In Focus: Why Brilliant Bazunu is starring on the South Coast
Gavin Bazunu has nailed down a starting spot with Southampton — now he wants to make his mark for the Republic of Ireland.
The 20-year-old moved to St Mary's from Manchester City this summer, immediately displacing former No1 Alex McCarthy between the sticks.
He has played every minute of the Saints' Premier League campaign and could now have an opportunity to impress for his country, with Liverpool's Caoimhin Kelleher out injured.
Ahead of Ireland's clash with Scotland tonight, we take a look at Bazunu's performances on the South Coast.
Four years ago, City plucked a teenage Bazunu from Shamrock Rovers after spotting the youngster's potential.
The youngster spent the 2020-21 season on loan at League One Rochdale, where he made 32 appearances in all competitions.
In 2021-22, the Dublin native was loaned out to the third tier once more — playing 46 times for Portsmouth and earning himself a permanent transfer to Southampton after claiming Pompey's Players' Player of the Season award.
And the Saints have had no hesitation thrusting Bazunu into the starting line-up, despite his lack of top-level experience.
Among Premier League goalkeepers, Bazunu has taken the fifth-most touches (287) and attempted the third-most passes (225).
Those numbers paint the picture of a custodian heavily involved in his side's build-up — but do not be fooled. Despite his City education, what he does with the ball is very different to Ederson.
The 10-cap international's passing accuracy is just 49.78% (worse than 21 other shot-stoppers in the division) and there is a good reason for this — Bazunu primarily goes long.
No goalkeeper in the league has attempted more long passes (170) and only David Raya has completed more than the youngster's 58.
Additionally, the Irishman tops the charts for attempted (91) and completed (32) passes into the final third.
He may not be a master of retention but he possesses the ability to deliver balls straight into dangerous attacking areas.
As far as general goalkeeping ability goes, Bazunu does not really stand out from the crowd — but he is no slouch either.
His 17 Premier League saves this season put him 11th in the pack, with 14 coming from shots taken inside the box.
When it comes to dealing with deliveries into the area, however, his numbers are strong, claiming eight crosses — only four players have managed more.
Where Bazunu really excels from an out-of-possession standpoint is his quality as a sweeper.
His five keeper sweeper regains can only be bettered by three other players and he has won possession in his own third 10 times — among goalkeepers, just Alisson and Hugo Lloris have done so more times.
Southampton employ a high line under manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and Bazunu can regularly be seen prowling the edge of his area, ready to deal with any long balls over the top.
Hasenhuttl explained that Bazunu's readiness to rush off his line is something that he has requested of the goalkeeper — and revealed his delight at how well the Saints' No31 is following those instructions.
He said: "I like how [Bazunu] plays and how he gets his position very offensive on the jump.
"He had two or three situations where he was going [off his line] and I ask him to do this.
"When you go all in and play with a high line, you have to have a goalkeeper behind you who is on the jump and can clear situations, like he did a couple of times with dangerous situations.
"This is good and this is what I want to see, and I am very happy."