Welcome to this week’s edition of The Glove Bag! This weekly mailbag looks at some intriguing goalkeeper topics from the past week (Monday to Sunday).
This edition covers some topics that happened between Monday, July 6 to Sunday, July 12.
Last week in goalkeeping history
Looking back on an important moment in goalkeeping history.
July 11 marked the 10-year anniversary of one of the finest achievements in Spanish sporting history. On that day in 2010, La Furia Roja became the newest champions of the world when the national football team defeated the Netherlands in the World Cup final.
For millions of fans in Spain and across the world, Andrés Iniesta’s 116th-minute strike is the crowning memory from that day’s final. From Iniesta’s poise in the moment to the burst of emotions he and his Spanish teammates showed when the ball rippled the Dutch netting, it’s a picture-perfect goal that will live on as an all-time iconic football moment.
But with all due respect to Iniesta’s goal, it would not have happened had Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas not made an equally-important stop 54 minutes earlier.
Casillas’s toe save should not be underappreciated. For much of the final, the Dutch’s quick counter-attacks and gritty tactics were frustrating Spain’s possession-based style of play. A go-ahead goal for the Netherlands looked like an inevitability, especially when Robben broke free on Spain’s goal an hour into the match.
But Casillas didn’t buckle under the pressure. The Spanish captain and star goalkeeper stood his ground and stared Robben down. The Dutchman engaged Casillas in a battle of wits, and for a brief moment, it seemed like he had Casillas beat; Robben shot to Casillas’s right while the Spaniard dove to his left.
Miraculously, the shot struck the trailing right foot of Casillas and rounded the post. Danger, somehow, had been averted.
Was there an element of luck? Maybe, but Casillas had done a good job putting himself in that position to make the save. To boil it all down to luck would do a disservice to Casillas’s positioning and composure in such a high-pressure situation.
Lucky save or not, Spain didn’t care. Casillas had breathed new life into the final through his stop, and his awestruck teammates rallied around him. For the remainder of regular time and the 30 minutes of extra time, Spain looked the better side. They held the Netherlands off of the scoreboard, and in extra time, Iniesta, inspired by Casillas’s clutch save, delivered his own clutch moment via the game’s only goal.
Moments later, Casillas lifted the World Cup into South Africa’s sky as both the captain and a Spanish hero, his save now among the most important stops of all time.
For more on Casillas’s save, check out this piece I published in September.
Stars of the Week
Shoutout to these goalkeepers for their great work last week!
Emiliano Martínez (Arsenal)
Arsenal’s Emiliano Martínez has done a fantastic job filling in for Bernd Leno since the latter injured his knee in a July 20 match against Brighton & Hove Albion, and this week was no exception.
In two games vs. third-placed Leicester City and North London rivals Tottenham, Martínez made 11 total saves and conceded just three goals. He was largely lauded for helping Arsenal get a point against Leicester, and WhoScored.com rated him as one of the club’s top performers in their 2-1 loss to Tottenham.
Iván Cuéllar (CD Leganés)
Relegation-threatened CD Leganés needed a hero to step up in a tough weekend match against Valencia, and 36-year-old goalkeeper Iván Cuéllar was up to the task. Cuéllar backstopped his club to a significant 1-0 win, contributing to the clean sheet (his third in a row) with five saves, including a perfect penalty stop on Valencia captain Dani Parejo.
Though Leganés remain in the relegation zone with two games to go, Cuéllar’s victorious performance pulled them to within four points of 17th-placed Deportivo Alavés.
Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla)
Though not a goalkeeper, Lucas Ocampos contributed to one of the craziest goalkeeper stories of the season during a July 6 Spanish league game against Eibar.
With his side up 1-0 (thanks to a goal he scored) in the 100th minute, Ocampos stepped in for Sevilla’s injured goalkeeper Tomáš Vaclík, who could not be replaced with a back-up goalkeeper due to Sevilla having used all five of their substitutions.
One minute later, Ocampos denied Eibar’s Marko Dmitrović — himself a professional goalkeeper — from point-blank range, securing the win and the clean sheet for Sevilla.
Diet GK analysis
GK analysis without the +2,000-word commitment.
