Let's talk goalkeepers and goalkeeping

SocrManiac

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Apr 15, 2006
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Somers, CT
So, not a lot to talk about these days. I thought it might be fun to explore goalkeeping a bit.

One topic near and dear to my heart is the crucifixion applied to a goalkeeper for conceding a near post goal. As far as I can tell, this is purely a media creation. I loved when Kasper Schmeichel spoke out on it a few years ago. The only place I can find it is on Instagram here.

First and foremost, like Kasper says, a keeper doesn't want to be beaten anywhere. It doesn't matter where it is.

At high levels, goalkeepers must know the tendencies of their opponents and use that knowledge to cheat their coverage. The goal is enormous: 8' x 24'. The ball is tiny by comparison- less than 9" in diameter- and players can regularly hit it 80+ MPH. Also, it weighs a pound. Think about that for a second. A baseball weighs six ounces. At 80MPH, it hurts like hell. You may think of a soccer ball as softer, but at a full pound and fully inflated, I don't think you're going to consider it soft when it's rocketing off your face. We'll save the strength required to deflect that ball at the full extension of the arm or the impact absorption required to catch it later... Add the movement of the modern ball and you get my second favorite ("He really should have held that.").

So, goal is big, ball is small, and ball is a force to be reckoned with.

As we all know, a goalkeeper needs to choose a place to stand that minimizes the amount of area a player has to shoot at. I'm sure we all learned about angles from both sides, so I won't bore folks with it here. At a young age, you simply learn to pick the correct spot and leave it at that. Trying to remember what player prefers which foot (or even identifying the attacker) doesn't come until later, and at that point you need to have some level of familiarity through either scouting or just repetition. Of course, while a goalkeeper is learning the strikers, the strikers are learning the goalkeepers, so there's no small cat and mouse game going on. For the sake of simplicity, we're going to assume that a goalkeeper knows what foot the attacker prefers.

Now, nitpicking in front of the goal is stupid. Choosing what counts as near post or far post isn't worth the time, so we're going to assume some steep angles, as indicated below. This is where the commentary teams get really riled up on near post goals. I am going to talk in terms of the goalkeeper's viewpoint, not the attacker (because, really, fuck prima-donna strikers).
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This shouldn't come as a shock as I've lead up to it, but in these areas, your angle is dependent on the foot a striker prefers. We'll skip opposites for now (a left footer from the right side). The best option there really is near post, and a keeper should be cheating that way. The far post is away from the natural spin of the ball. Conversely, a right footed attacker is far more dangerous from the right (See "Del Piero Zone" for details) if they can get the ball onto that foot. Fortunately, that's where the defending help should be coming from, but we're going to assume our defenders are beaten and the striker can choose his foot. How do you pick your angle?

If the shots are straight and driven, the ball will arrive at the near post a hell of a lot faster. A shot taken from the corner of the six yard box only has half as far to travel.That's not trivial when it comes to reaction times. In order to truly cover that, you have to cheat way over. Now the far post of the goal is wide open. But, it gets worse...

Because of the natural curl of the shot, the far post of the goal expands. Depending on the amount of spin the striker can apply, he can start his shot feet or even yards off the far post, totally bypassing the goalkeeper.

What you'll see is goalkeepers making a move as the attacker's plant foot lands. Sometimes you can read where it's going, sometimes you can't. Good strikers will even disguise it, leaving you totally lost.

I'm going to use Buffon a lot if I do a bunch of these. No surprise, he plays for my favorite team and he's the best to ever play the game. What's given him his endurance is this reading of the strikers (and the play in general with an ability to have his team prevent shots, but we'll get to that at a later time).

I apologize for the potato quality, but I love this frame:
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He's already diving to his left. The ball hasn't left the striker's foot. Here's the video. Now, in fairness, the striker only had one option- near post. He was being closed down and didn't have time. This becomes an easy read and a nice source of the spectacular. That said...

I've talked about it elsewhere, but one other nugget I've given strikers over the years is one of the best short range shots to take is hard and at the goalkeeper's head. A keeper can spring up faster than he can get down (gravity is so damn slow), so we tend to stay low with our arms to either side of our legs. The spot between a keeper's foot and a short dive is incredibly vulnerable because it's difficult to get to- that's what the striker above chose. When we cheat down to cover that, we can't get our arms up to head level by the time a shot goes by. We tend to dip our knees as a shot is taken, so a hard blast right at the head has a great chance of finding the back of the net. If a shot had been hit with that pace at Buffon's head would he have gotten it? Probably not.

So, in general, the way I always picked was my spot in a situation where a striker had some time was based on the type of player they were. A pure power striker would have me cheating near post. A finesse striker that typically chose placement over power would have me more central. Either way, it's a crapshoot, a judgement call, and we're pissed no matter what if it goes in. Near post doesn't make it somehow worse, at least until we need to fight the pundit that blamed us for not saving a defender's ass yet again...
 

