It’s time to talk about Gavin Bazunu

Southampton FC, Gavin Bazunu (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Southampton FC, Gavin Bazunu (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images) /

Gavin Bazunu’s Southampton career has not started how anyone planned. I mean it is hard to get worse than relegation in your first season in top-flight football. In the maelstrom of finger-pointing following the Saints’ exit from the Premiership, Bazunu caught plenty of criticism, and rightly so. His performance was below Premier League standard, and Southampton as a team conceded the 2nd most goals in the league on their way to a last-place finish.

The Embattled Southampton Keeper Faces More Scrutiny

So far in the Championship, the Saints have gotten off to a strong start. After 10 points from 5 games, they sit a solid 7th in the table. With all the transfer noise surrounding St. Mary’s, this is a commendable return. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. After Southampton’s 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Sunderland, the Saints thus far have conceded the most goals in the league. Moreover, they have a negative goal differential despite their winning record, the only team in the top 10 with this ugly statistic.

And once again, Gavin Bazunu finds himself squarely in the crosshairs of public scrutiny. His detractors will point out the Saints woeful defensive record. His defenders (including Southampton manager Russell Martin) will say he has little protection from his backline and has faced shots no keeper would save.

So let’s talk about it. Before we begin I have to say I generally am a Bazunu defender, but for the sake of this article, I will try to remain completely objective. Gavin Bazunu has been between the sticks for 12 goals this season. We will analyze via eye test each goal, and then satisfy those more analytically minded with some statistics. Here we go.

The Eye Test

Goal #1 — Lee Gregory, Sheffield Wednesday:

Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to remember each goal. Honestly, it feels like this game was a lifetime ago with the heart attacks Saints have put us through each week this season. Here it is, a nice finish some poor Southampton set piece defending (sound familiar?).

I think it’s hard to say Bazunu could’ve done better here. Not only is he facing a volley from inside the penalty spot, but he is also partially unsighted by both a Saint defender and a Wednesday attacker. The shot is put directly into side netting, Bazunu had no chance.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 1, Should’ve done better – 0

Goal #2 — Josh Sargent, Norwich

Another aerial goal, this time off a cross down the Saints left (we will see more of this). The combination of Sam Edozie and Ryan Manning let a cross come in completely undefended. The cross is a peach, too high for Bazunu to intercept, and right to an unmarked Josh Sargent at the back stick (seriously watch Bednarek…what on earth is he doing). Does prime Gianluigi Buffon save this — maybe. We shouldn’t expect the 21-year-old Bazunu to be at that level.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 2, Should’ve done better – 0

Goal #3 — Gabriel Sara, Norwich

This is a rocket. Top bins, side netting, fair play to the lad. The only criticism you could levy at Bazunu here is he doesn’t cover much ground with his dive. He looked like a man knowing he had no chance at getting there. That being said, I think very few keepers in the world get a hand to this, let alone save it.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 3, Should’ve done better – 0

Goal #4 — Jonathan Rowe, Norwich

Another goal off a corner! I am #TeamBazunu but I said I’d be fair so…I think he should get this one. He reacts a little late, and there is such a lack of pace on the header with a better reaction I believe he will get there. That being said it is inexcusable that one of the smallest players on the pitch gets a free header off a corner like that.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 3, Should’ve done better – 1

Goal #5 — Christian Fassnacht, Norwich

There’s absolutely nothing Bazunu can do about this. Any striker above Sunday League level scores this chance in their sleep. The Saints could not have presented a better goal-scoring chance if they tried.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 4, Should’ve done better – 1

Goal #6 — Ryan Hardie, Plymouth Argyle

Again some woeful defending, both down the Southampton left and tracking runners in the box. An unmarked tap-in from 6 yards, Bazunu absolved of the blame for this one.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 5, Should’ve done better – 1

Goal #7 — Jack Colback, Queen’s Park Rangers

This one is tricky. On the one hand, it is pretty poor defending, as no one closed the shooter down, and the ball strikes the inside of the woodwork before going in. You can’t place a better shot than that.

