What’s with Spanish football clubs and Champions League goals being scored from incredibly acute angles?
A day after Atletico Madrid conceded a Paulo Dybala freekick from the left side of their goal, Valencia struck a tight-angled goal of their own when Daniel Wass hit the jackpot from the edge of the left side of Chelsea’s box.
The Spanish hosts were down 2-1 in their Champions League group stage clash with Chelsea with just over 8 minutes to go, but they were saved by their Danish full-back. It was only Wass’s fifth goal since the start of the 2018-19 season, and it ensured a point for his side.
This draw makes things interesting going into the final group stage matchday. Valencia and Chelsea are currently tied on points with eight apiece, but it’s Valencia who occupy Group H’s second and final knockout round qualification spot due to their superior head-to-head record. Had Chelsea held onto their lead, they would’ve been in the driver’s seat going into their final match vs. Group H bottomfeeders Lille, with Ajax (who currently have 10 points) and Valencia left to duke it out between themselves.
Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be. Wass — who was probably attempting to cross the ball rather than shoot it — struck the goal of his life, and Chelsea failed to move up the table as a result.
Rather than marvel at the freakish nature of that goal, some viewers focused their attention on Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea’s unfortunate goalkeeper. The Spanish international was accused of misjudging the goal — replays show him pulling his arms back as the attempt goes over his head — and as a result, he was blamed for the equalizer.
Criticism also came from football experts. Immediately following the goal, one of BT Sports 3’s commentators noted that it was “really poor from the Chelsea goalkeeper” and accused Kepa of misjudging the attempt. His colleague agreed. Later, on the day’s edition of ESPN FC, analyst Alejandro Moreno accused Kepa of conceding too many soft goals in “too many key moments.”
The verdict is in; Kepa should’ve saved that attempt, correct?
No. On the contrary, there’s nothing Kepa could’ve done to stop this goal from happening.
From a positional standpoint, Kepa was in the best position to stop an attempt on goal (close to but not directly beside his near post in case a shot is directed there, and a few steps off of his line to his right in case he has to intercept a cross). He wouldn’t have had enough time to track backwards either, so I don’t think he could’ve run backwards and stopped the attempt from hitting his opposite post.
But those aren’t what most critics are pointing to. As eluded to in one of the earlier tweets, the most obvious criticism Kepa is facing is that he retracted his arms.
As Wass’s attempt sails over Kepa’s head, the Chelsea goalkeeper jumps up to meet the shot but retracts his arms while doing so. Kepa is sending a clear message; he’s leaving the ball because he thinks it will miss his net. Why interfere with the attempt if you’re certain it won’t cause any trouble?
But Kepa was wrong. The attempt dipped into the top right corner of his goal, rebounding off of the far post and in. So by retracting his arms, Kepa allowed that goal to happen. Had he just stretched his arms and attempted to catch or tip the shot, danger would’ve been averted.
Thing is, even if Kepa had gone full-stretch, he would not have reached the attempt because it sailed over him at too high of a point. Take a look at the below screenshot.
This screenshot was taken at around the same time the ball flew over Kepa’s body. Notice the position of the ball in the air and how much higher it is relative to Kepa’s highest point (his hands). Although his hands are above his head and his body is in the air, Kepa is still well below the ball.
Even with a stronger jump and straighter arms, it’s very unlikely Kepa would’ve come close to getting a fingertip on this shot, let alone enough of his hand to catch the attempt or get a good parry on it. No matter how hard he pushes off from the ground and no matter how hard he stretches his entire 6 foot 1 frame, Kepa is never getting to that ball.
On the note of Kepa retracting his arms, as I speculated yesterday, I believe most of the criticism Kepa is facing for not reaching this attempt is a result of him retracting his arms, not for actually conceding.
It seems as though there’s this prevalent belief that if a goalkeeper does not attempt to save a shot, they’re automatically at fault for the goal. We see this criticism often when a goalkeeper stands still on a beautiful curling effort or long-distance goal (commentators must think it’s a job requirement to mention how the goalkeeper was “rooted to their spot” or “could only watch the ball sail in”). It’s also a well-known criticism of Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanović, who will often stand still on goals he knows he has little chance of stopping.
But a goalkeeper’s effort on these attempts should not cloud our judgement in determining whether a goal was a good goal or a bad goal. I’m certain that had Kepa not retracted his arms, Wass’s equalizer would’ve been talked about as one of the goals of the group stage, maybe even in the entire competition. To strike the opposite top corner from that side of the pitch while giving the goalkeeper no chance at stopping the attempt is a beauty to behold. It might still be called a fluke, but no one could deny how awesome of a goal it was given the circumstances.
Unfortunately, with Kepa retracting his arms, some viewers have gotten the wrong idea that the Spaniard actually could’ve stopped the attempt, which has led to the goal being labelled as a goalkeeper error (or misjudgement) rather than a moment of freakish brilliance from Wass.
Kepa has faced a lot of criticism this season, and I think his confidence has taken a hit as a result. But Chelsea coach Frank Lampard has consistently stood by his goalkeeper, and he did the same following yesterday’s draw. He called the goal a “fluke”, noted the difficulty of dealing with such an attempt, and stressed that the cross “came in too high” for Kepa to properly deal with it.
Lampard also chose to instead focus on Kepa’s penalty save from earlier in the half, which could go down as one of the saves of the group stage.
But the save has largely been forgotten due to Valencia’s late equalizer and Kepa’s accused role in it. That’s the unfortunate life of a goalkeeper; you can so easily fall from hero to zero, even if you had no chance of stopping the shot that brought about your fall.