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Zososoxfan

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Jul 30, 2009
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I think there's a lot to discuss here but the obvious piece you didn't mention (I only skimmed so apologies if I missed it) is that forcing attackers to hit the far post typically adds a degree of difficulty. For a left footed attacker attacking down the left side, I have the natural curve favoring the near post and as you point out the distance the ball has to travel to hit the net is shorter. Alternatively, hitting the far post requires me to strike the ball across my body, eliminates the typical spin advantage, and adds distance between the strike and the goal .

For inverted attacks (e.g. left footed player attacking from the right (aka Messi's office)), I think most people would support cheating towards the far post for the same reasons. In other words, our attacker in this case would have to hit the ball across his body shooting to the near post and the natural spin favors the far post. The big difference being that the distance to goal is still shorter to the near post (definitionally).

As I've watched more football in my life, my appreciation for how good the pros are at keeping the ball low when hitting it to the far post only grows. The old adage 'aim high near post, low far post' I think is a sound rule of thumb (toe?). If you are taking a shot to the near post, you as the attacker are basically banking on beating the keeper's reaction and it's easier to hit the ball with pace when aiming high. Your point about aiming for the keeper's ears in close follows the same principles IMO and is also sound. Whereas aiming for the far post you have the option of beating the keeper with placement.
 

CreightonGubanich

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Dec 13, 2006
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north shore, MA
Thanks for this. As a keeper, I agree with you that the adage that keepers should never be beaten near post is maddening. That said, as mentioned, forcing the striker into the higher-difficulty shot attempt often means cheating over towards the near post. One other thing that's always bugged me is something keepers shouldn't have to worry about, but often do, and that's the passing option in front of the net. Cheating the angle towards the near post will take you way out of position if there's an open guy in front of the net. When I'm beaten near post, it's often because I'm worried about an unmarked passing option for the striker, and trying to play both at once.

Also, glad you mentioned the degree of difficulty in saving a shot low just outside the feet. Because it's well within diving range, it often draw the "he'd like that one back" commentary, but a shot but in that spot with pace at a close distance is near impossible unless you're cheating super low with your hands.
 

Zososoxfan

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The other thing that should be mentioned here is that like almost every other sport, the advice given at the highest levels is very different from that given at every other level. Schmeichel is well within his rights to tell some blowhard to fuck off for giving him shit if he gets beaten near post, but my pub league keeper? Yeah, he should NEVER get beaten near post.
 

tmracht

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Aug 19, 2009
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The other thing that should be mentioned here is that like almost every other sport, the advice given at the highest levels is very different from that given at every other level. Schmeichel is well within his rights to tell some blowhard to fuck off for giving him shit if he gets beaten near post, but my pub league keeper? Yeah, he should NEVER get beaten near post.
Yeah that was one thing as a Keeper growing up (both hockey and soccer) just seeing how the SKILL of the forwards improved going far post was a huge mindset to change as well. When I was really young it was basically youre big, stand in front of the shooter don't let it sneak by you, by the time we were a bit more mature, just standing near post even decently older kids were able to tuck far side netting, the calculations had to change if you were just totally selling out near post, you were leaving a gaping hole for them to attack.
I never much go to the TOP levels hell never even played college, was washed out with injury by then, but even decent club soccer kids could go cross body far post, forget it if they were coming in off wing and bending far post, hopeless if you're selling short side to NOT GET BEAT short side.

It's kind of a non-sensical argument and Schmeichel is absolutely right.

Thanks for this. As a keeper, I agree with you that the adage that keepers should never be beaten near post is maddening. That said, as mentioned, forcing the striker into the higher-difficulty shot attempt often means cheating over towards the near post. One other thing that's always bugged me is something keepers shouldn't have to worry about, but often do, and that's the passing option in front of the net. Cheating the angle towards the near post will take you way out of position if there's an open guy in front of the net. When I'm beaten near post, it's often because I'm worried about an unmarked passing option for the striker, and trying to play both at once.

Also, glad you mentioned the degree of difficulty in saving a shot low just outside the feet. Because it's well within diving range, it often draw the "he'd like that one back" commentary, but a shot but in that spot with pace at a close distance is near impossible unless you're cheating super low with your hands.
Yes that was definitely a problem for me in both soccer and hockey, when its a de facto 2v0 coming at you...sigh do you cheat pass, do you stay shot, cheat pass, stay shot, tried my best to remember which opponents were pass first vs shoot first guys, but that sometimes would fly out the window when they were baring down on you and they are holding the threat of pass with the positioning. Things of nightmares.
 

Zososoxfan

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Jul 30, 2009
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Yeah that was one thing as a Keeper growing up (both hockey and soccer) just seeing how the SKILL of the forwards improved going far post was a huge mindset to change as well. When I was really young it was basically youre big, stand in front of the shooter don't let it sneak by you, by the time we were a bit more mature, just standing near post even decently older kids were able to tuck far side netting, the calculations had to change if you were just totally selling out near post, you were leaving a gaping hole for them to attack.
I never much go to the TOP levels hell never even played college, was washed out with injury by then, but even decent club soccer kids could go cross body far post, forget it if they were coming in off wing and bending far post, hopeless if you're selling short side to NOT GET BEAT short side.

