Author Archives: Leon

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Title take aways from Chicago

Take away notes from the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Chicago

I attended the United Soccer Coaches Soccer convention in Chicago last week. It is always good to catch up with some old work colleagues but also to really educate myself on the latest goalkeeping trends. Here are the goalkeeping notes from the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Chicago.

Here are the field sessions or classroom sessions I attended.

  • Maximizing your Goalkeeper Training Environment – Phil Wheddon
  • Methods to Lead a Team – Tim Bradbury
  • Integration of Goalkeeper into Team Tactic/individual, Group and teamwork – Boris Kubla
  • Modern Day Trends of Pro & College Goalkeepers – Jill Loyden
  • The Team Warms up the Goalkeeper – Dan Gaspar
  • Confidence v Competence: A Guide to how managing mood impacts performance – Marty Walker


In my take away trends from last years convention, I provide figures on how the goalkeeper’s job is different from 20 years ago and how the role of the goalkeeper has evolved in the last five years as the game changes.

  • This year there was again the emphasis on the goalkeeper using their feet.
  • Distribution should be seen in two ways. 1) To clear under pressure 2) To start an attack
  • Good use of the non-dominant foot provides so much more freedom to become the first line of attack.
  • The goalkeeper should have an identity. Something that they are known to do well.
  • We should recognize that the goalkeeper’s identity may not suit the team’s style of play. As a goalkeeper are you aware of the team’s style of play and can you adapt to it?
  • As coaches, we should be aware that a goalkeeper may look competent at one level but may struggle at a higher level. The pace of the ball, speed of play, ability to get shots off quicker, adding curl all change, the higher the level you play.
  • Distribution success should not be counted as getting the ball to your own teammate, but if the player you pass to can get their pass off successfully. (Therefore giving more emphasis on the quality of the goalkeeper’s distribution, the communication and the need to think about higher level details such as what side pressure is coming from)
  • In the female college & pro game, most action for goalkeepers is from flank service & shots from distance
  • 93% of goals conceded, however, were from inside the box.
  • I got some ideas to incorporate the goalkeeper into team warm-ups, which I will share in another article.
  • Lastly, it is a player’s mood prior to a game that affects performance more so than any competency or confidence. What do you do as a player, parent or coach to improve your mood.


As a reminder of last years takeaways, here are the notes from last year.


As we preach at Goalkeeper HQ, it was stated that the modern day goalkeeper’s job is different from 20 years ago and it can be argued that the goalkeeper’s job has changed in the last five years or so. This is because the game itself is evolving. 

There is now an attacking trend in the game, which lends itself to playing three defenders at the back or even if there are four in the formation, there are often attacking full backs which are encouraged to get high up the field.

Below is a diagram of what the average game looks like for a college goalkeeper playing 90 minutes.

  1. Goalkeeper has possession of the ball for just 4 minutes
  2. 18% of the game is the bits most people associate with goalkeeping – Catches, saves & punches
  3. 82% is distribution related – More than when I wrote an article called Back Pass – Facts

On average, the goalkeeper is expected to make 2.6 saves per game & around 30 passes. The key is to ensure the 2.6 saves are saves and not goals and that as many of those 30 passes are as accurate as possible.


1 – An increased importance of distribution

2 – The ability to deal with quick transitions, both denying the opposition and also setting up a quick transition for your team

3 – Crosses are now rarely floated into the box. They are now whipped in quicker to “Second 6yd box” between 6yd box and the penalty spot or pulled back.



Here are some examples:

  • A fast team, looking to counter-attack requiring the goalkeeper to distribute quickly beyond the oppositions back line.
  • A team that builds from the back requires a goalkeeper comfortable to play from the back accurately and provide a number of different ranges 
  • A goalkeeper who is comfortable playing high will enable the team to go with three at the back.

It is often easier for the coach to change the goalkeeper to fit the needs of the team style than for the coach to adopt a style that is best for the goalkeeper



With the trend to now whip in fast, low crosses or to pull the ball back, goalkeepers are tending to drop further back and provide more reaction time than to step up and narrow the angle. New balls provide a higher velocity and more movement requiring this reaction time. 

Goalkeepers are now taller, and more athletic which enables them to block more of the goal when they are set and have enough reaction time. In fact, goalkeepers are required to be amongst the top athletes on the team. 