Major League Soccer returned last week when its Return to Play tournament kicked off in Orlando. Orlando City got things rolling with a 2-1 win over Inter Miami on July 8, and the action continued throughout the week and subsequent weekend.
One of those matches was Sporting Kansas City vs. Minnesota United, which kicked off on July 12. Minnesota United walked out 2-1 winners, but it was Sporting KC who opened the scoring through Khiry Shelton. He was assisted by teammate Alan Pulido and… Minnesota United goalkeeper Tyler Miller?
As Shelton moves into Miller’s box, he notices a teammate breaking alongside him on the other side of Miller’s goal. Shelton then seems to shape his body for a pass, opening up his hips and moving his run to slightly off the right side of the ball.
Miller picks up on this and repositions his feet to attack a potential pass. He doesn’t take up as tight of a position at his near post as he should’ve, and he makes it pretty clear that he’s expecting Shelton to pass the ball.
Unfortunately, Miller made it too clear. Shelton notices Miller’s overeagerness and attempts to outwait the American goalkeeper. The plan works, and Miller takes a big side-step to his right before realizing that Shelton was not going to play the ball. As Miller scrambles to his near post, Shelton slots the ball into the open goal. 1-0, Sporting Kansas City.
Miller got some slack for trying to cheat on this play, but personally, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with being proactive on these sorts of plays.
Proactiveness is an important, albeit underappreciated, trait in a good goalkeeper. The ability to analyze an evolving play, determine potential attacking outlets, and then being proactive enough to cut them off can save a team from conceding many high-quality chances.
Some of the world’s top goalkeepers, such as Alisson Becker and Ederson Moraes, are known for being proactive goalkeepers, and their proactiveness has played a role in their rise to the top. So in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with Miller thinking of cutting off the pass.
Where I do have issues with is Miller’s execution. The American made it very obvious that he was thinking of cutting off the pass, to the point where he took up a poor, encroaching position and hindered his chances of stopping a shot from Shelton.
By making his intentions obvious, Miller gave Shelton the power to control the play. Miller was at Shelton’s mercy, and Shelton used that to his advantage by getting Miller to bite at the thought of a pass and thus opening up the entire near-post area for a shot.
All in all, Miller tried to be proactive but made his intentions way too obvious, and as a result, he got exposed. What he should’ve done is maintained a closer position to his near post — not directly beside his near post but a few steps closer. This would’ve put him in a good position to handle a shot or a potential pass.
Answering some of my followers’ most pressing questions.
Before I begin, I would like to clarify that I’m not a fan of ranking saves or distinguishing one stop as being better than another. Because saves can come in a variety of different shapes and sizes — from techniques used to their significance in a moment — it’s tough to say one excellent save is better than another. I don’t think it’s my place to judge one save as being more difficult than another, and I’d very much rather appreciate both saves as the works of art they are.
But here we go, for the sake of discussion.
Gordon Banks’s 1970 World Cup save on Pelé is one of the greatest and most difficult sports plays of all time. The English goalkeeper had to deal with a shot that was not only surprisingly pacey and powerful but also incredibly precise and pesky.
Pelé makes contact with the ball about 11 or so yards out from Banks’s goalline. He heads the ball downwards with an astonishing amount of pace and power. The downward angle of the header prompts Banks to react in a downward motion. But as Banks drops, the ball takes a sharp bounce about three yards out and rises up.
Banks, who was forced to dive backwards due to his slightly high positioning (which puts him at risk of palming the ball into his side netting), does a great job staying focused on the attempt’s trajectory. He reads the bounce well, is able to fight gravity just enough to keep his body level with the ball, and gets a strong enough hand in front of the shot to somehow divert the ball off of the line and around his goal.
The power and pace behind Pelé’s shot, mixed with its precise placement and the strong bounce it took three yards out, made for an extremely tricky shot, and Banks is more than deserving of the continuous praise he’s received for making this save.
But was it more difficult than the save Marcelo Grohe made against Barcelona SC in 2017? Putting aside the fact that, unlike Banks’s England, Marcelo Grohe’s Gremio eventually won the game and the competition they were participating in (the Copa Libertadores), here’s how this save stacks up from a technical perspective
The initial cross finds a Barcelona player positioned closer to the left side of Gremio’s goal, leading Grohe to take a position close to his near post. But the player mistimes his header, and instead of hitting Grohe’s goal, the ball bounces to his far post, where Barcelona’s Ariel Nahuelpán was waiting to turn it in.
