Diving at the feet of attackers in a 1v1 situation is the area of goalkeeping that separates the brave from the faint-hearted. Against all odds, keepers need to be fully prepared to put their body on the line in order to prevent goals.
Stealing the ball away from attackers requires determination, excellent timing, good decision making, strength, patience — and an element of madness! There’s also so many different scenarios and variables to consider.
Diving at feet is undoubtedly one of the most skilled areas of goalkeeping. Here’s how to maximise your success in those tricky 1v1 situations.
Basic Goalkeeper 1v1 Skills
1. Read the Game
You have to sense the potential danger of a looming 1v1 situation, and rapidly respond to it.
Remember that spectacular saves are made when there’s no other option. Some of the greatest goalkeepers rarely need to pull out those stunts, because they prevent so many big chances before they even happen.
If you’re set and ready to act whenever a through-ball is overplayed, or it slips out of the attacker’s control, you stand a better chance of making an interception (or at least nuisance of yourself). You can’t afford to react slowly to a situation where attackers already have the upper hand.
When you’re out of the action, read the game and constantly re-position yourself. Anticipate what’s going to happen next. Stay alert.
2. Close The Angle
One of the fundamentals of a 1v1 situation is coming out towards the ball and “closing the angle”. By blocking the attacker’s view they see less of the goal and have a much smaller area either side of you to shoot at.
When closing the angle be conscious of your bearings. Make sure you’re always covering the goal.
3. Make Yourself Big
Keep your knees slightly bent, shift your weight forward and make yourself wide. Stay in the set position, poised to change direction upon any move the attacker makes.
Avoid making yourself appear small and compact. On the contrary, you want to make yourself appear big and intimidating, showing as little of the goal as possible without compromising your agility.
Just imagine you’re trying to fend off a predator; the attacker in this case!
4. Remain Focused and on Your Toes
Rushing out in an attempt to beat the attacker to the ball is not always a valid option. Assess each 1v1 duel on an individual basis. Don’t be too hasty.
Approach the attacker and remain on your toes in the set position as he/she tries to execute their next move. What’s the attacker going to attempt?…
… a shot on goal? A chip over your head?
… dribble the ball round you?
… a pass to a supporting team mate?
… entice you to go to ground, or dive in?
There’s so many possibilities. You have to remain focused on the ball, ready to react to any move. It becomes a game of chess between you and the attacker — and you have to be smarter to win.
5. React to the Play
Remember that in a 1v1 situation the ball is not in your court. Literally, it’s not.
So you have to react to the play. Be patient to wait for the opportune moment to:
- Make the save, if you’ve anticipated the shot.
- Dive at feet to pounce on the attacker’s loose touch.
- Create a long barrier with your body to block an attempt at goal.
- Get a firm, hard strike on the ball with your hand to disrupt the play.
- Scramble the ball clear with your hands or feet if the situation calls for it.
Diving at feet isn’t always neat and tidy. 1v1’s are unpredictable, and therefore require unorthodox methods at times.
Reacting to Various 1v1 Situations
1. Winning The 50/50 Ball
There are 1v1 situations known as “50/50 balls” where you stand an (approximately) equal chance of beating the attacker to the loose ball. The aim is to rush out, win it, and eliminate any further threat.
Usually this approach works best when a pass or through-ball has some pace on it, and the attacker is attempting to run onto it. Keepers have the advantage of having fresher legs. So there’s every reason to challenge for this ball.
Bare in mind that the 50/50 can occur outside of the box where you’ll need to kick — or even slide — the ball out to safety just like a defender would. Inside the box, you’d dive at feet in order to take the ball safely in your grasp.
Positioning and alertness is the key to winning the majority of 50/50 balls. Manuel Neuer takes it to the extreme, though…
2. Jockeying the Dribbling Attacker
Much like your defenders who jockey (or “contain”) the opposition, goalkeepers have to do it as well. You’d choose to jockey when the attacker has control of the ball and committing yourself would be foolish.
Here’s why jockeying an attacker, rather than attempting to win the ball right away, is so vitally important:
- It enables you to stall the attacker long enough for your team to get back.
- Attackers have a restricted view of the goal, as you’ve closed down the angle.
- You’re too close to the ball for a chip shot to work.
- You force a mistake from the striker including:
- Bad touches
- Dribbling too far wide
- Panicked shots
While you jockey the attacker you have to decide when to commit to a dive at feet. See #3.
3. Pouncing When an Attacker Takes a Bad Touch
This is the moment you need to look out for in any 1v1 situation. If the attacker takes a bad touch or dribbles the ball away from their body as they try to change direction — that’s your cue to dive at feet.
Remember that you can use your whole body to make the save. So the odds of winning the ball shifts in your favour once the attacker loses control. Joe Hart demonstrates how to smother the ball as the attacker dribbles towards goal in a 1v1 situation.
3. Deploying the Long Barrier Technique
The previous video touched on the “long barrier” technique, which is vital in cases where you have to commit to a close-range save during a 1v1 situation.
The long barrier technique is executed by collapsing one leg towards the standing leg, and straightening out the standing leg, creating two barriers with both legs. By simultaneously spreading your arms and hands you create more obstacles for the ball to hit.
The long barrier is used when the shot is about to be struck and you have no choice but to put your body on the line in order to maximise the chance of defecting the ball.
