Few prophesied that Cristiano Ronaldo would return to the Premier League this season.

Even less foresaw Freddie Woodman as the first goalkeeper the Portuguese would be facing on his Old Trafford homecoming. Farmed out on loan for the previous six seasons, third-choice goalkeeper at the beginning of the season – at best – and days away from being loaned to Bournemouth, it is fair to say Woodman was not envisaged as starting the first four games of Newcastle United’s Premier League campaign. It has been a mixed start at best for the young custodian.That is not to say Woodman is not highly regarded. By the age of just 20, he had won the UEFA European Under-17 Championship and FIFA Under-20 World Cup with England. Individually, he was has won Golden Glove awards twice, first at the aforementioned U20 World Cup, and then again last season whilst on loan at Swansea in the Championship.

He has ability and potential.

Here we’ll look at how Woodman has performed game-by-game this season. We’ll first take a look at his performance in a more intuitive and subjective way. Next, we’ll delve into the statistics to balance our analysis to try and work out how Woodman has faired, and where his future lies.

West Ham United – Home

A penalty save. Four goals conceded. Where do we start here?

The ‘eye test’ suggests Woodman wasn’t at fault for any of the four goals conceded, with the exception of Aaron Cresswell’s cross-shot. If we’re being critical, Woodman could have been better positioned for that one. However, the main culprit in all four goals appeared to be lacklustre defending. Intuition suggests it would be harsh to hold Woodman wholly responsible for any of the four goals conceded.

What do the statistics suggest? Four goals conceded is not an encouraging start. Woodman faced seven shots on target and saved three of them; a 42.9% save percentage. For context, the average save percentage for goalkeepers in the league this season – with at least three appearances – is 63.9%. Comparing a single occurrence to an average is not necessarily fair, however, Woodman’s average save percentage for his 4 league appearances this season is 41.7%, the lowest in the league.

He also claimed 0 crosses during this game and completed only 44.4% of his passes over 40 yards. Again, it is important to offer context, Karl Darlow’s average completed passes over 40 yards for last season was a mere 34.6%. Manchester City’s Ederson – the gold standard for ‘keepers who can pick a pass – sits at 66.7% so far this season.

Relatively, Woodman did OK in terms of distribution in this game.

However, West Ham outperformed their xG of 3.04 by scoring 4 goals, suggesting Newcastle conceded more goals than they should have, in relation to the quality of goal-scoring chances they faced.

Overall not a very good performance according to the stats, despite a penalty save. Woodman failed to command his box, save enough shots and his distribution was average.

However, for balance, he was not helped by a below-par defensive display from his peers. It was also an unexpected debut for a 24-year-old goalkeeper making his first appearance in the Premier League.

Aston Villa – Away 

An unstoppable overhead kick. Another penalty face-off, this time with a less fortunate outcome for Freddie.

Watching the game, it looked like Woodman had no chance with the first goal. An exceptional overhead kick from Danny Ings nearly busting the net and guaranteeing his appearance on the end of season highlights reel.

However, the opportunity once again was born out of a defensive lapse. Jamaal Lascelles failed to do an adequate job of marking Tyrone Mings, who was free to flick the ball on for Ings. The second goal conceded was from the penalty spot. Anwar El Ghazi hammered it home with power and placement, which left Woodman no chance.

It was a very poor game for Woodman from a distribution perspective according to the stats. He did not complete one pass over 40 yards from the 15 he attempted. He again failed to claim a single cross from the seven he faced.

He only faced two shots and failed to save either, the caveat here is that one was a penalty and the other a wonder goal, so his liability on this occasion was minimal.

However, overall it was an awful game distribution-wise for Woodman, where he also failed to command his penalty area.

Southampton – Home

Third time unlucky. Third start, the third penalty for Woodman to face.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Southampton’s first goal came from a defensive error. Nobody marked Mohamed Elyounoussi who had the freedom of St James’ Park to attack a cross from the left.

Woodman saved his initial effort but palmed the ball straight back at the Southampton player to finish. Hung out to dry by his defence, but Woodman should have done better to parry the ball to safety.

He had no chance with James Ward-Prowse’s precise penalty.

An excellent game for Woodman in terms of shots saved. He faced six (one of which was the aforementioned penalty) and saved four, bestowing him a save percentage of 80%.

Once again though his distribution left a lot to be desired, completing only 31.6% of his long-range passes. He managed to claim a cross this game the 12 the opposition attempted.

This was his best performance as a shot-stopper, but his worst in terms of distribution.

Manchester United – Away

Woodman’s most ridiculed performance and rightly so. Woodman spilt a weak shot from Mason Greenwood into the path of Cristiano Ronaldo, who does not need an open goal gifted to him. A minor deflection perhaps complicated matters, however at this level it should have been a routine shot to deal with. For the second goal, he was let down by some poor defending from Isaac Hayden. However, it should have been a routine save from Ronaldo’s tame shot that went straight through him.

This was Woodman’s poorest performance in terms of shots saved. Saving just two of the six he faced and registering a lowly 33.3% save percentage for the match. His distribution was poor also, completing only 40.7% of the 27 passes he attempted over 40 yards. The only slight reprieve being he managed to claim one cross on this occasion, from the nine he faced. Few would disagree that this was a terrible game for the young ‘keeper.

Where does this leave Woodman? There is a lot of speculation that the ‘injury’ he picked up before the Leeds United game is perhaps not the reality.

If it is an excuse to take him out of the firing line, this could be a rare act of shrewdness from Steve Bruce. Reputations stick in football and labels are often permanent.

It is important Woodman was removed from the situation before he become a goalkeeping pariah, this is especially vital because he has significant potential. He is in his infancy in terms of professional goalkeepers at the age of 24, yet he was the best goalkeeper in the Championship last year.

He has numerous awards at international level. He saved a penalty on his Premier League debut.

The statistics we looked at suggesting that he has been below-par in comparison with league averages, however, his pass completion over 40 yards is superior to Karl Darlow last season.

Woodman’s average save percentage is also not far because Darlow’s at 50% vs 67.2%. Again, he isn’t far off Darlow’s average crosses claimed, 9.2% vs 6.2%.

There are signs of encouragement here from Woodman, remembering he was thrust into a situation he was not expecting to be in.

Most agree another loan is the best step for Woodman, to regain confidence and further hone his craft.

He has not performed at Premier League level when given the opportunity, because does not have the ability of a Premier League goalkeeper – yet.

Chris Cowan