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Advice Jan 03, 2014

Chalk Talk: How defensive pressure changes a goalkeeper’s positioning

By Liviu Bird

A major factor in whether a player can get a decent shot on goal is the defensive pressure on the ball. The shooter’s angle on goal also plays a role, but defensive players can always reduce the shooter’s angle with proper positioning and body shape. Defenders can also make a shot more predictable — and thus, a save simpler — for the goalkeeper.

A shooter’s angle gets wider the closer he or she gets to goal and the closer he or she is to the middle of the field:

angle-of-shotIf an attacker is in the middle of the field and has no pressure, he or she has all day to line up a shot. All the goalkeeper can go is take up a position to best cut the angle, but the goal still looks big from the shooter’s point of view. In this diagram, the shooter has a favorable angle to goal:

central shot no pressureLet’s throw a defender into the equation. Hopefully, when the shooter is 20 yards from goal, one or two defenders close down quickly. Sometimes, for whatever reason, only one defender can get pressure on the ball. But take a look at how drastically it changes the shooter’s angle when just one defender applies pressure. The angle is effectively cut in half, assuming that the ball cannot travel directly through the defender:

pressure on the ballDefenders should always approach shooters from an angle, not straight on — and preferably force the shooter toward the near post. This makes play predictable and easier to defend for everybody on the defensive team. Taking away the far post also usually takes away the middle of the field, which helps the goalkeeper read the shot.

The goalkeeper can take half a step to the appropriate side, cheating slightly to cover the new angle. The shot is likely to go to the near post, so the goalkeeper should give more emphasis to covering that post:

gk repositionWith the goalkeeper repositioning and the defensive shape of the pressure on the ball, the first defender’s responsibility becomes to block any far-post shot. A ball inside the far post in this instance is not the goalkeeper’s fault, but rather the defender’s for his or her failure to execute.

Everton presses, Stoke still scores

Any coach will tell you that the game hardly ever goes as it’s drawn on the chalkboard. For a real-life example of pressuring a shooter and changing angles, let’s turn to Stoke City’s surprise 1-1 draw against Everton on Wednesday. Here is Oussama Assaidi’s goal in the 49th minute that gave the Potters a lead:

stoke-goalDespite Everton having two defenders pressure the shot, it still finds a way past Tim Howard at the near post. At first, I thought he didn’t reposition himself correctly, but on second look, he didn’t get much help from the defense, either.

The play starts as John Stones clears a cross into the box with a header. The ball falls to Assaidi on the edge of the Everton penalty area. As the nearest defender, Seamus Coleman applies immediate pressure, bending his run to force Assaidi to the inside. (Again, it’s ideal to force a player wide, but the outside back’s starting position makes that impossible on a player inside him.)

Stones also goes to apply pressure, but instead of bending his run to take away the far post, he runs straight. Even with Peter Crouch in the way, Stones could have bent his run a bit more and allowed Howard to reposition himself farther inside the near post. As it is, he holds his ground in the middle of the goal.

Still, the most obvious gap is at the near post, and Howard probably could have safely assumed that Assaidi would try to slam it through the near channel between Coleman and, farther inside, Stones and James McCarthy. So chalk this one up to subtly poor defending all around.

Clint Dempsey scores against Italy

For another example, take a look at the goal Clint Dempsey scored for the U.S. against Italy in February 2012:

Specifically, take a look at the moment the ball leaves his foot:

dempsey goal vs italyTwo Italian defenders pressure Dempsey and frame his shot toward the near post — sort of. His shot has to go to the right, doesn’t it? Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon certainly thinks so — he leans that way, anticipating an easy save if he gets a jump on the shot.

However, the defenders lunge into the tackle in similar fashions, stretching toward the ball instead of sliding or otherwise trying to get more of their bodies behind it. Dempsey’s shot goes under their outstretched legs and in at the far post, when it never should have.

It makes Buffon look foolish, expecting a shot toward the opposite post, but this one is squarely on the defenders, especially when you consider the torque Dempsey has to apply to get the ball back across his body.

[ +Follow @liviubird on Twitter ]

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