This is the third article in my series that gives the spotlight to one player. These players may be well-known, or they may be new to you. The formatting of these articles looks to give a look at both the traditional scouting and data scouting of the player with the goal of having the reader feel they completely understand what the player offers even if they have not seen the player before. This series looks to write in a similar process of how I scout goalkeepers in my day-to-day work, but in a more enjoyable-to-digest format than a PowerPoint or single-page report. With all of that being said, it is time to look at the player spotlight of today, Gregor Kobel.
Who is Gregor Kobel?
25-year-old (b. 1997) Gregor Kobel is a Swiss goalkeeper currently playing for Borussia Dortmund. Kobel spent his youth days playing for Zurich and Grasshoppers before moving to Hoffenheim, where he would make his professional debut. After time spent at Augsburg and Stuttgart, the 1.94m tall goalkeeper stars for Dortmund and has earned caps with the Swiss National Team. With a contract set to expire in 2026, suitors from Europe's elite are already circling as Kobel has found himself linked to Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester United as well as Dortmund's title rival - Bayern Munich.
So why are top clubs pursuing Gregor Kobel? To answer that question, we can create an initial profile. In our profile (see below) we can use the data of UEFA's top five leagues to see just how Kobel plays compared to his competition. Note: Remember that ternary charts are not reflective of ability but rather reflective of approach.
When looking at the profiles of clubs pursuing Kobel along with Kobel's profile, it makes sense as to why they are after him. Manuel Neuer's style of play this season at Bayern is the closest resemblance to how Kobel is playing, while Chelsea and United have a bit more of a shot-stopping importance in their games. Kobel himself profiles as a centralized goalkeeper leaning most towards being a ball-playing area defender. This means that perhaps his shot-stopping is a weaker aspect to his game while he spends more time on the ball or coming out for the ball and defending his box. With the data profile now established, we can break down each primary aspect of modern goalkeeping through video and data scouting to see just how well Kobel is performing and where he could do with some improvement.
The Shot-Stopping of Kobel
While most of these player spotlights are essentially technical reports with a heavy data focus, I wanted to refocus this evaluation and use a more traditional approach. I watched every single shot Kobel has faced this season (through April 7th) and created a variation (i.e public-facing) of how I evaluate goalkeepers in shot-stopping. This approach derives from the methodology used at Red Bull via Hans Leitert and grades the technical aspect of a goalkeeper's actions to prevent a shot from turning into a goal conceded. In the visual below, each shot is placed on a map (done by hand) and graded into one of five levels, which have been simplified for the sake of communication:
Must Save: Harder to concede than it is to save, typically no movement at all is required to stop this (either due to good positioning or poor shooting)
Should Save: If the goalkeeper simply had to fall to the side to stop this one, it is a "should save"
Can Save: The goalkeeper likely had to go into a full extension to get to this one, it wasn't easy but it is no surprise it was stopped
Top Class Save: The goalkeeper's technical approach was flawless and the opposition will be wondering how they haven't scored that
Impossible Save: No matter what the goalkeeper does, this shot would not be saved. Note: If you try this form of grading at home and you have an impossible shot actually being saved, then it becomes a top class save.
Looking above, we can see just where the shots are pouring in from on Kobel. For Kobel, his right side faces a lot more opportunities than his left, but he copes well with that. His worse performances have come from his left side (note by the colors of the triangles - the "easier" shots that were conceded primarily came from the left). Why is this, you might ask? In the 107 shots I viewed, I noticed some nasty little habits. The first flaw is his footwork - Kobel finds himself flat-footed at times. This hurts his spring quite a bit and makes it much harder to get to the shot. Now, I also noted one of his strengths to be his reflexes, which reflects in his top class saves (see report card below, I've found the average goalkeeper typically has about 10-20% success in top class save situations). The combination of poor footwork and strong reflexes is an incredibly unique skill duo, one you typically do not see. A speculative approach that could be had is potential lapses in concentration or struggling to track the ball, meaning he is not adequately preparing himself to handle the shot. Speaking of handling the shot, Kobel's handling is not the best, as rebounds can happen in dangerous areas with some frequency. Fortunately, his handling is offset by his reach, which allows him to get to shots others can't (this reflects in his top class save grade).
Conceding two "must-save" opportunities is never a good sign, and Kobel's "should save" percentage is also a bit lower than average in my experience, but as the shot becomes more difficult he actually performs better than expected. These high-performance saves reinforce his skill of strong reflexes, but his footwork shortcomings can create a lack of consistency. Kobel is still young and the footwork can improve, but with the flaw not being new and Kobel having over 100 appearances at the senior level, you have to wonder why he hasn't developed past this issue yet.
Kobel as a Ball-Player
With poor footwork as a leading shortcoming, it creates some wonder in this next section. Kobel actually finds himself high in the distribution data categories and scoring, and this is largely due to the ease of passes attempted. Kobel looks for safe options when on the ball, which helps tremendously. Only 14 goalkeepers (out of 116) play a shorter average pass than Kobel - he isn't breaking many lines when he is on the ball. If a side wants comfortable possession and a slow buildup, Kobel is an ideal player. If a team wants a quicker counterattack or fast-paced vertical buildup, Kobel certainly isn't the ideal player.
