Over the years, a number of legendary goalkeepers have showcased their skills in the top division of English football, the Premier League. Clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea have benefited from having some of the best shot-stoppers of all time, while the players themselves have cultivated folkloric status amongst fans for their explosive dives, dramatic saves, and key moments of leadership.
In this article, we'll be paying tribute to some of those Premier League footballers by asking the question: who has the most clean sheets in Premier League history? After explaining exactly what a clean sheet is and why it's so important to goalkeepers, we'll run through the top contenders before detailing the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets in the EPL.
However, this isn't just about individuals. A solid defence includes several players, as well as a manager who plays a key role in shaping it, so this article will also explore which teams have gathered up the most clean sheets in Premier League history, and which managers have been the most successful when it comes to keeping out the opposition.
In football, the term 'clean sheet' is used to describe when a team does not concede a single goal in a match. If you prevent your opponents from scoring — regardless of whether you win or draw — you have successfully recorded a clean sheet.
Any team known for their defensive skills will be expected to consistently keep clean sheets as a matter of course. This comes down to being organised at the back, restricting opposition chances to a minimum and generally forming a tight defensive unit, as well as having players who you can rely on for moments of brilliance such as a last-ditch sliding tackle at the back post or a pivotal close range save in the dying moments.
Clean sheets are a regular occurrence in soccer, which is a relatively low-scoring game when compared with other sports such as rugby, basketball, hockey, or American Football. It's possible for two teams to both be so defensively rigid over the course of 90 minutes (or so hopeless in front of goal, for that matter) that a game finishes 0-0, meaning both sides have kept a clean sheet. Both goalkeepers can go home happy on days like this.
Several top goalkeepers have made a massive mark on the Premier League, contributing to the widespread opinion that it is one of the most competitive and dramatic domestic leagues around. Below, we'll run you through the five players who have notched the most Prem clean sheets over the years.
Many younger fans will be unfamiliar with this name, but make no mistake: Nigel Martyn is one of the greatest keepers England has produced in the last 50 years. He was the first goalie to command a fee of over £1m when he signed for Crystal Palace from Bristol Rovers in 1989, but it was with Leeds United and Everton that he shone in the Premier League, picking up 137 clean sheets in the newly-formed top flight, the bulk of which were at his boyhood club, Leeds.
Arsenal legend David Seaman cut a unique figure during his time at the North London club, the talismanic poneytailed shot-stopper winning three league titles, four FA Cups, and a European Cup Winner's Cup. He's remembered for the remarkable physics-defying save he made against Sheffield United in the 2003 FA Cup semi-final, and he backed up magic moments like this with solid, consistent performances throughout his 14-year spell with the Gunners in the top flight. In total, Seaman has 141 Premier League clean sheets to his name, as well as 37 with England during his long reign as his country's Number 1.
Mark Schwarzer is one of several Australian internationals who made a real impression on the English top flight during the 2000s, when he was joined in the UK by the likes of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka. And while many of the goalkeepers on this list have been known as one club men with distinct ties to a particular team, Schwarzer has the distinction of being the only keeper to have kept 50 clean sheets with two different clubs. The sides in question were Middlesbrough and Fulham, where the Australian flourished, before moving on to Chelsea and Leicester and winning two consecutive Premier League titles as a reserve goalkeeper. Impressive stuff.
At one point considered England's best goalkeeper (he racked up 53 caps for his country), David James was an ever-present in the Premier League throughout the 2000s, and his long career spanned years either side of that decade. During that time, James played for a variety of top clubs including Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham, Manchester City, and Portsmouth, collecting a total of 169 clean sheets to become the second-best performing goalkeeper in Premier League history in terms of shut-outs.
This stint at the top also saw James become the goalkeeper with the most Premier League appearances (572). Considering that he played many of those games with mid-table and sometimes even relegation-threatened clubs (he also conceded his fair share of goals as a result), James' record is certainly not to be sniffed at.
And so we come to the top spot. For Premier League fans of a certain vintage, it's probably no surprise to see the supremely decorated former Czech international in first place when it comes to clean sheets.
Cech was an absolute rock at the back for Chelsea during the tenures of highly successful managers such as Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, playing 494 games for the Blues and helping guide them to four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, and a historic Champions League victory in 2012 that shocked fans across Europe.
A big, physically imposing presence with great agility and excellent leadership skills, Petr Cech is one of the most talented and well-rounded goalkeepers in Premier League history, as shown by his outstanding record of 202 clean sheets.
We should also pay tribute to the coaches who have helped get the best out of these super-talented shot stoppers. Managers can be crucial in helping to tweak the way their goalkeepers play and give them little nuggets of information that will bring the best out of them. However, it's fair to say that some gaffers will focus more on defending than others. While certain managers are known for their belief in free, expansive attacking football, others have become masterminds of the clean sheet.
One man with a reputation for relishing defensive work like no other is Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho, who has won everything there is to win at club level with teams including Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid. A strong backline has been the root of all that success, and Mourinho has a better clean sheet ratio than any other coach in Premier League history, recording a total of 161 clean sheets in the Premier League in just 363 games, a remarkable defensive record.
However, simply due to their longevity in the English top flight, two managers have surpassed Mourinho in terms of clean sheets recorded: Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. In his 828 games managing Arsenal in the top flight, Wenger kept a total of 323 clean sheets, while Ferguson managed 359 in his 810 games in the Premier League as Manchester United boss. Both are seriously impressive records, and Ferguson's comes very close to Mourinho's figures, but neither coach quite beats the Portuguese in terms of defensive acumen.
Given how dominant they were throughout the 1990s, 2000s and early 2010s — when Sir Alex Ferguson led the team to a staggering 13 league titles — you may not be surprised to learn that the team that has notched the most clean sheets in the history of the Premier League is Manchester United.
Erik ten Hag's side may have been rather underwhelming in the eyes of most fans this season, but their recent 3-0 victory over Everton was a landmark one, as it meant they became the first club to record 500 clean sheets in the Premier League. These shut-outs are mostly shared by three goalkeepers: David De Gea, who has 147, Peter Schmeichel, who has 112, and Edwin van der Sar, who kept 94 clean sheets for the Red Devils during his career. New big-money signing Andre Onana will be hoping he can get his name in the same kinds of conversations as those three, although that's no easy task.
If you'd like to find out more about the art of keeping a clean sheet, take a look at our explainer piece on the importance of clean sheets in soccer. It covers everything from the definition of a clean sheet to where the term first originated from and who has the most clean sheets of all time in world football, as well as some useful tips on improving defensive performances as a coach or player.
For a more rounded view on this area of the pitch, check out our in-depth guide to the unique role of the goalkeeper in soccer.