’ opponents do, and although difficult to quantify, likely impacts a goalkeeper’s confidence.
Given the volume of shots Leeds are forfeiting on a weekly basis, heaven only knows they could certainly do with the Meslier of old.