On the other hand, Bazunu’s dive is late. Slow the play down and you’ll see at 0:44 and again at 0:45 he doesn’t have a good view of the shot. Could his positioning have been better to avoid being unsighted? Quite possibly but his overall positioning was good. In the name of fairness, a-la Monty Python, we’ll call it a draw

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 5, Should’ve done better – 1, Iffy – 1

Goal #8 — Jack Clarke, Sunderland

This is horrendous defending through and through. Another cross played in completely unchallenged, and another free header in the box. It’s a good header down by his feet, very difficult to get down on a shot from that range to make a save. I say no chance for this one.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 6, Should’ve done better – 1, Iffy – 1

Goal #9 — Pierre Ekwah, Sunderland

This one is tricky. It’s a shot from a long way out that takes a deflection, but the deflection brings it back closer to Bazunu’s dive and takes some of the pace out of the ball. I think Bazunu’s reaction once the goal goes in tells you he thought he should be getting that. I agree with his assessment.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 6, Should’ve done better – 2, Iffy – 1

Goal #10 — Pierre Ekwah, Sunderland

This is the one that all criticism of Bazunu starts and ends with. A keeper at this level should not be allowing this ball past him. Bazunu actually gets a full hand to this but still can’t keep it out at his near post. 100% Baz should’ve done better with this.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 6, Should’ve done better – 3, Iffy – 1

Goal #11 — Bradley Dack, Sunderland

Watching the highlights from the Sunderland game was painful. This goal was the most painful of them all. Bazunu actually makes an excellent save right before the goal goes in on another point-blank free header. He even pushes it away from the goal out of immediate danger. But the resulting cross goes right between Mason Holgate’s legs for a tap-in. Absolutely nothing the keeper can do here.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 7, Should’ve done better – 3, Iffy – 1

Goal #12 — Chris Rigg, Sunderland

First of all, I can’t believe a 16-year-old was allowed to win a header that easily the Southampton backline. That aside, the header was good. Again well placed down by Bazunu’s feet, which is a nightmare for a goalkeeper. But it’s from much farther out than the first Sunderland goal, and I think Bazunu should do better here. It’s a difficult save to be sure, but Bazunu does get a piece of it with his right hand.

Eye Test Scoreline: No Chance – 7, Should’ve done better – 4, Iffy – 1

The Statistics

So by the eye test, the No Chance’s have it. Bazunu is not to blame for the majority of Southampton’s concessions this year. But four goals conceded in five games where the keeper should’ve done better is a worrying number. Let’s dive into some statistics (all stats per

Goals Against: 12 (1st)

Save %: 50% (Tied 2nd to last)

Post Shot xG: 8.7 (5th)

Post Shot xG +/-: -3.3 (2nd to last)

To make sense of these numbers; Bazunu has conceded the most goals in the league on only the 5th highest expected goals. That means his post-shot xG minus expected goals indicates that he has conceded 3.3 more goals than the statistics gods predict he should be based on opponent shot quality and location. Couple that with him only saving 50% of the shots on target — not a pretty picture based on the numbers.

This is a surprising conclusion given that via the eye test, Baz has mostly not been at fault this season. The explanation probably lies in his specific conceded goals. He has let in 4 long-range efforts (Sara, Colback, and the two Ekwah goals) that likely produced a low Post Shot xG. This skews his Post Shot xG +/- number in the wrong direction (for example — Colback’s goal was a PSxG of 0.22 since he scored that makes PSxG +/- on that goal alone -0.78).

Given this fault in the statistics — at this point in the season, we have to go with the eye test. Bazunu’s defense has allowed for too many high-quality chances where he has had no chance. However, his mistakes are piling up, and the trend in the numbers is worrying.

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The Bazunu defenders win this round, but in a long Championship season, unless he cuts out the mistakes, there will be more chances for the detractors to score some hits. Southampton are next in action against Leicester City at St. Mary’s on Friday, September 15 at 8 pm BST.