How Goalkeepers Should Set Up A Wall
Many young goalkeepers struggle in dealing with free kicks and set pieces, especially when dealing with setting a wall. The following diagrams will provide a step-by-step on the basics of setting a wall from various angles. Before diving deep into this topic, though, remember: The goalkeeper’s no. 1 job is to keep the ball out of the net. Do not begin setting you wall until you have confirmation from the referee that play will not be restarted until he or she blows the whistle.
The above picture demonstrates the number of players you should have in the wall depending on the zone of the field from which the free kick is being taken. Remember, the closer to the center of the field, the more players you should have in the wall. Any free kick from 35+ yards out should require only 1 player at most fronting the ball no matter what zone the ball is in, and you may decide that you want that player back in the box marking up.
The above picture demonstrates how to set your wall. ALWAYS set the wall on the near post, with the outside shoulder of the second man in the wall on a straight line between the post and the ball (see the black line). You should also set the wall with the tallest player on the outside, working your way to the shortest player on the inside of the wall. Both of these steps prevent a shot from being curled around the outside of the wall and into the near post. ALSO, notice the goalkeeper’s positioning. It is the wall’s job to cover the near post and goalkeeper’s responsibility to cover the back post. However, you want to position yourself slightly off-center toward the back post of the goal so that you can easily cover to that side, while still being close enough to the near post that you are able to react and make a save to that side.
Below are a couple more examples of this from different angles, including one from virtually dead center of the goal, which poses the issue of establishing which post is the “near post”.
If you’re not in the right place it can be difficult to make the save, if you are, the save becomes much easier.
I tell my keepers that you can have the best technique and be very athletic but if you are not in the right position when the ball is struck your chances drop dramatically of making the save. Conversely, you can come up big if you are in the right position.
Let’s start with a couple of terms and basic tenants:
Ball Line: The line from the center of the goal to the ball (fig. 1 dashed line). That line should run right through the center of your body.
Angle: This is the angle created when you draw a line from each goal post to the ball (fig. 1 red lines). You should be splitting this line down the middle. This line also shows you how much goal you are covering. The further off your line you play the smaller the width of the goal.
The ball line and splitting the angle are effectively the same thing, although your ball line does not show you the width of the goal based on your position forward and back.
Also, your position forward and back creates a vertical angle not often considered; that is the goal height in relationship to your positioning (fig. 2).
Given these considerations I recommend that you learn to play 2 to 3 yards off your line and adjust as needed from there. This gives you the best angle and ball line on a majority of shots in the penalty area.
“No mans land”: No man’s land is that area you avoid, this is a position that does not allow you an opportunity to save an arcing ball at the goal line or be close enough to the striker to influence their shot.
Often keepers find themselves here when they don’t close down a breakaway/through-ball fast enough or they are playing too aggressively off their line when the ball is in striking distance.
Balls on the flank :You should handle balls on the flank like a reflection in a mirror… the closer the ball is to the touch line and goal line the more central you can be in the box, once the ball starts moving into the 18 and into striking distance you start moving to cover near post (fig. 3).
Use caution here if you are on a non-regulation size field, many fields in youth soccer are far from regulation, making the touchline closer and more dangerous. I suggest that you ask yourself the question: “Am I in a good position to reach a service into the box and if they rip a near post shot from right there can I make the save?” if the answer is yes to both you are in the optimal position.
Balls at the top : Are handled similarly to balls on the flank. By this I mean in a “reflection in a mirror” fashion (see fig. 4), although the risk is greater here since the goal is bigger than when the ball is on the flank .
This also takes more skill in reading the play and letting that dictate your positioning. In general once the ball enters the attacking third you will tend to be closer to your line. When the ball moves into striking distance you will start to close down the angle without exposing yourself high. The question you ask here is “ am I in the best position for a driven ball (able to minimize the angle) and still able to get back to the bar on a chipped or flighted ball” if the answer is yes to both you are in the optimal position.
Positioning is also going to vary depending on your height and physical abilities (vertical jump, footwork. Etc.). You have heard the term “getting caught off your line”, that means the GK has probably been beaten high because they were too far out, beyond their ability to track back for the high save. But there is also as much or more risk in staying “married” to your line. When you camp on your line this makes the goal very large and scoring opportunities very easy for the opposing team.
SOME FINAL CONSIDERATIONS
Looking for opportunities: Your position should also put you in a location to easily get to flighted balls and get a jump on through-balls /breakaways. This requires you to read and understand what is happening in the game. Who has possession, how close are they to goal, do they have time and space, are they looking at one of their teammates for a run, are they looking at you to see where you are standing? All of these indicators may dictate minor adjustments in your position and stance to give you an edge at getting to a ball in the penalty area. This is beginning element of “controlling the box”. If you can shut down a play before it becomes dangerous you will make your job that much easier.
Flow of the Game.
