Geronimo Rulli has been the subject of intense scrutiny from Villarreal fans, the media, and myself since his arrival last summer.
Initially second choice, Rulli spent most of last season on the bench whilst Sergio Asenjo played in La Liga, but the Argentine played in the Europa League, and heroically saved the crucial penalty in the final shootout.
This season his performances have been…inconsistent. Although he occasionally pulls off a remarkable save, he has been at fault for a number of goals simply through poor passing, positioning or communication.
Since the Man United and Barcelona games last week, he has been the biggest target for criticism, with some believing that he needs to be replaced, either internally with Sergio Asenjo reclaiming his #1 spot, or in the January transfer window.
In part 1 of this series, Zach talked about how Rulli has performed and what the statistics show us about his ability. His conclusion was that in a numbers sense, Rulli shows up as the 7th best shot stopper in La Liga this season. Villarreal finished 7th last season, so in theory this should be fine. However…
The mistakes he’s made
Villarreal have conceded 16 goals in La Liga this season, with 7 of them coming after the 70th minute. These late goals have been a common theme in the Champions League as well, throwing away leads against Atalanta and Manchester United, and this is down to a number of factors beyond the goalkeeper.
However, Rulli is arguably the most consistently guilty offender when it comes to defensive errors. Whilst the likes of Aissa Mandi and Pervis Estupinan have been below par, and Pau Torres and Raul Albiol not hitting the heights of last season, it is often the goalkeeper who makes the most avoidable mistakes.
The early season draw away at Atletico Madrid is a prime example. Somehow leading in the 94th minute (with Rulli making some good saves to give credit where it’s due), a mix-up with Rulli and Mandi saw a calamitous own goal go in, costing Villarreal 2 points.
The goal came as a result of poor positioning from the goalkeeper, and a lack of communication between Rulli and Mandi. Mandi used a standard defensive header, expecting Rulli to be in the centre of his goal, but bizarrely, he had gone wandering.
One might defend Rulli by stating that Mandi should have acted differently given how late it was in the game – letting the ball go out or heading it wide, but if Rulli had simply positioned himself correctly this would have gone unnoticed.
His mistakes against Manchester United and Barcelona last week were both as a result of his poor distribution and vision. Rulli is guilty of choosing more difficult passing options than simply picking the correct pass.
Here, against Manchester United, Rulli has potentially four passing options instead of Etienne Capoue, who is being closely marked by a United player. Guess which pass he opted for.
As Zach pointed out, Rulli has made the most short passes in La Liga this season. Unai Emery has a knack for asking his goalkeepers to pass when they simply are not capable of doing it – at Arsenal this resulted in disaster when he asked this of a nearly retired Petr Cech.
Just before the Man United and Barcelona fixtures, the team drew 1-1 with Celta Vigo. A longshot went straight at Rulli, who failed to secure the ball, allowing Brais Mendez to pounce on it to equalise.
There is a whole catalogue of Rulli errors just from the last two weeks alone. His shot-stopping statistics may seem fine (+0.3 psXG-GA), but this does not account for where the shot ends up. The mark of a good goalkeeper is the ability to sniff out danger – if Rulli makes a save, which falls to an opposition player, he will not have stopped the goal after all. Likewise in his passing, Rulli cannot sense danger when the teammate he is aiming for has opposition players closing him down.
These basic errors effectively undo any good work he may do in his shot stopping. If his shot stopping was exceptional, there may be room for more forgiveness, but it is fairly standard and nothing special when compared to goalkeepers playing for top half clubs across Europe. Rulli has made the most errors leading to an opposition shot in La Liga – 3 – and that may even ignore other errors where his, for example, poor positioning, puts extra pressure on an already leaky defence.
Some time away from the spotlight could do him good. Asenjo played in the cup game at Victoria, and keeping his place for the time being could give Rulli a break from the pressure of the team’s poor results.
Long term, serious consideration needs to be given to recruiting a goalkeeper. Both Asenjo and Rulli have been good servants to the club but if Unai Emery is to remain in charge, and continue forcing the goalkeeper to pass it short, then a specialist sweeper keeper is needed as a priority.