This is the second article in a new 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, Matvey Safonov.
Who is Matvey Safonov?
24-year-old (b. 1999) Matvey Safonov is a Russian goalkeeper who is currently captain of Russian Premier League side FK Krasnodar. The Stavropol-born Krasnodar academy graduate made his first-team debut in August 2017 and has emerged as one of Russia's brightest goalkeeper talents. Safonov worked his way through the Russian youth national team set-up and made his senior national team debut in 2021. Matvey Safonov measures in at 1.92m tall and has a contract that expires in 2026, per Transfermarkt.
I was lucky enough to catch on to Safonov during his senior team debut season, but as a player, he has a unique mix of strengths and weaknesses that you do not often see together. Before we get into a deeper look at these strengths and weaknesses, we need to look at his initial profile.
It is my opinion that goalkeepers have three major tools that can then break down into further skills. These three major tools are Shot-Stopping, Area Defence (you may also know this as sweeping or box defence), and Ball-Playing. These tools will form the base of our profile creation.
When creating and visualizing a player profile, it is important to compare the player to similar competition. Using Elo rankings, we can find similar levels of competition that can be compared. In the data visuals used throughout this article, the following competitions are used as a comparison:
Russia Division 1
Belgium Division 1
Netherlands Division 1
Austria Division 1
England Division 2
With a data population of 105 goalkeepers, we can create a ternary visual (below) - it is critical to remember that a ternary visual is not a visual that showcases a player's ability but rather a visual that shows how a player is playing compared to others.
Looking at Safonov's style of play, we see he finds himself in the central triangle - which means he is a balanced goalkeeper. It is worth noting he leans more toward the ball-playing skillset rather than the area defence skillset, this will come up later in the article. With the style of play visual created, let's start looking at his skills.
The Shot-Stopping of Safonov
Looking at the visual below, we can get a clear snapshot of how Safonov performs in the most critical aspect of goalkeeping: shot-stopping. Safonov finds himself overcoming a leaky defence in front of him, staying as one of the busiest goalkeepers in our data pull but also performing as one of the top goalkeepers. Safonov's Prevented Goals/90 this season is nothing short of elite.
Despite elite shot-stopping numbers, Safonov has some technical flaws that are common for younger goalkeepers. The most notable problem is his positioning, but he manages to prevent this flaw from becoming detrimental thanks to his best skill - his reflexes. Safonov makes great use of his athleticism and can often get to shots he probably shouldn't have gotten to. He can make the great camera saves that we all love to see, but he could be making his work a lot easier. This unique combination of strength and weakness can lead to two options as Safonov develops and gets older - if his positioning doesn't improve while his body starts slowing down, he can become a poor shot-stopper quickly. On the positive side, if his positioning does improve as his body slows down, he can maintain these elite levels of performance.
Safonov as a Ball-Player
After evaluating Matvey Safonov's distribution, I feel this is a show of proof that Safonov is a truly modern goalkeeper. He is incredibly comfortable with the ball at his feet and he is a strong distributor - his passing is accurate and he makes the right choices. As the focus of goalkeeping has an ever-growing focus on competence on the ball, this is a skill that I feel Safonov has mastered.
Looking at the data above, we find that Matvey Safonov is highly involved in passing involvements (passes attempted + passes received/90) as well as having a shorter-than-average distribution focus. It is important to remember when looking at passing distance that this is often a reflection of a team approach rather than a goalkeeper's decisions. There is also a frequent correlation that the more involved a goalkeeper is in distribution, the shorter the passes tend to be.
Area Defence and Safonov
When it comes to area defence, Safonov reinforces my opinion that goalkeepers who receive strong grades for on-the-ball often struggle as a sweeper-keeper... because Safonov really struggles. I feel his worst skill is coming off the line, be it for aerials or for 1v1 situations requiring an aggressive approach. Safonov shows low aggression and often hesitates when presented with the chance to come off his line. In goalkeeping, hesitations for even a single second usually have detrimental results, but can Safonov overcome his hesitations? This psychological skill is a tough one to overcome, so Safonov may be best in clubs that have a lower line to limit exposure to a 1v1 opportunity.
The Final Evaluation
Matvey Safonov is just 24 and already has over 100 appearances and the honour of representing his club as captain, so it is safe to say he has a very promising career already in the making. While he is certainly a leading Russian Premier League player, I would be hesitant on moving him up in his career right now. The positioning weakness is one that concerns me, and while his reflexes make up for it now, it is a vulnerability that can be exposed through age or fitness. If he were to leave Russia, I wouldn't place him much higher than a midtable club that tries to hold onto possession for now.
FK Krasnodar have developed through their academy a gifted goalkeeper who they now trust as captain - any club in Russia would be happy to have him and the Russian National Team will benefit from having him in the setup, but the Goalkeeping Crown Jewel from Southern Russia has work to do if he aims for higher leagues than the Russian Premier League.
As we conclude the second 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.