My laptop cut out halfway through writing this article, but there was no need to worry — Jan Oblak had saved it.
The Slovenian goalkeeper is saving almost everything that comes at him, making an impressive eight parries — one off his record of nine in a match — during Saturday night’s 2-0 loss against Barcelona at Camp Nou. With their man advantage, the league leaders eventually found a way past the 26-year-old in the final five minutes, as Luis Suárez and then Lionel Messi hit the back of the net before congratulating the stopper at the full-time whistle. They could both appreciate greatness.
Of course, Messi has been the player of the year this season and he was presented with the player of the month award before kick-off on Saturday night. Incredibly, it was just his second of the season when he should probably be handed the prize every month, as boring as that would be.
Oblak has never won the player of the month award, but that’s hardly a surprise as he is constantly overlooked when it comes to such plaudits. Just take a look at the Ballon d’Or voting for 2018. Besides Slovenia’s Andrej Stare, not one other journalist casting votes picked the goalkeeper in their top five. Not one. It meant Oblak was left in 25th place in the standings, behind fellow goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and even behind outfielders like Marcelo, Roberto Firmino or Edinson Cavani.
If you were building a team from scratch and were holding a draft, wouldn’t you want Oblak ahead of these players? After Messi, he has been the most decisive player in LaLiga and possibly in all of Europe this season.
He makes 3.61 saves per goal conceded. That is the third-best record of all the league’s starting goalkeepers and only behind Girona’s Bono and Valencia’s Neto, who have both faced far fewer inside-the-box efforts. Oblak has made 54 of this season’s 86 saves against shots taken from inside the penalty area — a jaw-dropping number considering he plays behind one of the league’s better defensive lines.
Perhaps it’s because Atlético Madrid’s defence has a reputation as one of the best in the world that Oblak doesn’t get the recognition for the team’s league-leading goals conceded records year after year. While the back line remains strong, it’s far more porous than it used to be and Oblak has a lot more work to do than Courtois did in the title-winning campaign of 2013/14.
Perhaps it’s because he is so good that he doesn’t need to make many highlight-reel saves. As a result of his positioning and the confidence in his ability to catch the ball, Oblak often gathers a shot when other ‘keepers would spectacularly tip it over the bar, making it look aesthetically more impressive even if the cost is conceding a corner. Oblak doesn’t do that — his saves are so good that he makes them look easy.
Quite simply, Oblak is a goalkeeping master and the rojiblanco fans really do love him more and more each day. As a goalkeeper who can save, kick, collect crosses and organise a defence, he is top of the class in his position. But he’s even more than that. Oblak has such an influence on the outcome of Atlético’s matches that he is LaLiga’s NIMBHIRMVP — the Not Including Messi Because He Is Ridiculous Most Valuable Player.