Height / Weight – 6′ / 180lb

Vertical Jump – 32″ (Ranked #3 on team)

Broad Jump – 9′ (Ranked #3 on team)

40yd dash – 4.8secs (Ranked #5 on team)


Height / Weight – 5’11 / 145lb

Vertical Jump – College improvement = 7.5″ (Ranked #1 on team)

Broad Jump – College improvement = 11″ (Ranked #1 on team)

40yd dash – College improvement = .2secs (Ranked #3 on team)



There are differences in the demands of each stage of goalkeeper development. It is our job as goalkeeper coaches to make sure that the goalkeeper understands what is expected of them and to also incorporate the relevant aspects of each theme of goalkeeping. 

  • Servers should be hitting moving balls as that’s what happens in games 
  • Goalkeepers should face a variety of servers for the same practice or drill to get used to adjusting to different speeds and trajectories of the ball that different servers bring
  • After saves are made, a transition should be incorporated in the release of the ball
  • A backpass scenario can be provided prior to most saves



As stated above, a team may have to adopt a style based on their strengths. It is important that the team know the goalkeeper’s strengths and weaknesses so they can better deal with them. 

It is just as important for the goalkeeper to know the team’s strengths and weaknesses. It may be that the goalkeeper works out that the left back always cuts in because they are right footed. It might be that one central defender is more comfortable with the ball at their feet than the other.

The goalkeeper should use time with the team to get to gel in a relationship.


For any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to reach out.

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The Draw for the Women’s World Cup 2019

Taken from

Tournament hosts France will open the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup against South Korea on June 7 after the group-stage bracket for next summer’s competition was announced at La Seine Musicale, Paris, on Saturday.

They’ll be paired up with Norway and Nigera as well to form Group A, where Les Bleues can have high hopes of advancing as winners.

Titleholders the United States will meet Sweden in the group stage for the sixth consecutive World Cup, meanwhile, and find themselves opposite Chile and Thailand in Group F.

England, meanwhile, will meet 2015 runners-up Japan in Group D, as well as home nation rivals Scotland and Argentina.

New Zealand recently became the 24th and final country to qualify for the tournament, when they beat Fiji 8-0 to lift the 2018 OFC Women’s Nations Cup, and are looking to progress past the group stage for the first time.

FIFA provided a breakdown of the six groups in full:


France will host the World Cup for the first time in its eighth edition; this will also be the third time a European nation has hosted after Sweden in 1995 and Germany in 2011.

Les Bleues will be eager to beat their previous-best run to fourth in the 2011 tournament and are in good form under coach Corinne Diacre, having won their last seven matches in succession. Their men’s team became world champions in 2018, and they’ll hope to follow suit by winning the final on July 7.




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What we can learn from that bizarre goal against Pickford

Being the Goalkeeping Director for Everton FC’s USA affiliate, Everton America, I take a keen interest on the actions of first team goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford’s performances. 

Pickford’s rise to the being first choice for the England team has been a great inspiration for goalkeepers, especially those that are not blessed with multiple inches over 6ft. The last minute goal he conceded against Liverpool, however, will not be one of his proudest moments.

How the goal unfolded.

In the last play of the Liverpool v Everton derby, Liverpool pumped forward a long ball which was headed out to Virgil van Dijk. The Liverpool centre-half attempted a volley at goal but flubbed it and it span high upwards into the sky. The Dutchman even turned away in disgust at his strike. Read more: Liverpool’s win over Everton one that could go down in folklore… if they can keep pace with Man City But the ball kept falling, down towards Pickford’s goal. The goalkeeper went to catch it, and did, but his wrists hit the bar. The ball, which hadn’t crossed the line, tipped out of his hands and up into the air, back down onto the bar, and out to Origi.

See the goal here:

The unusual spin of the ball generated by the miss kick led to that horrible ball that you have to deal with but if you don’t get your decisions correct, it leads to a mishap.

Things that will be going through the goalkeepers mind in what must have seemed an eternity whilst the ball was spinning in the air.

  1. What is the trajectory of the ball? Is it going over the bar? Will I have to deal with it?
  2. I need to get underneath the ball and ensure good body shape. Will I bang into the post? Are players running at me?
  3. Do I catch the ball or tip it over? If I tip it over, I’ll give away a last minute corner. 
  4. I’m not the tallest of goalkeepers, I have great spring though and can prove it. Once I catch, who can I distribute to?

In a post game Interview, Pickford explained the following.

The 24-year-old confirmed that he was trying to tip the ball over the bar rather than catch it, though mis-controlled when his hands hit the crossbar. “It was a freak one, really. It had hit the bar twice and I tried to flick it over,” he said. “The ball spun and as I tried to flick it over, my hand hit the bar.”

