Tactical Goalkeeping: Making Saves Without Facing Shots
To be a good goalkeeper you must possess many skills. Most keepers start off in goal because they are good shot stoppers or because they have good hands. The more they play in goal they develop their technical and tactical skills. They recognize threats to the goal and deal with them effectively. The highest level of the position is preventative goalkeeping skills. These are often difficult to see and there are no stats kept except for the most important, Goals Against.
Preventative goalkeeping skills deprive the opposition of quality scoring opportunities. The most effective way to do this is to prevent the opposition from possessing the ball in your final third. Obviously as a goalkeeper you are physically limited by the confines of the goal so you must verbally direct your teammates to perform the tasks at hand. There are five steps to improve your preventative goalkeeping skills.
#1 Know the Game
Young goalkeepers should become students of the game of soccer in addition to being players. Check with your local state association and see when you can take your USSF “E” or “F” coaching license. You could also volunteer to be an assistant coach of a younger team. These experiences will offer you a different perspective on the game and help you understand the roles of individual players and their responsibilities on the field. Watch as much soccer as you can! Watching in person is better, but if you can’t Fox Soccer Channel, ESPN and GolTV provide great opportunities to watch high-level soccer from around the world.
#2 Know Your System of Play
What style of defense does your team play? Do you have a sweeper or do you play flat at the back? Do you play man to man or do you play zonal? At what place on the field does your team start to pressure the ball? Do your outside midfielders force attackers inside or outside? Do you use an offside trap? Where is your restraining line to defend set pieces from 50 yards, 35 yards? How does your team defend corner kicks and long throw-ins?
These are all basic tactical decisions that your coach has decided upon and your team should play accordingly. However, theory and practice are different and players will have to be reminded constantly throughout the game. If you do not know what is supposed to be going on you cannot properly direct your teammates (see the section on this below).
#3 Know Your Teammates
No two players are alike. Your two outside full backs will probably have the same responsibilities but they will not play alike. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. One defender may be particularly fast and therefore not have to mark his man very tight because he can recover quickly. However, if he leaves too big a gap he may not be able to catch up. If you think the gap is too big let him know. Your other defender may not be as fast and prefer to mark tightly. But there may be times in the game when he will need to drop off a little and provide some depth. Know which midfielders are good at tackling. Those who are not should be encouraged to delay the player on the ball until there is adequate cover. You should not ask your teammates to do something that they are unable to do. One player may be able to switch the point of attack by driving the ball from one side of the field to the other, whereas another player may not have the strength to do so. The more you know about your teammates the better information you will be able to provide.
#4 Recognize and Correct Problems
This is where your improved knowledge of the game will become an advantage. Most people can look at the replay of a goal and tell you where the breakdown occurred that led to the goal. They are as helpful as Monday morning quarterbacks. You can really help your team by recognizing problems as they are happening, do something to avert the danger and then make the adjustments so that it doesn’t happen again. You may think that’s the coaches job and it is. However, players on the field can often spot problems first and no-one is in a better position to do so than the goalkeeper. Recognizing the problem is difficult but correcting it can often be harder. In these circumstances some advanced thinking can help. In the days prior to a game try to anticipate some of the things that could go wrong.
If your team is playing with an offside trap but the opposition is getting in behind your defense do you abandon the trap or look to see why it is not working as well as it did in your other games. Maybe your midfield is not putting pressure on the ball. That can be corrected. Maybe one of your defenders is slow stepping up. That can be corrected. Maybe the referee’s assistant is having a bad day. Abandon the trap.
The key here is to prepare yourself for as many contingencies as possible. This is one of the reasons why professional goalkeepers are older than most of their teammates. The more experience you have the easier it is to identify and correct problems. They may not be as strong and as quick as their younger counterparts but their anticipation and on field coaching make up for any physical deficiencies.
#5 Post-Game Evaluation
Not every issue can be corrected in the game. When a game is over you should take a little time to reflect on how you played and how the team performed. Jot down any issues that need to be addressed and discuss them with your coach so that you can correct them as a team on the practice field. Caution! Always remember that thinking like a coach does not make you the coach. You may disagree with your coach on some issues and that’s O.K. as long as you make your points in a constructive manner and accept the coach’s decision as final at the end of any tactical discussion.
The amount of communication required will depend upon the ability level of your teammates and your system of play. In the traditional sweeper system you will talk mostly to the sweeper and he will direct the defense from his position. In a flat back 3 or 4 the goalkeeper is required to communicate a lot more directly with all his defenders. A man to man defense is fairly simplistic in that every player knows their role and it is easy to see if a player is not doing his job. A zonal defense is a lot more complicated and the goalkeeper must help out his defenders as forwards are passed on from zone to zone. You may also find that one of your central defenders is the team captain and he is very vocal. If someone else on the team is giving the same instructions that you are thinking there is no need to repeat the message.
As you can see the art of communication is simple in principal but complex in execution. The keeper must have the confidence to direct his defense and the knowledge to give the right information. He must also know what tone of voice to use with different players and when to talk and when to be quiet. The goal of any goalkeeper is not to concede any goals. There will always be an incredible amount of satisfaction by shutting out a team and making 6 or 7 brilliant saves but you will learn to equally enjoy the pleasure of shutting out a team by shutting down their offense with solid preventative goalkeeping skills.