You have an obligation to support your back line and be an option for redirection of play. This requires you to move up and out with the flow of the game. When the ball is in the opponents end under your teams control you should be out midway between the center circle and the top of the “D”.
You need to always be ready for long balls through and to help your team out of a foot race with a pass-back. Think of yourself as a shark patrolling the open water between you and your back line.
Last but not least…..
Reading the rhythm of the shooter: This is a skill that is critical to a goalkeeper, it takes lots of game time spent handling a variety of shots to learn when and how the shot will come.
Based on the rhythm of the shooter you may “step into” a driven shot, cutting the angle just a bit more. If you are expecting a flighted ball high to the cross bar or a chip reposition back a step (Do not cheat on a shot or cross, a good striker will make you pay for getting even slightly out of position).
A charging striker, under pressure, coming in with head down body over the ball will have a difficult time getting a chip off and will probably drive it. A striker outside the 18 with time and space and an upright body language looking to see your positioning may try to hit you high. These are not hard and fast rules but you can quickly gain a lot of info on the types of players in the game in a few short minutes.
The game is really where you develop and refine this skill. The more you play the more you understand what works and what doesn’t. I always say test and learn your range in practice and scrimmages; if you play conservatively in practice you will never learn the extent of your range or improve your range in a game.
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Too often I see keepers camped out on their goal line while the play is going on in the other keeper’s box miles away. This leaves a giant space behind the defense for a dangerous long ball to be played. The goalkeeper is the General out on the field. The keeper needs to stay connected with the defense to communicate and organize the players. This requires a keeper to be close enough to communicate with the team and cover the space behind the defense but at the appropriate distance to not get caught by a long shot from an unpressured attacker.
Goalkeepers should take up the line between the ball and the middle of the goal and position themselves at a place off their goal line to act as a sweeper - keeper. Younger keepers, youth coaches, or keepers without footskills will not be terribly comfortable with this but it is a critical part of team defending. Goalkeepers can offer themselves as a back pass option or clear away any long through ball behind the defense if they adjust their positioning on the field based on the looming threat.
Positioning is based on ball location on the entire field.
The other 18:
If the ball is on the other side of the field around the other 18, the keeper should be at least at the top of their 18 yard box. If the keeper moves along with the play he or she is closer to the action in the event that instructions need to be shouted to defenders on marking responsibilities; to clear a ball played into space behind the defense; or offer themselves as a pass back option. When the play is on the other end of the field this is not the time to turn off and out. The keeper has to stay focused in the event of a long clearing attempt. It is important to stay loose, shake out the hands and arms, and focus on the game. This is the time to organize marks and defensive shape in the event the ball is turned over; better yet send players into support. Sometimes it is as simple as communicating and shifting the weak side center midfielder to offer more support or be in position for counter attack through the midfield.
When the play is at midfield:
As the play moves out of the defensive third you want your keeper moving to or above the penalty strip, 12 yards off the line. The keeper should be square to the attacker in possession of ball positioned properly in the correct angle. Their placement will depend on where the ball is at midfield. Why is it that we teach our keeper the importance of the correct angle during the shot save but not when the ball is out of immediate danger? Proper positioning while the ball is around midfield can help a keeper deal with through balls that lead to breakaway situations. You know the space that I referring to. The space that is halfway between the end line and the half line. Often a lofted 20 – 30 yard ball played in this area over the defense to a breaking striker causes the defense to panic leading to countless breakaway situations. If the keeper is positioned properly they may be in a better position to sprint out to deal with the danger or at least communicate with the defense to minimize the treat.
The team and keeper need to become familiar with the area behind the defense and in front of the keeper to understand who’s ball is it and when. Determining factors are the placement and speed of the attacker, pace and placement of the pass, depth of the keeper, and location of the defense. Playing higher off the keeper’s line will allow the keeper to sweep up any balls within reason and without tremendous risk. The keeper has to be exposed to these situations to understand risk verse reward and what is within their range. Playing higher also helps the keeper stay connected with their defense in order to communicate and organize.
As part of my goalkeeper instruction I instill the importance of their movement, how it helps in team defending, and concentration. Staying focused on the developing play is one of many ways to keep your pulse on the game and in proper position not to mention a defensive asset.
When the attack is in the defensive 3rd, in and around 30 yards away from the goal:
The keeper should be positioned 3 to 6 yards off the goal line depending on their comfort level and the location of the ball. A ball that is being played from around 30 - 35 yards out is of concern but should not be a real scoring threat. A diagonal pass or a chip over the top of the defense into the empty space outside or in the upper portion of the 18 is more of a reality. This is where many breakaway situations occur. Once the ball is under control the striker has a better angle to shoot the ball. If the keeper is playing higher in their comfort zone then they are in a better position to win the ball cleanly, make the decision to narrow the angle, or instruct the first defender to keep the defender outside. Breakaway situations arise much more frequently from this scenario than a chipping opportunity caused by a keeper’s poor positioning. With the ball 30-35 yards out a keeper can see when a player is unpressured and ready to chip the ball. If needed with a quick drop-step and footwork a keeper can retreat closer to their line if there is a threat of a shot. The keeper should be adjusting their positioning depending on the location of the ball and the pressure around the ball.