It sounds like Pickford made the decision to tip, rather than what most people originally thought, which was that he tried to catch it. If this is the case, the technique of tipping needs to be brought up.

When tipping a shot over or around the post, generally the pace of the shot is enough so that when you get your fingers on the ball ( To tip, as opposed to parry ) it is enough to change direction of the ball whilst still having enough momentum to get the ball over the crossbar or around the post and out of play. This is why the “top hand save” can be so effective. I often see goalkeepers try to flick the ball over the bar with an intricate twist of the wrist and extension of fingers with disastrous results. Keep it simple and use the pace of the ball with a flat hand to tip.

See example of using the pace of the ball to tip

With that being said, if the ball does not have the pace required due to spin, as in the case of the Liverpool goal or a deflection, a flick may be required.  See this England drill which requires the goalkeepers to get a flick on the tip to get it over the bar or wide.

If the ball is close to the crossbar, the goalkeeper may have to do the counter intuitive action of turning the hand and body toward the goal to flick the ball over the bar. After hours searching the internet, the best example I can find is this Peter Schmeicel one below.


This technique would have been best used for Pickford for the goal as the ball was both spinning with no speed, and was close to the crossbar.

There has not been much mention in the newspapers though that not one Everton defender was on hand to help with rebounds or shield runners. ( See below ) 



What can we learn from this goal?

  1. Take nothing for granted. I mis hit shot may well require action and the goalkeeper should deal with it.
  2. Once you have assessed the shot / cross, a decision needs to be made to catch, tip or parry the ball.
  3. When tipping a shot, the speed / trajectory of the shot or cross determines if you use a flat palm facing the field, or if you turn your hand / body to flick the ball over the bar.
  4. Defenders need to be aware of difficulties goalkeepers face and provide both information and support.
  5. Pickford, though disappointed kept his cool with a simple apology.
  6. The goal came from the foresight of the Liverpool goalkeeper, Alison to take the free kick short so that Trent Alexander-Arnold could get a better angle and get closer when kicking the ball forward for the last gasp attempt.


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The goalkeeper as the first line of attack

After watching England play Spain in the new UEFA Nations League game in which Jordan Pickford helped to create two goals with his great distribution, I thought I would highlight how the goalkeeper is not only the last line of defense, but also the first line of attack.

Video 1 – England’s first goal v Spain

Video 2 – England’s second goal v Spain


Video 3 – Belguim’s goal v Japan

For another related article, please see [The Goalkeeper as the Quarterback of the Team] 


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The Full Lowdown on the Goalkeeper’s Warm-Up

As a goalkeeper, you need to prepare both your mind and body before a game. You have to be confident that you are in the best possible shape to play. 

The goalkeeper’s warm-up should be different from that of an outfield player and should ideally consist of four elements.

The first and most important thing is the goalkeeper is in a confident and in a relaxed state. This can be obtained through positive reinforcement and putting him or her in situations where they will achieve success.

The body has to be ready to perform the movements required of a high-level goalkeeper (footwork, movements, contact with the ground and contact with other players).

It is important to go through a variety of technical aspects of goalkeeping that will be used in a game.

Game related situations
This has to do with either a scouting report on how your team or the other team play, the type of surface you are playing on, dealing with conditions and the balls that you are playing with.

The Psychological & Game related situations can be incorporated into the Physical and Technical. Below I will address each.



Physical – Preparing the body for optimum performance

A significant amount of research has shown that performing a proper dynamic warm-up before an activity is a much better route to optimizing performance than simply static stretching. A proper dynamic warm-up has many physiological benefits:

  • Increases core body temperature
  • Increase blood flow to the muscles
  • Stimulates the nervous system and activates muscle groups
  • Improves joint mobility and flexibility
  • Increases coordination and balance
  • Reinforces proper movement patterns
  • Decreases risk of injury (due to all of the above mentioned)

There are four parts to this specific category.

  1. Pre-activation. First, we want to get your stabilizer muscles firing. This includes activating the smaller core muscles surrounding your torso. This is because we all have muscle imbalances and by going straight into exercises, you automatically work your stronger muscles thus creating more of an imbalance.

Examples of preactivation suitable for goalkeeper warm up.

  • Balance drills

2. Mobility / Flexibility exercises. These are exercises geared towards improving range of motion and raising the heartbeat















Examples of mobility /flexibility exercises suitable for goalkeeper warm up.

