David Raya: Brentford’s Sweeper-Keeper in Goal

The Champions League Final was a tale of two keepers unafraid to take responsibility in possession. Ederson and André Onana have a case for being the two strongest goalkeepers in Europe with the ball at their feet. But one man who’s hoping to stake a claim for this position by securing a move to an elite-level club this summer is David Raya. 


The Spanish shot-stopper has long since declared his desire to leave Brentford and has been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, although those rumors have cooled off with Spurs reportedly pursuing a cheaper option in Empoli’s Guglielmo Vicario. With one year left on his contract, the Spaniard has been adamant about leaving the club and it seems Brentford are eager to offload him, having already signed Dutch goalkeeper Mark Flekken from Freiburg. Chelsea are pursuing a new goalkeeper with Edouard Mendy set for a move to Saudi Arabia, whilst David De Gea’s future remains unclear at Manchester United — both sides could emerge as a potential suitor for Raya should Tottenham decide to look elsewhere.


It’s common knowledge amongst Premier League fans that veteran keeper and club captain Hugo Lloris has a mistake in him, and the stats back this up – no player made more errors leading to goals than the Frenchman last season (4). A good shot-stopper, with years of top-level experience, Lloris has always struggled with the ball at his feet, whether that’s through his distribution or his composure under pressure, and after 10 years at Tottenham, there’s a mutual understanding that it’s best for all parties if the 36-year-old moves on. 


Raya, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different. Defending on the front foot, he’s comfortable in possession, taking more than 45 touches per 90, according to FBref, whilst his 1.42 defensive actions outside the penalty area showcase his willingness to position himself higher up the pitch and take an active role in build-up-play. 


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Capable of knocking the ball around to create new passing angles, he attempts, on average, 35.97 passes per 90. Raya can also assess situations and go long if needed – he ranks in the 97th percentile for launched passes completed per 90. His ability to kick out of his hands is a particularly potent attacking weapon. Distributing with speed, swerve, and accuracy, he can turn defence to attack in an instant. But, whilst this is well suited to Brentford’s counter-attacking style, it may prove less useful to Postecoglou, who averaged more than 70% possession at Celtic this season. 


Raya is a high-volume passer, capable of playing in a ball-dominant side. But he also possesses the ability to quickly spring attacks or alleviate danger when the opportunity arises. Now, whilst keepers in the modern game are expected to be confident in possession, it means very little if they’re unable to keep the ball out of their net. Luckily for Raya, this is an area in which he excels. No keeper made more saves than the 27-year-old in the Premier League last season, as he outperformed his XGA (expected goals against) by ten goals, according to Opta Analyst, whilst only Aston Villa, Newcastle and Manchester City conceded fewer than Brentford’s 29 goals last season.


Adept at claiming crosses into the box, despite standing at a modest but not overly tall 6’1. Raya makes his presence felt in the area and is certainly not afraid to come off his line. He is by no means the full package, though, and he has a tendency to parry shots from range back into the area, often relying on his sharp reflexes to bail him out of trouble. Ultimately there is a discussion to be had as to whether Raya can push on and become a world-class shot-stopper, capable of regularly making saves that defy xG metrics. 


Since joining from Blackburn Rovers in 2019 for £3 million, David Raya has made 161 appearances for Brentford, played a key role in the club’s promotion to the Premier League, emerged as a modern-day sweeper-keeper for Thomas Frank’s side and made his debut for Spain’s national team, and at 27, he could be set to follow in the footsteps of Ollie Watkins, Said Benrahma and Neal Maupay and become the latest Brentford player to leave for a Premier League club for a sizable fee.


By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mark Leech / Offside