Grohe, in an act of desperation, cross-steps his way to his right post, spreads his arms out wide and dives across his goal. Incredibly, Nahuelpán’s shot strikes Grohe squarely on his forearm, and the Brazilian goalkeeper pounces on the subsequent rebound.
It’s one of those saves that you just have to see to believe, and even then you might not believe it. And while good fortune played quite a significant role in the save, credit must be given to Grohe for reacting to the evolving situation in a quick and effective manner — his cross-step and the fact that he kept his chest facing the ball are key reasons behind his ability to process and react to this play quickly — and for not giving up on what looked to be a certain goal.
So, which save is more difficult? In general, I believe Grohe’s save is more difficult to recreate; if that same play happens 1,000 more times, I think it goes in 1,000 times. I mean, the shot didn’t just strike Grohe’s arm — it struck his arm in the one place it was guaranteed to not deflect into his goal. How do the stars align that well for a goalkeeper!
That’s difficulty with all things considered though, and as I mentioned above, good fortune played a significant role in Grohe’s save. Of course, a goalkeeper creates their own luck, and Grohe certainly did that through his footwork and his determination. But if we’re going to compare it to Banks’s save from a purely technical perspective, I have to give the slightest of slight advantages to the Englishman.
Banks’s save was more down to him taking into consideration the power, pace, and skip of Pelé’s shot and then reacting in a focused and appropriate way. Grohe’s save, while featuring excellent goalkeeping elements, can be boiled down to him throwing himself at a shot and hoping for the best.
Is that a very cruel summary of Grohe’s astonishing save? Definitely. But if I’m going to be forced to go down to the finest of margins, that’s how I separate the two stops.
In my opinion, short height is not an issue if you’ve got the other aspects of goalkeeping nailed down.
Full disclosure: I am a short goalkeeper myself. I’m just under 5 ft. 8 inches tall (1.75 cm), which, for reference, means I’m just an inch taller than Lionel Messi and about four inches shorter than Iker Casillas, who is known as a pretty short goalkeeper. So, I have an idea of what it means to be a short goalkeeper.
Has my height been an issue for me? Sometimes, yes. There are some shots I’ve conceded where an extra inch or two could’ve made the difference between a goal and a save. I won’t sit here and deny that.
That being said, a lot of those goals were also affected by a technical error I made. Sometimes, my stance was off-balanced and I got a weak push off. Sometimes, I mistimed my bounding step and as a result, I had less time to react to an attempt. Sometimes, I just simply misinterpreted the speed of a shot.
As much as some people think being short is a detriment to a goalkeeper, it’s not too big of an issue if you’ve got the other aspects of goalkeeping — positioning, reflexes, footwork, etc. — down. If you’re a good positional goalkeeper or have excellent footwork, you can use those traits to make up for any negatives a lack of height might have on you.
Being short also has its positives. For one, being short could mean that you’re quicker on your feet and are able to explode into a dive quicker than a tall goalkeeper because your legs have less body weight to move around and thus are not working against gravity as much as the legs of a tall goalkeeper. Furthermore, being short gives you an opportunity to finetune your technical qualities such as positioning; a tall goalkeeper might overlook good positioning because they assume their height will make up for it, resulting in more positional-based errors.
Being tall is not a cheat code to being a top goalkeeper, otherwise, guys like Simon Bloch Jørgensen (6 ft 10) and Costel Pantilimon (6 ft 8) would be among the greatest goalkeepers of all time. But they’re not, and it’s because they’re not good goalkeepers ability-wise.
On the other hand, despite their short heights, Casillas (6 ft 0), Oliver Kahn (6 ft. 2) and Lev Yashin (6 ft 2) rank among the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Why? Because their technical quality — positioning, footwork, reflexes, etc. — was world-class.
All of this is to say that while a lack of height could sometimes impact a goalkeeper’s chances of stopping a shot, with good technical quality, the impact of being short is nullified.
Have a question, suggestion or anything else you’d like to see included in this column? Let me know on Twitter via @ThatArabKeeper.
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