  • High kicks
  • Open / Close the gate
  • Arm circles

See this video of Courtois doing mobility and flexibility exercises as he enters the field.

3. Moving stretches. This can be done with a ball and coupled with handling.

Examples of moving stretches include

  • Backward reaches
  • Lunges
  • Inchworms


4. Build up & Load acceptance Now it is time to ramp it up if your planned activity involves power, speed, or agility drills to prepare for the game. This final step is preparing your nervous and muscular systems for higher speed, more complex athletic movements. This can certainly be incorporated into the Technical part or your warm up.

See this video of Courtois doing these type of exercises as the final part of his physical warm up.











































































The Psychological aspects needed will be reinforced through completing clean saves, or finishing on good saves, having the GK coach or other GK reinforce good technique. Service would have been hard, but not impossible and sufficient rest in between technical exercises.

The goalkeeper should also be conscious that much of the aim of shooting practice is to give strikers confidence. The goalkeeper should maybe go in for a few shots to get a feel for the speed in which shots may come in and improve reactions, but should certainly not get down if shots go in. The backup goalkeeper should field the remainder of these shots.


Game related situations

During the technical warm-up, you would have dealt with some of the natural conditions. Wet surfaces and skidding balls, turf, grass, mud, wind, sun or ice. 

It is important that you request one or two match balls to practice with ( If the team you are playing against has them) to get a feel. In my experience, different brands of ball feel bigger or move differently in the air.

During the warm-up, you should have got an understanding of how the area and the goalmouth play before you kick off. Make sure between you and the server you really understand how the ball rolls when hit across the ground, how does it bounce? This can often vary drastically between in and outside of the 6-yard box so really do test it out and adjust your play style accordingly if needed.

If a scouting report shows that the opposition prefers to do something, in particular, some additional time may be spent on that in the warm-up. We must realize, however, that the game warm-up should not be confused for a practice session.


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The Benefits of Outfield Training and Playing for Goalkeepers

Inspired by a question on the Goalkeeper HQ closed facebook group and something that is occuring more so in youth soccer. The goalkeeper playing out on field when not in goal.


Here is the question that was posted;

“What do you do when your child has been a keeper since they were 9 years old and you get a new coach for high school who is splitting the keeper position but wants your child to play the field the other half. And during practice and scrimmages puts your child on the field to practice rather than in the other goal. Daughter is a junior and has every intention of playing college. Thoughts?”

I see there being two parts to this question.

  1. Dealing with the threat of not being the #1 Goalkeeper ( Linked article ) 
  2. The benefits of playing out on the field.

The benefits of playing out on the field.

We should all know that the game is evolving and that goalkeepers, amongst other things, are expected to play the ball out like an NFL Quarterback. See the article.

I will provide ( soon, I hope )  an article on how to be not just good, but great with your feet in another article, but for now, let’s look at the benefits of being asked to play on the field.

  1. Premier League stats show that although there has been an increase in the number of passes made by goalkeepers, year on year since 2012, the big increase in the number of goalkeepers being asked to make 800+ passes in a season. ( That’s 20+ per game ). By playing out on the field you will get an opportunity to get the much-needed practice in when passing the ball. 
  2. The speed of decision making for the passes you make will improve as on the field, players are more likely to press you more quickly than when you are the furthest player back.
  3. Fitness is important for any athlete, and goalkeepers in the past have had a reputation of being lazy, just standing in the goal. Use this time out on the field to improve your cardiovascular fitness. Goalkeeping fitness is certainly different but the cardiovascular fitness you gain will be important for those high-intensity games and could make the difference between making a save and not making a save when you would otherwise be tired.
  4. Know your players better. As a goalkeeper, it is easy to be apart from the team as opposed to being part of the team. Use this time to muck in with the team, enjoy jokes and the camaraderie. Just as long as the jokes are not on you!
  5. Appreciate your friends. ie your defenders. By playing as a defender, you will have a better understanding of what a goalkeeper is asking of them. You will appreciate the balls that the goalkeeper expects defenders to get, you will how good/bad communication can affect decision making and you will be able to understand the ways in which defenders are likely to get beat and what that means for a goalkeepers positioning.
  6. Know your enemies! ie the forwards. Much like it is important to know how defenders react in certain situations, it important to get an insight into what it is like to play forward so that as a goalkeeper you are better prepared. Angles of shots, the likelihood of hitting shots first time, ways to beat a defender etc!