As we see in the visual above, Kobel is incredibly involved in distribution. He is receiving the ball frequently (which can expose his footwork shortcomings, such as in the Bayern match) and plays a short game. What is interesting here is that there are 12 goalkeepers more involved in distribution than Kobel. 11 of them are Bundesliga goalkeepers, making him ranked number 12 of 18 for the Bundesliga. This marks a clear league playing style that must be remembered when scouting - always compare the skillset of the players to their direct competition.
Area Defence and Kobel
For me, Gregor Kobel really shines as a sweeper-keeper. He has explosiveness that allows him to get off his line quickly and he can fit a team that operates with a high defensive line. His aerial reach and ability to track the ball also allow Kobel to be an asset in crossing situations, something many goalkeepers struggle with. With Premier League sides averaging 17.55 crosses/90 and Bundesliga sides averaging 17.07, Kobel would be able to adjust to the demands of the league no matter where he goes between his rumoured suitors (or stays, if he chooses to enjoy a long career at Dortmund).
The Final Evaluation of Kobel
Gregor Kobel is a very interesting build of a goalkeeper given his greatest strengths and his most detrimental flaws tend to be skills that are complementary together rather than opposites. With strong reflexes and a good exit off the line that allows aerial dominance to come a bit easier, his footwork and his shot-handling are weaknesses that can be exploited. It is my opinion that he could do with another season or two at a club with less pressure and more of a development focus (Dortmund) than a club with a more ruthless atmosphere that won't tolerate mistakes (such as Chelsea). While I have seen a lot of Manchester United fans especially interested in the prospect of bringing Kobel in as a long-term replacement for David De Gea, I would be a bit hesitant given his shortcomings. Goalkeeping is trending toward ball-playing goalkeepers becoming the standard. Despite data showing positive outputs for Kobel in distribution, he, unfortunately, lacks the tactical prowess that the top ball-playing goalkeepers have. Kobel fits the build of a sweeper-keeper, an approach that is slowly being left behind. While he can still fit with the German tactical systems that often utilize goalkeepers strong in area defense, he might not be a long-term fit for the tactical directions of English football.
Key Strengths: Reflexes, Aerial Command, Coming off the line
Key Weaknesses: Footwork, Shot-Handling, Tactical Distributions
Extra Time Discussion - Are Modern Elite Goalkeepers Consistent in Shot-Stopping?
Before we completely finish this post I wanted to discuss a question that was asked on Twitter by Davide Gualano (@Gualanodavide) - the question asked about the consistency of goalkeepers and if modern elite goalkeepers are not as consistent in shot-stopping as perhaps past generations of goalkeepers. This is certainly a topic that will be explored in greater depth in my book that is currently in the works (Alex Stewart will be editing, publisher to be determined), but it deserves attention in the same conversation as Gregor Kobel.
As noted above, a flaw that I feel is detrimental to Kobel's ceiling is his inconsistencies. We've also noted the likes of Ederson at Manchester City and Ter Stegen at Barcelona even having dips in form. For this section, I've looked at the goalkeepers of the top three clubs right now (as of April 7th) in the top five divisions of European football. This includes:
Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Ederson (Manchester City)
Nick Pope (Newcastle)
Yann Sommer ('Gladbach -> Bayern)
Gregor Kobel (Borussia Dortmund)
Frederik Ronnow (Union Berlin)
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid)
Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid)
Alex Meret (Napoli)
Ivan Provedel (Lazio)
Andre Onana (Inter)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain)
Brice Samba (Lens)
Pau Lopez (Marseille)
These 15 goalkeepers may not be the first names that come to mind when you think of goalkeeping, but they are the 15 helping their clubs reach the elite levels of European competition. We will look at the past 50 matches to create a rolling Goals Prevented visual for each of them to see short-term consistencies. A shortcoming of this effort to answer Davide's question is we do not have historical data nor can we make a strong opinion of history due to nostalgia bias. WARNING: The following chart is cluttered.
To keep things focused on Kobel, I have highlighted his performances in the visual above and can say he ranges closer to the inconsistent side than the consistent. While it will be tough to see on your end, the top 15 goalkeepers essentially break down into two categories:
Go Big or Go Home Goalkeepers: These goalkeepers, like Kobel, are not the most consistent. Their good days are typically very good, while their bad days are extremely poor. It is almost uncommon to have an average day of shot-stopping.
Consistency is Key: These goalkeepers are less extreme in their performances. On a strong day, they might only be 0.5 above what is expected, but on a bad day, they also are only 0.5 under what is expected. Donnarumma is the biggest star who fits this mold.
To answer Davide's question "are modern elite goalkeepers consistent in shot-stopping performances?" - the answer is yes and no. The ones who we might identify for their mega performances (Ederson, Kobel, ter Stegen) are also known to have pretty bad days (go big or go home) while the ones who are at top clubs but might not immediately come to mind as elite goalkeepers offer less extreme performances and stay closer to what is expected of them. This means we can then ask the question "What makes a goalkeeper elite?"
As we conclude the third article in the "Player Spotlight" series, check out other article series that I’m working on right now, which includes: “The State of the (Goalkeeping) Union”, where I break down a goalkeeping situation from a team perspective and highlight strengths, weaknesses, or potential transfers, and “The DNA of:” series, where I look at a club from a management perspective and discuss the squad building methodology of the team. If you’d like to read these other articles, check out the rest of the site and make sure to follow me on Twitter (@ARDataAnalysis) so you don’t miss any future posts and more.