WHEN THERE can only be one, competition will always be fierce.

That is the case for the starting goalkeeper role at Cherries, with a theoretical five-man rumble reduced to a two-horse race.

Club captain Neto has been a firm first-choice this campaign but in recent weeks a challenger to the throne has arisen.

Eyebrows were raised when head coach Andoni Iraola chucked Mark Travers into the fray away at Wolverhampton Wanderers last week, before further surprise as the Irishman remained in between the sticks for the 3-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at the weekend.

Two games and two clean sheets later, it appears Mark Travers is planting a strong claim for the starting berth – but who has the edge in the battle for the number one shirt?

It is hard to draw direct comparisons between the two goalkeepers as Travers’ sample size is so much smaller than Neto’s during the pair’s time together at Cherries.

The quality of opposition and the type of teams each goalkeeper have played for also influence stats.

With no disrespect to Stoke City, Barcelona’s defence is probably stronger than a relegation-threatened side in the Championship.

Beyond the eye test, there is little to judge a goalkeeper by when it comes to stats.

Goalkeepers are intrinsically linked to their defences. Goalies that face more shots tend to concede more goals, keepers that have little to do let in fewer.

One metric to measure goalkeeping ability that has been developed in recent years is the post-shot expected goal (PSxG).

Rather than just looking at the expected goal (xG) of an effort, which is generated based on the likelihood of a shot going in from where it is taken, the PSxG looks at the chances of the shot going into the goal based on the trajectory and final destination of the effort, amongst over factors.

For example, with most xG models, an effort from long range would have a very low xG.

However, a long-range strike destined for the top corner would have a high PSxG, representing how difficult it would be for a goalkeeper to save.

Neto has outperformed his PSxG per shot on target in both of his seasons as Cherries’ first-choice goalkeeper, all though not by an excessive amount.

The Brazilian’s save percentage has also dipped, but not by much – coming from 74.6 per cent to 69.8 per cent.

As such, Neto pretty much saves the shots he is expected to, whilst he is beaten by efforts that the average goalkeeper would also concede.

In contrast, last season Travers had the third worst PSxG differential compared to goals conceded, indicating that he under performed.

However, the Irishman’s numbers would have been heavily impacted by the thumpings dished out by Liverpool (9-0), Manchester City (4-0) and Arsenal (3-0) before he was dropped.

In fact, those three games account for almost the entirety of the discrepancy – 5.5 of the 6 goals he should have stopped according to the model.

Travers’ save percentage of 54.5 per cent also came third-lowest in the league last term, but the Irishman did come up against some difficult opposition.

Aerial ability

Bournemouth Echo: Neto jumps to punch the ballNeto jumps to punch the ball (Image: Richard Crease)

A lot of fans expect goalkeepers to dominate their boxes, but the reality in the Premier League is that it is not too common to see keepers challenge for high balls.

Among goalkeepers with more than 10 top-flight games played this season, Arsenal’s David Raya leads the way in terms of stopping crosses – but the Spaniard only successfully does so 12 per cent of the time.

For the most part teams rely on their defence to deal with the ball into the box, with the goalie tasked with reacting to any shots produced from the cross.

On average, goalkeepers in the Premier League stop 6.7 per cent of crosses into their box, with Neto and Travers just below that percentage.

Neto leads the Premier League in one stat – and if you have watched him play, it will come as no surprise.

Despite missing four top-flight fixtures, Neto has punched the ball 26 times, a league high.

Since arriving in the Premier League, no goalkeeper has made more punches than the Brazilian.

Opting to fist the ball away is a valid choice for a goalkeeper, but often it is viewed as the tool of a custodian lacking confidence, especially if it is their first choice every time.

Neto does catch the ball, of course – doing so 26 times in the Premier League this season.

But that is firmly in the middle of the pack, with Wolves’ Jose Sa and Aston Villa’s Emi Martinez leading the way with 42 apiece.

In contrast Travers has shown a tendency to deal with crosses by catching the ball, a riskier option that recaptures possession for his side if successful.

There were healthy rounds of applause from the travelling Cherries contingent at Wolves when the Irishman plucked two crosses out of the air.

Experience versus potential

One advantage Neto can boast over his rival is far more experience in between the sticks.

Although by no means a first choice at previous clubs Juventus and Barcelona, Neto has made 220 appearances over the last 13 seasons in three different European top-tiers.

A two-time Serie A winner with Juventus, the 34-year-old also boasts experience in the Champions League and Europa League.

Whilst his time at Juventus and Barcelona largely saw Neto on the bench, the goalie still has far more games under his belt in comparison to Travers.

Despite making his debut for Cherries in 2018, Travers is still yet to reach a century of club appearances at the professional level.

That is not too unusual for a younger goalkeeper, especially in the Premier League, but it highlights the gulf in experience between the two.

Neto's leadership qualities

There is another layer added to the debate by virtue of Neto’s role as Cherries captain.

After establishing the Brazilian as his number one at the expense of Travers, previous head coach Gary O’Neil appointed Neto as club captain in February of last year, with the rookie boss hoping to tap into the goalkeeper’s influence and standing in the dressing room.

Able to speak a variety of languages thanks to his spells in Italy and Spain, Neto was able to connect a dressing room with lots of new faces last term.

Iraola has seen no reason to change the captaincy, but has also shown that he feels there is enough leadership quality outfield to be able to leave Neto on the bench.

Further changes to come?

Some fans have suggested that the reasoning behind Travers’ sudden inclusion in the starting XI is down to a desire for Cherries to put the shot-stopper in the shop window ahead of the summer.

As an academy graduate, Travers would generate “pure profit” under the Premier League’s Profit & Sustainability rules.

Selling Travers would theoretically give Cherries more wiggle room in the transfer market.

However, it seems extremely unlikely that this is a sales tactic, as Iraola does not appear to be the type to let such external factors influence his team selection.

It is clear that the Basque boss rates Travers over Romanian international Andrei Radu, who has disappeared from matchday squads.

Cherries have also shown some faith by rewarding Travers with a lengthy contract shortly after promotion from the Championship.

Cynics can suggest that the new contract was Bournemouth simply protecting their investment, but it feels that the club have Travers in their long-term plans.

Travers’ loan to Stoke was with the sole objective of securing more gametime, which as we have touched upon, is what the Irishman is lacking.

Having recognised this, Travers will not want to waste another season playing second-fiddle.

The Republic of Ireland international is tied down at Vitality Stadium until the end of the 2026/27 season, when Travers will be 28 and presumably about to enter his prime as a goalkeeper.

Clearly Neto has been in the same boat - after watching on from the bench at the Nou Camp, there remained a desire for regular football.

Despite being nearly a decade older, Neto is on a contract of similar length to Travers. The Brazilian signed a new deal before the end of last season securing his future until June 2026 – a month shy of his 37th birthday.

Whether Cherries’ goalkeeping stable remains the same for the next two seasons remains to be seen.