Many thanks to the Goalkeeper HQ community who helped answer this question with real-life answers. See below.












































See part one of this article which answers the first part of the question – [Dealing with the threat of not being the #1 Goalkeeper]





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The Threat Of Not Being The Number 1 Goalkeeper

The Goalkeeper HQ community is proving it’s worth with the website and social media platforms acting as a great resource. We recently got a great question which I wanted to share with everyone.

“What do you do when your child has been a keeper since they were 9 years old and you get a new coach for high school who is splitting the keeper position but wants your child to play the field the other half. And during practice and scrimmages puts your child on the field to practice rather than in the other goal. Daughter is a junior and has every intention of playing college. Thoughts?”

I see there being two parts to this question.

  1. Dealing with the threat of not being the #1 Goalkeeper
  2. The benefits of playing out on field

Dealing with the threat of not being the #1 Goalkeeper

There are pros and cons to having to deal with two goalkeepers on a team. In the article – “Best of friends, keenest of rivals – Dealing with being one of two goalkeepers” I list the benefits, which are;

  • Create healthy competition
  • For the goalkeepers to warm themselves up together
  • Takes the pressure off of the goalkeeper if they have to miss a game
  • It allows for recovery of injuries
  • Two goalkeepers allow for an inter-team scrimmage. 

With this being said, there is a psychological barrier to deal with when you feel you are losing your place as the starting goalkeeper. Confidence issues come to play and a feeling of rejection can arise.

As in another article that addresses “Dealing with getting dropped from the team” here are some reasons why you may be falling out of favor?

Some reasons why a coach may drop you. 
  1. Performance. You are making too many mistakes and you do not instill confidence in the team
  2. You have done something very wrong that breaks the club’s code of conduct. The coach needs to stamp authority on the team and prove that it is not ok to behave in that way
  3. Your head is not right! – You are distracted and focus is not as it should be. This often leads to distracting others in training and during games or not being responsive.
  4. Your strengths do not match the opposition or the way that coach wants you to play
  5. Persistent small infringements that undermine the coach. Turning up late, wearing the wrong uniform, talking when the coach is etc.
  6. Playing time needs to be given to another player in order to keep up the strength of the squad.

The same article also provides advice on dealing with some of the emotions if you do get dropped, but the original question does not imply that this has happened so here is advice for a healthy and competitive relationship with any goalkeepers looking to take your spot.

Here is some advice for goalkeepers who are competing for the number one spot.

1 – Do not make enemies with the other goalkeeper. Although they are competing with you for your place, you need them to push you harder, provide quality service, warm you up, provide you with rest during practice drills. A visual resentment towards the other goalkeeper will not go down well with the coach.

2 – Be coachable. The ability to take criticism without looking for an alibi. Not being a “Know it all”, and always looking to improve.

3 – Show that you love the game and the position. Is there a passion in the way that you train? Give 100% every time.

4 – Provide evidence of being mentally tough. Ensure that one mistake does not lead to a mental breakdown causing many more mistakes.

5 – Treat practice like you would a game. Demand great technique from yourself. Communicate with players like you would in a game.

6 – Practice at home. Even if it is small things like strength or speed training. Little improvements add up over time.

7 – Show that you are willing to make sacrifices. Are you available for selection during a friends birthday party – even if you don’t get to play?

8 – Look the part. Correct uniform, shoes tied up, shirt tucked in, socks pulled up – ball pumped up

9 – Befriend the influential players on the team. These are normally the loudest players or the captains. Other influential players are the defenders that play in front of you.

10 – Similar to #9, is the communication you give your defenders. If you just bellow out instructions or commands without any praise, the defenders will get sick of you. Boost their ego. Make them feel good with a “well done” – Defenders will like playing in front of goalkeepers that make them feel good. Coaches will pick up on that chemistry and elect to play you.

11 – Be ready to perform when called upon due to injury. See my post “Waiting in the wings

For the second part of the question please see the article [ THE BENEFITS OF OUTFIELD TRAINING FOR GOALKEEPERS ]


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Forget VAR – I’m watching the World Cup using VR!

Wow… I just watched a very resilient home nation win on penalties against Spain in what has been another amazing chapter in this great World Cup. I have been lucky enough to capture so many of the games in different viewing scenarios, but I have found a game changer in regards to viewing the game. 

Fox Sports has had its critics in regards to the commentary of the games, but from a coach’s point of view, and for you as a goalkeeper, their coverage using their app is truly great and a great way to view the game.

