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Southampton's Rumoured New Man: A Closer Look at Gavin Bazunu

With the news of veteran goalkeeper Fraser Forster making his move to Tottenham, Southampton appears to be wasting little time in bringing in a replacement: Manchester City and Irish international Gavin Bazunu. Bazunu spent the 2021/22 season on loan with League One side Portsmouth, where he played just under 4,000 league minutes. Despite high praise from many Irish and Portsmouth supporters, it is still worth asking questions of Southampton and their plans for Bazunu. Due to the inconsistencies from Alex McCarthy and the uncertain future of 40-year-old Willy Caballero, will the club be asking Bazunu to make the jump from League One goalkeeping to Premier League duties? Only Aaron Ramsdale and Robert Sanchez have been asked to make that jump of the current Premier League number ones. In addition to the jump in quality that Bazunu will have to face, Saints supporters may feel uncertainties when it comes to the club acquiring a young goalkeeper from Manchester City due to Angus Gunn’s poor performances. With obvious concerns, let’s take a closer look at Gavin Bazunu’s performances with Portsmouth as well as the expectations he could be facing upon joining Southampton.

The Demands of Southampton

Southampton under Ralph Hasenhüttl has been highlighted with brilliant ups and plagued with horrid lows, but one thing that has been consistently inconsistent is who is performing in goal. Alex McCarthy has certainly enjoyed the most minutes since 2018, but Angus Gunn and Fraser Forster have often had opportunities to stake their claim. Perhaps the most critical demand is to be consistent while performing… but that can be said for any club with their goalkeeper – so we can dive into the data and profile what Southampton requires.

In the Hasenhüttl structure, we all know the high press is ever-present, but what does this mean for goalkeepers? Well, it means that we need a goalkeeper capable of coming off his line and winning possession to restart the attack. Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster both were active in coming off their line, finding themselves each in the top seven for exits/90. Coming off the line is great and needed for the club, but both McCarthy and Forster are very average in intercepting and winning possession compared to the league. This could certainly be improved upon.

Our next aspect of modern goalkeeping is distribution. Distribution is not as critical for the Southampton game model, so we must go into these metrics to understand the context. The simple fact of the matter is that both of Southampton’s goalkeepers are among the lowest in distributions/90. The problem that comes with this is McCarthy and Forster struggle to complete their distributions and have lower success rates than many in the Premier League. When we consider the context of any simple distribution metric for goalkeepers, there are variables to look at, and here are some examples:

1. How much quality was in the pass? Was it receivable?

2. How strong is the receiver in receiving distributions – was the distribution from the goalkeeper good and the player simply struggled to receive the pass?

3. How strong are the opposition? Sometimes you face a ball magnet, and this can show as a negative in the simple metrics.

These are some of the questions I ask when I’m doing my analysis on an internal level. Again, it is worth remembering that distribution/build-up from the goalkeepers is not a critical aspect of the game model, but it is a current weakness in the system.

Now the most critical aspect of goalkeeping has and always will be goal defence. Southampton is a side that certainly has vulnerabilities compared to the top clubs, but they are typically safe from being considered the leakiest defending unit. That being said, 10 goalkeepers with 1000 minutes played in the 2021-22 season had a negative prevented goals/90. Both Fraser Forster and Alex McCarthy found themselves in the unfortunate ten. In an obvious statement, goals define points on the table and points on the table define millions of pounds. Southampton must find a goalkeeper who can prevent more than expected rather than conceded more than expected.

In summary, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s system calls for sweeper-keepers and a better shot-stopper should be desired than the current options.

A Scouting Perspective

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to provide scouting reports on a number of players to a number of clubs, so in this section, I am going to go through a bit of what I look for in goalkeepers now that I have watched ten of Gavin Bazunu’s matches. Rather than simply screenshotting and plugging in my single-page PDF that has a combination of grades and qualitative notes, I’ll make it a bit more conducive to reading. Please note that there is much more to scouting than what I will be writing below, and this is only serving as a primer on Gavin Bazunu to read for your enjoyment.

