Breaking down a spectacular save that wasn’t quite what it seemed
As I was watching the Chelsea vs Middlesbrough match this weekend I found myself jumping out of my seat at what I thought was one of the saves of the season by Victor Valdes on Pedro in the first half of the match only to realize a few seconds later that all was not as it seemed.
In the 28th minute Eden Hazard found himself in space and chipped a ball in behind Middlesbrough’s defense to an onrushing Victor Moses. Moses controlled the ball, surveyed the area around him, and laid a pass back to Pedro, who in turn one-timed a shot destined for the back of the net only to be denied from close range by the large palm of Victor Valdes.
In real time I thought to myself, “Holy shit what a save by Valdes!” and the commentators were equally beside themselves raving about how spectacular the save was. Yet, it was only after I saw the replay that I noticed the save was made much more difficult than it needed to be because of Valdes’ improper positioning and angle play at the near post.
As Moses received the ball from Hazard, Valdes found himself at his near post and in just a matter of milliseconds he needed to evaluate 1) how far away from the goal is Moses? This helps him to determine how far off his line he should be. 2) Will Moses shoot? If so Valdes must be set, ready for the shot and in a position that allows him to cover a shot to the near or far post equally. 3) Will Moses pass? In that case Valdes must judge the destination of the pass and with speed use his footwork to adjust to the destination.
In an ideal world you would have enough time to move across your goal, analyze everything happening in front of you all the while being able to move your head and check your shoulders and your position in the goal. However, that isn’t possible in a game that is moving a million miles an hour. You have to make split second decisions in addition to making these evaluations and it can be easy to get something as basic as your angle play wrong by a step or two, just as Valdes did here.
That’s why repetition and familiarity with your goalmouth are so important. The more experience you gain and the more times you are put through certain situations, you automatically become more self aware of where you are in the goal. In this example, as Valdes is moving from the center of the goal towards the near post, he would locate the near post and the corner of the six-yard box out of his peripheral vision in addition to focusing and always keeping his eyes on the attacker. These little cues help him assess his positioning as quickly as possible and in real time. Valdes is undoubtedly a very experienced goalkeeper and knows this, it just happens that this time he miscalculated.
If Moses had elected to shoot first time towards the far post chances are we would be looking at a certain goal. Luckily for Valdes, Moses elected to pass the ball to Pedro. This allowed Valdes to quickly make up for his positional error with fast footwork by using the side shuffle. Doing this, opposed to the crossover step, Valdes could keep his steps much shorter and quicker while keeping his feet in almost constant contact with the ground.
As Valdes was shuffling he kept his eyes locked on the ball to follow its path and find its final destination. Once he realized that Pedro was going to shoot first time he briefly got set, loaded, and pushed off while extending his top hand skyward to make the athletic save.
In the highlight oriented world we live in, it’s the flashy saves that get noticed, get us off our seat, and that we rave about. I’m guilty of enjoying these myself, I mean come on—extension saves! That being said, it’s important to distinguish the difference between an extension save that is necessary because it’s the only option and an extension save that’s being made to make up for some other miscalculation. This Valdes save is more of the latter.
When looking at a goalkeeper’s angle play the easiest way to judge if the goalkeeper gets his angles correct is to draw two lines from the point of the ball, the first extending towards the near post and the second extending towards the far post of the goal. This allows us to gauge the accuracy of the goalkeeper’s position. If the goalkeeper is in the middle of the imaginary triangle that is created — the two ends that connect to the posts + the goal line itself + the ball — then you know he is in the optimal position and can cover a shot anywhere on target.
Here you can see very clearly that Valdes is overcommitted to his near post and out of position. The blue line is where Valdes’ proper positioning should be.
With Valdes being so far committed at his near post he is making it more difficult for himself to cover the space needed in order to make the save. If Valdes was one or two steps to his right he would have found himself in a more optimal position, not just to save the possible shot from Moses, but to also quickly cover the space needed in order to make a more routine save on Pedro. Had Valdes been in proper positioning from the beginning we probably wouldn’t be talking about this save at all.
The funny thing about goalkeeping is that in reality it is a very simple position with very simple fundamentals — shot stopping, positioning, cross management, footwork, communication and distribution to name a few. In a perfect world when you have very little to do shot stopping wise in a game it’s because you were in great form in your other areas of the position that you didn’t even need to be called into action other than once or twice. It’s only when our fundamentals let us down that chances for the opposition and defensive mistakes start to happen.