Here is a selection of the ways I have watched the games using their coverage:

  • Match 360 Tactical view
  • Cable cam view
  • Team 1 channel
  • Team 2 channel

The tactical view, in particular, shows a great view of the team’s shape and goalkeepers vertical positioning.

I do, however, have a game changer in the new “Fox Sports VR” app on my Iphone!!














Not only does this app allow me to watch the game and enjoy the good weather, it provides an executive box view from the halfway line of the game, in which you can use VR to view any part of the game that you want. Even better from a goalkeeping point of view is the option to watch the game from behind either goal. 

This behind the goal option is a throwback for me, as my passion and early education for goalkeeping came from this very view when I was a ball boy for my local team when I was around ten years of age. This view provides great goalkeeping insight into angles, positioning for set pieces, movement to support after goal kicks are taken and communication with teammates.

You can watch by holding your smartphone up or by purchasing one of those cardboard or plastic VR headsets. I got a plastic one from a “Five Below” store.

If you are not in the U.S. please let me know if there is a similar option in your country.


Previous Article





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Goalkeepers should be aware that you could get sent off trying to save a penalty

In the recent U17 UEFA European Championship International game between Ireland and the Netherlands, we saw an unfortunate event in which the Ireland goalkeeper got sent off after saving a penalty. 

I previously wrote a popular post on penalty saving methods in the past and been thanked multiple times for its help. I will link to it immediately below. Watch the video though and I will explain how these tactics may now need to change!

Penalty saving methods

All the footage of the actual penalty shootout seems to have been taken off the web lately, but you can see the game highlights with the penalties at the end of this official UEFA video.



You have seen in the video above that the Ireland goalkeeper receives his second yellow card for supposedly stepping off his line prior to the penalty kick to save a penalty. I say supposedly because some still frame pictures show that the goalkeeper’s feet are still on the line when the ball is struck.

In the video below, Kevin Kilbane and Joe Molloy of “Off the ball” discuss the situation.

Upon some research, I do see that the new rules of the game made for the 2016/2017 season does show that a yellow card should be shown for the infringement. ( see below – underlined in red )



What are the takeaway lessons from this event?

1) Know the rules and calculate the risk v reward of stepping forward prior to the kick being made. Prior to the rule change, there was little risk compared to the reward of saving the shot as if the referee deemed that you had moved early all that happened was that the forward had to take the kick again, leaving them nervous and double guessing what way to go for the second kick. Now the risk, if caught, should be a yellow card.

2) Get to know the referee with good communication. Read a previous article about the power of good communication with not only your players, but with officials to get a feel for what kind of person they are. Do they engage in conversation? Are they fair? Are they consistent? Have they told you prior to the shootout that they are aware of the rule? If you are dealing with an inconsistent referee or one that does not communicate their decisions, it may not be worth the risk of stepping forward.

3) Much like when the six-second rule for goalkeepers came into play (Read my article of not taking advantage of the leniency that refs give on this rule), referees will be keen to show off the fact that they know the new rule, and will look to enforce it. This recent incident has highlighted the fact that the rule is indeed to give a yellow card, so it is likely to be fashionable for referees to stick to this. My advice is to not risk the step forward deliberately early in order to avoid punishment.

[Previous article]


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Who makes the cut?

World Cup 2018: Who makes the cut? – A guest article by Luke Morenas-Jones

The following article I read last week and thought it was an excellent read.

Luke Morenas-Jones has given us permission to repost his article which comes from his Goalkeeping blog,

Many thanks Luke.

It’s been something of a tough time for England’s goalkeepers this season.

I’m not convinced any of the currently capped keepers can honestly claim to be heading into the World Cup having had a good season.


Joe Hart, the most experienced of them all, has probably had the worst of the lot as he currently watches on from the bench at the London Stadium. Fraser Forster, Ben Foster, and Jack Butland have endured underwhelming seasons with Southampton, West Brom, and Stoke respectively with some notable individual errors. Jordan Pickford has had some fine performances, but is nonetheless part of an Everton team flailing in mid-table. Tom Heaton (a personal favorite of mine) is yet to properly return from a horrible shoulder injury which perhaps leaves Nick Pope – his young replacement – as the only English goalkeeper in the Premier League who’s playing in a side performing higher than expected.

Admittedly, the performance of the team doesn’t correlate with the ability of the individual – but the numbers don’t look good. In fact, 5/6 aforementioned (and fit) keepers feature in the top 10 teams for most goals conceded, as per

Screen Shot 2018-03-02 at 19.45.24

Not a great look.