The first aspect of Bazunu’s game to discuss is his line defence – this includes looking at his positioning, handling, reflexes, and reach. I believe that Gavin Bazunu’s positioning is decent when he is on his line and when he looks to receive a pass. His reflexes and handling skills are average, while his reach is a bit underwhelming. Next, we can look at his footwork, which looks at his passing and his actions on the ball. Gavin Bazunu is without a doubt currently molded as a ball-playing goalkeeper. When he is on the ball, he scans incredibly well and finds the open man consistently. In addition to this, his long distribution is incredibly accurate. While the pass is not always received, I feel this is more reflective on the receiving player rather than Bazunu in these instances. This is where I feel Bazunu is at the Premier League level. The next focus comes with limitations through video scouting. While numerous factors must always be considered when looking at a player’s psychology, we can really only evaluate the decision-making abilities when looking at video. I feel that Bazunu’s decision-making skills are good but raw. We will dive into it more in the sweeping skills analysis, but there are issues that mix with incredibly smart decisions that you rarely see in goalkeepers at Bazunu’s age. Finally, we can look at the factors that matter most to Southampton – the sweeper abilities. These abilities, in my opinion, include exits off the line, interceptions, and cross-collection. This is where the bad news comes… Gavin Bazunu struggles coming off his line. He often misreads the ball when he makes an exit, which creates errors when trying to claim the ball. Be it a driven cross or a ball played in behind, the timing just isn’t what it needs to be right now for Premier League goalkeeping. Southampton has one of the better goalkeeper coaches (in my opinion) in the Premier League in Andrew Sparkes and I am sure his innovations can help Bazunu develop his sweeper duties at a faster rate than what other coaches may be able to, but until this development can happen, it will be a critical liability in the Southampton system.

Gavin Bazunu: By the Numbers

When breaking down Gavin Bazunu’s data, we can mirror the demands of Southampton by looking at goal defence, sweeper actions, and distribution data. First, let’s just take a look at the goal prevention Bazunu can offer. As with most successful teams, the goalkeeper is not tested often and this remains true for Bazunu at Portsmouth. When compared to other goalkeepers in the EFL League One that had played a minimum of 1000’, Bazunu was not tested nearly as often (xGA/90) but he did prevent more than he was expected.

Moving on to his distribution, where I felt in scouting he truly excelled, the data shows he is one of the most active in distribution while also offering above-average accuracy in both long passing and short passing. This can certainly offer a fresh perspective and perhaps a slight refinement to the style of play compared to the capabilities of both McCarthy and Forster. Bazunu’s accuracy and comfortability in distribution can allow Southampton the opportunity to stay on the front foot.

As we have stated throughout this full post, the sweeping abilities of Southampton goalkeepers are their most important assets. The problem is, as I’ve discussed in past posts, it is rare for a goalkeeper to be a master of all abilities. More often than not, when a goalkeeper is especially notable in distribution or fits the mold of a ball-playing goalkeeper, he tends to struggle as a sweeper-keeper. This remains true both in scouting and in data for Gavin Bazunu. Per the data, Bazunu found himself below average in exits, aerial duels, and interceptions compared to the rest of the league. This is a concern, but age is on Bazunu’s side.

The Final Picture

Bazunu moving for a rumoured principal transfer fee of £10m is tidy business for any club in the Premier League, but of course, we will likely never know the full details of a wage packet or clauses in the deal, which can help truly define if a player will “live up to the fee”. That being said, we see with Gavin Bazunu a very promising prospect that does not exactly fit the game model right now for Southampton. He will need a bit of time and patience to adapt to what is required of him. If Southampton use Gavin Bazunu as a cup goalkeeper/second choice while he adapts and develops, then this is a great bit of business from Southampton. If Southampton try and utilize Gavin Bazunu as an immediate first choice, then this might not be the best move for the club. Only time will tell what the plan with Gavin Bazunu is… but the future is bright.


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