Will a keeper get chipped or get caught way too far out clearing a ball while working out the bugs? Sure. That is part of the educational process. The keeper and team will learn by making decisions. The keeper will learn where to be during certain situations, at what depth, with what stance, and how to deal with varying through balls. The team will learn to depend on the keeper as a critical member of the defense for a pass back option as well as a sweeper to deal with appropriate through balls.
Keeperstop.com is the goalkeeper equipment and education website created by Christian Benjamin. It is a resource for the goalkeeper community to review and ask questions about goalkeeper equipment, camps, and training.
The opposing striker beats your left back on the flank, penetrates the 18 and he/she heads for the goal line with the ball. As a goalkeeper, what do you do? What are your priorities as far as positioning? What are you expected to save?
First of all, as a goalkeeper you are expected to save a high percentage of acute angle shots. This is especially true in this tactical situation. The “First Goal” or first priority a keeper must defend is the actual goal itself. Even if there are five wide-open opponents inside your 18, you must not allow the player with the ball to score at the near post. Unfortunately for the keeper, the most uneducated fan of the game knows that a near post goal is almost always the responsibility of the keeper. The starting position is one step in front of the near post and one arm's length away and the body faces the shooter. The position in front of and away from the near post provides a good angle of deflection when balls are driven to the near post and cannot be held. A goalkeeper would much prefer to deflect a ball out for a corner kick than deflect the ball into the goal.
The "Second Goal" that the keeper must defend is the space from the near post to roughly the top of the six-yard box.
Factors that determine what a goalkeeper can save in this area are:
The goalkeeper's body must be facing the shot while defending the second-goal just as it would be square to a shot that was being taken from the center of the penalty area. The issue here is saving angle. If a goalkeeper is square to a shot that is cut back, his/her ability to attack and intercept the ball is greater. On the contrary, if the goalkeeper positions his/her body at an angle and faces the shot side on, a ball angled back and through the six will be difficult to intercept.
What actually happens is that the keeper ends up diving parallel with the path of the ball and even if he/she can get a hand to it, the ability to catch is reduced and a deflection leaves a perfect central shot for the attacking team. Or, he/she does not even go for the ball at all and ends up giving the opposing team a high percentage finishing chance.
The "Third Goal" or third priority when this tactical situation arises is the space that is at the back post that is vulnerable from chipped balls or for balls cut back into the center out of the savable second goal area.
This last priority is actually the most difficult save. A goalkeeper must normally cover a great deal of ground and be set for the ensuing shot. As it turns out, most shots arising out of this situation are close range/pointblank in nature. For example, the striker gets the ball end line and serves a bending, flighted ball to the back post and about six yards out. The goalkeeper must be able to turn, cover about 6-7 yards and get set by the time the shot is taken AND react to the shot. Strategies that keepers use to deal with this situation are:
Use the fastest possible footwork to get across the goalmouth.
In most cases, this will be a sprint. As the ball nears the striker, the keeper must get his/her footwork and body under control and be in a balanced “set” position for the shot.
Get set and balanced
It is important that a keeper get set or as close to set as possible, EVEN if they do not feel that they are in the best possible position. By being set, this gives a goalkeeper many more saving options on well hit and miss hit shots alike. The ability to change directions here is paramount. If a goalkeeper does not attempt to get set, a poorly shot ball has the ability to go in and the only chance that a save will be made is if he/she is hit with the ball directly.
How does a keeper know when and where to set? It is basically the same positioning principle as from a shot taken anywhere else. The keeper must predict where and when the striker and ball are going to meet and then get as close to the ball line as possible. If the ball is going to be shot out of the air or headed, the keeper will need to be a bit more conservative in their vertical positioning and hold closer to the goal line in order to eliminate the looping ball that will fall just under the crossbar. Balls that are played and shot from the ground can be closed down more to increase angle play as the threat from a high looping ball is reduced.
A second example of the third goal situation: The ball is cut back to a player who is central to the goal and about 12 yards out. If the pace or the angle were too much for the keeper to save in the second goal, a goalkeeper will now have to use a crossover step and then use controlled lateral (shuffling) footwork to prepare for the shot. The crossover (leg closest to near post comes across the body) step will help cover. The body should be slightly forward and the hands in a ready position to deal with the shot. At this distance, and with the goalkeeper's angle play, this is now considered a point blank shot (8 yards or closer). The goalkeeper must be able to stand up in the face of such a shot and not flinch or dive out of the way. If the keeper is in a good position and is balanced, he/she will be able to save a good percentage hit right at them and concede those shots that are well hit and find their way into the side netting.
Best - Tony DiCicco
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