As international friendlies approach, it’s time for Mr Southgate to hone is choices for his first international tournament; one with the obvious weight of expectation that accompanies the Three Lions wherever they travel. But who makes the cut?

Joe Hart

I can’t help but feel sorry for Hart. After a troublesome season in Serie A, where some of his technical and psychological flaws were exposed, his decision to join West Ham on loan hasn’t seen him get back to the goalkeeper we saw before the Euros, or the one who put in perhaps the best performance from an English goalkeeper in Europe against Messi’s Barcelona.

Some of Hart’s technical deficiencies have progressively been targeted by the opposition. Most notably, and as detailed by The Telegraph after the opening of the season, Hart struggles making low saves either side, specifically down to his left. His save percentages in these zones are remarkably poor, at just over 60%—compared to 85% in upper zones. Iceland, anyone?

Hart has also struggled coming off his line, which for me points to a wider issue psychologically…

Now, I’ve got no inside track—no knowledge source that isn’t accessible to everyone. However, Hart has always seemed to be a player who thrives off getting “pumped up,” so tense and agitated that perhaps the balance between bravery/intention and cognition/technique becomes skewed under mental pressure. It’s an area he’s admitted to learning from in an interview before – but the source eludes my memory.

The main worry is his lack of game time this year. There’s no doubt he’s experienced and a leader in the group – and for this reason I won’t be surprised to see him get a space on the flight out to Russia.

Chance of making the squad: 50%

Jack Butland

I like Butland. As someone from a multi-sport background, watching the former county-standard rugby player gives me an insight into what life is like for me in a parallel universe.

He holds his balance and shape well, is strong and decisive in shot stopping and more than capable with his feet. His explosivity is also superb. He had a bit of a mare last weekend against Leicester after pushing the ball into his own net, but a string of fabulous saves afterwards gave us a better account of how good Butland can be—all on his debut as captain.

Whilst Stoke’s defensive record places them at the top of the ‘Goals Conceded’ table, Butland does much better in terms of quantity of saves. In fact, the English stoppers in general make a better show for themselves:

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But, as anyone with an analytical mind will contend, these numbers lack the contextual application to make them worthy decision-making tools.

Being the sad interested spectator I am, I took some of the stats and pulled out a save % statistic, comparing the same set of goalkeepers. Butland drops right down the table to 14th. The same impact is seen by Pickford, who claims a very strong 4th spot in quantity of saves, but drops to 18th place in save percentage.

Nonetheless, I feel that the question for Butland isn’t whether he travels, but whether he starts. He has a huge potential both at club and international level, and has impressed when he’s appeared for England previously. Butland is every bit the modern shot-stopper, if lacking in the hollywood-sidewinder-assist department.

Likelihood of needing to know Russian this summer: 90%

Jordan Pickford

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about Pickford is very unorthodox. Whether it’s his left foot, expressive hand movement during games or love of a parry, watching Pickford in action is an experience of its own. This is a young star certainly not lacking in the hollywood-sidewinder-assist department – arguably England’s only proponent of the ‘modern day’ ability to distribute accurately across various distances at the highest level. He also hasn’t missed a single minute of Premier League football this season.

Against Germany, Pickford was superb, denying Werner twice from 1v1 situations to keep England in the game early on. His performances for Sunderland last year rightly brought him acclaim and whilst his Everton side this year has struggled, he doesn’t look out of place at a club where expectations are higher.

What strikes me about Pickford is his communication – a lot of Premier League goalkeepers – De Gea in particular – seem quite ‘passive’ and quiet in comparison but he’s not been shy to make sure his teammates can hear him. It’s a good lesson for younger players that regardless of your age relative to your team mates, you can help them and yourself by talking.

In my mind, the decision over the starting spot is between Pickford and Butland. My personal preference would be Pickford, purely for his ability to turn defence to attack in seconds – something that might prove vital in tight, nervous group games. My one question mark over them both is that they haven’t had a mentality of keeping clean sheets and winning tight games all season – can they switch in the summer when required?