Systems of Play and Their Implications For the Goalkeeper
The role of the goalkeeper has changed dramatically in the past few years. With the different shapes of the defense there has been considerable impact on the requirements of the goalkeeper. Let’s explore the different defensive shapes and the implications for the goalkeeper.
The Sweeper System: The sweeper system is still one of the most popular defensive systems. The sweeper is designed to solve the breakdowns taking up sound cover positions for the defenders in front. Many high school, club and even college teams utilize this system.
The implications for the keeper: The coordination between the sweeper and keeper is vital. The sweeper system has a tendency to spread the game out which is good for attacking soccer, but not so good for defensive play. The keeper will need to use communication and organization to condense the defense whenever possible while not diminishing the role of the sweeper. The nature of balls served into the corners requires the sweeper to move out of the center and once the sweeper is out of the center it is vital that the keeper take over the weak side communication and organization.
The Flat Back Four: The most common defense played in the 2006 World Cup and a defense that is becoming more and more popular in the United States is the flat back four. This defense features two central defenders without a sweeper. Because of their flat shape and by using the offside rule, they can condense the space in front of them, in the midfield.
The implications for the keeper: BUT, if there is no space in front of the back four, the space is behind. The goalkeeper is responsible for the space between the last defender and the goal and has to make decisions on balls that are played over the defense and whether to come for them or not. Starting positions for the keeper are a key. Also remember that although the keeper is responsible for the space behind the defense, organization and communication are as important as the starting position.
The diagonal back defense: Many defenses in the back 3rd maintain a diagonal look in the back. This means that the side of the defense that is being attacked is condense while the other side of the defense is giving depth to the defense. The last defender away from the ball is the balancing defender that can still solve breakdowns on the condensed side of the defense.
The implications for the keeper: Because attackers are left onside by the diagonal defender, the keeper must always be ready to win through balls that are well placed to beat the defense. The goalkeeper must always use communication to position the diagonal defender while maintaining depth and some level of condensing at the same time. Also, the goalkeeper can communicate to the weak-side defender to step in order to try and catch a forward running offsides.
The four back defense vs. the 3 back defense: As mentioned earlier the flat defense is the most common defense among elite teams. To be more specific, the flat back four defense is the most common flat defense. The flat back four allows for the flank midfielders to maintain a slightly more offensive posture because they don’t have to balance the defense wide as often. The flat back four also for easier possession in the back third and for changing the point of attack with back players.
Implications for the keeper: The 3 back requires the goalkeeper to get a bit more involved with possession in the back third. It also requires the weak-side organization to be done more often by the goalkeeper because of the spacing difference between 3 or 4 defenders across the back. By playing with 3 in the back, there may be a few more opportunities for the keeper to start a long service counterattack because there probably is a more consistent high options to target.
Man to Man vs. Zone Defense: In a man to man defense in the back, the defenders will track players across the field and even possibly into the middle third. The advantage is that you can match up a fast defender, for instance, against their fastest striker, etc. The downside is that the opponent can dictate your shape in the back by dragging players across the field thus opening up areas where runs can be made into. In zone defense, the match-up are not as easy and the communication and orchestration of the defense is vital. However, your defense maintains a shape that will not only keep them more balanced defensively, but in a better shape in transition to play offense.
Implications for the keeper: The keeper in a man to man formation, has to be very conscious of runs coming out of midfield and help sort out who tracks or picks up those attacking players. Consequently, keepers with the best communication skills do well because they have the ability to organize beyond the backs and into the midfield. Keeper behind a back zonal organization must be ready to come out quickly on through balls that played to well timed runs that come through the seams of the zone.
Teams that rely on an Offside Trap: An important component of the flat defenses that we are seeing in the modern game is the use of the offside trap. Because they are already flat, it is just a coordinated few steps that puts an attacking opponent offsides. The best defenses do not play offside trap from opening kick-off until the end of the game. It is a defensive tactic that is played for a period of time then taken off. But, for sure, once an attacking team knows the defense is trapping, they are trying to beat that trap with a well-timed run and pass and get someone 1v1 with the keeper.
Implications for the Keeper: The keeper must be part of the offside trap. In other words as the defenders step to full some one off side, the keeper must also step just in case that through ball and run were well enough timed to beat the trap. In this case, the keeper is looking to win that through ball before the attacking player can reach it. Because the keeper will win or challenge for this ball, at times, outside of the penalty area, it is important for the goalkeeper to understand the implications of committing a foul outside the penalty area. Usually a foul there is a red card.
In Summary: We’ve looked at the modern defenses and some traditional defenses being used in the game today. We’ve also looked at the role of the keeper and the subtle changes with each defense. We must also identify all the common themes through each defense:
1) Communication: without question, this is still one of the best skills a keeper can have. When the keeper communicates well (simple, specific, timely), the defense is more organized and less shots are taken, less goals are suffered.
2) Reading the through pass: A keeper must be able to read the game, understand the best alternatives for the striker and then see which alternative is on and be into the play early to resolve it.
3) Starting position: It not only means extended or away from the goal line. A sound starting position may be in some instances 1 yard from the line, but at other times 20 yards from the goal line. Each keeper must know the tactics involved with starting positions and then know where there personal best starting position is for each tactical situation.
4) Offensive Player: A goalkeeper must be a good defender, but each keeper must within their abilities offer an offensive possibility for their team, either in possession or with long accurate kicks, etc.