It's kind of a non-sensical argument and Schmeichel is absolutely right.


Yes that was definitely a problem for me in both soccer and hockey, when its a de facto 2v0 coming at you...sigh do you cheat pass, do you stay shot, cheat pass, stay shot, tried my best to remember which opponents were pass first vs shoot first guys, but that sometimes would fly out the window when they were baring down on you and they are holding the threat of pass with the positioning. Things of nightmares.
IMO, you always force the pass to introduce another variable into the equation. Option A is the shot and Option B is a pass and the shot. The 2nd attacker will have to control the pass or hit it first time and your defenders are responsible for that guy. Obviously this is simplified. If the first attacker is tracking a ball at full speed and his angle is shrinking then the keeper should play the pass a bit more, but then once again, getting beat near post by an attacker like that usually means the keeper did something wrong.
 

SocrManiac

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Apr 15, 2006
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I probably should have been clear that my comments are really directed toward professional or high level competition. A half-drunk guy relieving glory days 20 years in the rear view is a different cup of tea.

The only potential failing of a keeper in a 2v0 situation, in my opinion, is if he blew an assignment or failed to/miscommunicated. Any touch on the ball is gravy. Forcing the pass is great as it can create the additional risk in the attack, but the cost of inviting an easy shot is super high.

Elite forwards are probably going to embarrass the best keepers 75% of the time, if not more. The deck is just too stacked in their favor. Benteke, on the other hand, doesn’t really need to be defended at all. There’s a wide range of skill levels and the striker should be taken into account when considering how well the keeper did or didn’t do.
 

67YAZ

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Dec 1, 2000
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I'm just popping in to say, as a lifelong fullback, it kills me when a keeper angrily chews out his defense after the opponent manages a good opportunity. Look. we get it. We didn't want that dude to get a shot off, either! We're in this thing together.

But more seriously, I really value a keeper who can clearly and concisely communicate what he needs from defenders. Keepers have the best view of the action - they see angles, runners, and possibilities that those of us further up the field can't pick up. But that has to be shared in precise, actionable terms. I've had keepers that don't do anything except complain after the fact. I've had one that spouted non-specific garbage like "watch that!" which actually required me to slow down to figure out what was happening. But I've also had a few that moved us around like Bobby Fischer, and it made all the difference.

One of the real joys of going to NWSL games has been getting to hear the on-field communication among world class/top-tier players. The matches are so intimate that everyone hears the coaches, the keepers, the captains...hell, even the refs...and it illuminates so much about the sport. And for the Red Stars, it's Julie Ertz that does the bulk of the organizing. She reads the game and communicates so incredibly well.
 

glpoisson

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Jul 31, 2006
1
How often have you seen an EPL, Bundesliga, La Liga, etc. match where the keeper takes one off the face or close to it and just moves on with the game? When you get to the top levels of goalkeeping you have passed your fear of the ball hitting you. The reason that the face/head/ear shot remains so successful comes down to depth perception. One cannot accurately judge the speed of an object coming directly at you because the background does not change and the ball does not appear to change size until the last moments. Against a typical shot you can read the hip girdle of the shooter and know where they want to place the shot before the ball has left their foot. You can also detect the curve which makes the mishit shot, intentionally or otherwise, so difficult to save as every angle of the shooters body points to spot A but they get the actual strike on the ball wrong and you go one way while the ball goes another. The best, at high levels, try to hit shots 'wrong' to fool the keeper if they get the chance.

The other nemesis of a goalkeeper, the toe poke, works for much the same reasons. The typical shot mechanics do not apply leaving you guessing. Quite a few toe pokes go straight with very little spin on the ball making its direction more difficult to detect. The foot remains hidden behind the ball so you cannot tell if the left, right or center of the ball has been struck so you have no pre shot insight as to which direction you need to move.

A goalkeeper needs to keep a consistent message to their teammates on high stress plays, odd man or narrow focus plays (defender cannot see anything but the one opponent in front of them, usually on the wing with their back to the center of the field), where the defender needs to know the expectations of them as the play develops rather than having to divert their attention to listen for instructions which will change from day to day depending on whim, weather and hairdo. I have found that forcing a pass on a 2v1 or 2v0 has a fairly high probability of leading to a mistake which allows you, or a covering defender, to intercept or deflect the ball to momentary safety. The higher you go the less successful it gets but a chance to succeed works better than letting an under control striker have a free, untroubled run at goal.
 

OilCanShotTupac

Sunny von Bulow
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Jan 10, 2004
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Really interesting. Thanks.

no expertise for me to add, just my opinion that Schmeichel doesn’t get enough credit as a top PL keeper