Subjective probability of trading Liverpudlian city views with the Red Square? 95%

Nick Pope

The wildcard. Here’s where it gets [hopefully more] interesting. Pope, originally brought in to cover for the wonderful Tom Heaton, has been outstanding for Burnley. In fact, according to Sky Sports,  Pope is behind only De Gea in making unexpected saves, keeping out around 8 attempts on target that were expected to result in a goal. That’s a huge deal for someone no one would’ve expected to be playing, let alone thriving. Charlton Athletic fans will be aware of his talent, but I daresay no one would’ve predicted this level of impact. For context, Pickford has made 0 – he’s kept out exactly how many he’s been expected to.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 13.00.40.pngPope has a fantastic ability to spread and make himself big, using his massive frame to smother attempts. At 25 years old he isn’t the newbie many expect – and this experience at different levels has no doubt attributed to his assured and consistent performances for a Burnley side doing very well for themselves.

Gareth Southgate, attending Burnley vs Everton this weekend, has certainly got food for thought – I feel as though Pope will get a call up for the upcoming friendlies at least where he’ll be given a chance to prove himself.

I feel as though the third spot for the World Cup is up for grabs between Pope and Hart, which admittedly, becomes an easy decision if considering form alone. Taking into account tournament experience however, given one of Butland and Pickford are likely to start, the decision is a bit more complex.

“It’s pronounced Mosk-va”-o-meter: 55%

The Unlikely Outsiders

There’s a few players who deserve a mention in this section. In reality, barring a freak set of injuries it’s hard to see any having a realistic chance but it’s four months until the World Cup – plenty of times for circumstance to chance.

Tom Heaton

As I mentioned before, I love Tom Heaton. He’s been underrated for several years but last season he was superb – a string of brilliant saves come to mind (The starfish to keep out Ibra?). His injury this year was a huge blow – under different circumstances, Heaton in my mind could have a strong claim to going into the World Cup as the number 1.

If you’re as used to tuning in to FATV as I am, you’ll be familiar with the brilliance of Tom Heaton – his balance and agility is superb, making the most difficult footwork and recovery look easy, with neutral, tidy hands. He’s a great example to show kids growing up and looking for someone to emulate. He’s a leader, brilliant communicator and someone I think, personally, could do just as well at a higher stage. What he lacks in modern distribution he makes up for in a wealth of experience and leadership qualities.

The difficulty for Heaton will be getting his spot back in the Burnley side. Pope’s form makes it very difficult to drop him, but a run of games is essential after such a big injury. A lot comes down to what Dyche decides in this fairly unusual circumstance.

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Alex McCarthy & Fraser Forster

McCarthy has done well this year to work his way back into first team football. Fraser Forster, who has subsequently lost his place, has struggled since Pellegrino took over at Southampton. I initially held high hopes for Forster – he’s a huge, imposing force and impressed when he first came to the Premier League. But over the past two years, i’ve questioned his decision making – his method of recovering, decisions to parry and the areas he pushes the ball into. He’s never stood out for me as a distributor either.

I think McCarthy becomes the next in line should anyone else’s form drop considerably or injury strikes, but I don’t think he’ll be expecting to make the trip. In his favour however is that Southgate has called him up before – although he’s yet to get his first cap.

Angus Gunn

As a Chelsea fan, I was able to watch Gunn for Norwich across the two mightily boring cup games over the winter. I was impressed – both games were low scoring, but Gunn was assured, authoritative and made some good stops. His hands were tidy and distribution consistent. Gunn has consistently shown to be very effective claiming high balls – a remarkable 99% success rate.

The main argument is that Gunn has been a constant through the English youth systems. Southgate has shown a willingness to use the relationships developed at younger age groups, but perhaps bringing Gunn is more a gamble on what he may become in the future rather than his current experience. Maybe one tournament too soon for the on-loan City keeper, but one to watch for sure.

Final Verdict

By no means is it a foregone conclusion, and upcoming friendlies certainly give Southgate a chance to see what these different players offer. For me, the decision is quite clear.

The starting spot comes down to Butland and Pickford. Pickford edges it for me because of his superior distribution and my personal view of how he has performed for Everton this year – although statistics would support this over Butland. I’m aware that Pickford doesn’t have a lot of International experience. But he hasn’t struggled to make steps up the footballing ladder before; I don’t expect the World Cup to be any different.

The third spot is the difficult one – do you go with Pope’s form or Hart’s experience? If Southgate values the nous and wisdom of the struggling Hart, especially as neither are likely to feature, it would make sense to take the former no.1. If the decision is made on meritocracy alone – Pope gets the shout. Perhaps the youthfulness of the rest of the squad will make an impact.

What do you reckon? Who gets on your plane to Russia this summer? Let me know in the comments or on twitter!

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