4. Preparing for a Quick Shot
Plenty of strikers will avoid entering a 1v1 duel if they think it’ll improve the keeper’s chances of making a save.
Striker Jermain Defoe speaks of his shooting technique where he aims to reduce back-lift, or wait for the keeper to commit to a save in order to catch them off-guard. And these are things you have to be aware of as a goalkeeper.
On some occasions you’ll have to halt your run and stay set in order to make a regular save. You need to decide whether continuing to rush to the ball improves your chances of making the save, or if staying put and getting set is the optimal approach.
Deciding when to stop your run is indeed a complicated aspect of 1v1 situations. You can improve your decision making by carefully watching the attackers feet, and assessing their level of intensity. Low intensity and light feet usually means they’ll continue their dribble, opening up the 1v1 duel.
5. Optimising Your Timing & Positioning
There’s so many 1v1 saves that come from excellently timed runs. The ability to position yourself in the right place at the right time should not be underestimated.
Take a look at this excellent compilation from GKShowcase. Many of these heroic 1v1 saves were made using the long barrier technique. But half the job was anticipating the play, and being right in front of the attacker at the precise moment he had to shoot.
10 Common 1v1 Mistakes & How To Avoid Them
1. Rushing Out Unnecessarily
If you rush out for a 1v1 and fail to get to the ball then you give the striker the opportunity to lob you, easily take the ball round you, or shoot whilst you’re still rushing forward.
What to do:
- Always read the game and optimise your positioning.
- Hold your run if you’re not realistically able to get to the ball before an attacker.
- Remember that if the attacker has the ball at his feet then you have to respond to their next move.
2. Not Narrowing the Angle
If you fail to narrow the angle, you leave more of the goal for the striker to aim at.
What to do:
- Correct your starting position to ensure you’re not caught inbetween the attacker and the goal in “no man’s land”.
- Be aware of your bearings in relation to the goal. You have to block it at all times.
- Time your run so that you pressure the attacker and force them to make a move (rewatch the last video for good examples).
3. Going to Ground too Early
Going to ground is the striker’s a cue to chip the keeper, or dribble it around the side for a shot at the open goal.
What to do:
- Avoid sliding in on the ground unless you’ve made the decision to go for a 50/50 ball that’s yours to win.
- Be patient when the attacker is dribbling at you: commit to diving at feet the moment the attacker loses control. Don’t guess.
- Keep focused on the ball and watch out for fake shots and dummies.
4. Not Making Yourself Big Enough
Without making yourself big you show attackers too much of the goal.
What to do:
- Spread yourself wide. Make yourself intimidating.
- Focus on being strong and big, not strong and compact.
5. Leaning Backwards
By leaning backwards you’re less agile and stable. You’re also more likely to parry a dive at feet behind you and into danger, rather than in front, in the opposite direction to the goal.
What to do:
- Lean forwards with your knees slightly bent. You need to be in a position to attack the ball.
- Remember that bravery will be your saviour. If you try to shy away from the action by leaning back, then you’re more likely to take the knock rather than give it!
6. Bad Starting Position
If you’re positioned too deep (or even far forward) when the 1v1 situation occurs, then you reduce the chance you have to attack the ball or put pressure on the striker.
What to do:
- Stay alert at all times. Concentrate on the game when the ball is up the other end of the pitch. It’s a vital part of goalkeeping.
- Study where you should be stood in different stages of the game (I’ll be covering this topic very soon).
7. Being Caught Out By the Early Shot
Some strikers (like Jermain Defoe) will try to catch the keeper out with an early shot without engaging in the 1v1 duel.
What to do:
- Time your run so that you’re blocking the goal at the point the striker will attempt a shot.
- Watch the strikers feet. They’ll often let the ball roll a little so they can withdraw their leg for the distance shot. See it when it happens.
- Concentrate on the attacker’s move, Be prepared to halt your run and get set for the shot.
- Be aware of quick toe pokes. While the technique is looked down on they’re very hard to deal with as the ‘poke’ will often occur before the attacker has shown any obvious intention to shoot.
8. Not Diving through the Ball
The opposite of halting your run is continuing it, and diving through the ball. But if you hesitate you’re more likely to get hurt.
What to do:
- Be brave. Build your confidence in training exercises. Understand that you can use your whole body to smother the ball, while attackers only have their feet.
- Become dominant. Show strength and power. Travel through it as you make the save, and keep hold of it if you can.
- Give 100%. Half-hearted dives at feet will only increase the chances of you picking up an injury. Go whole-heartedly, and attackers will almost always get out of the way to protect themselves. Attack the ball without any question that its yours.
9. Snatching at a Controlled Ball
Diving at feet is like a game of poker — you don’t want to show your hand to your opponents. Snatching at a controlled ball leaves keepers open to going to ground too early, or having the ball knocked past them. In some cases it’s more effective to old off the attacker than to naively commit.
What to do:
- Learn to be patient with your dives at feet. You’re looking for the opportunity to arise — then you snap it up.
- React to the actions of the attacker during the 1v1 and make your best move.
- Remember that being a nuisance to the attacker without committing to a dive is still preventing the shot on goal. Goalkeeping is all about handling the ball.
10. Failing To Adapt to The Situation
Don’t be too frightened to break the mould and do something unorthodox in a 1v1 situation. If the situation gets sticky then you’ll have to do whatever it takes to keep the ball out of the goal.
What to do:
- Be instinctive. 1v1’s are the area of goalkeeping where you’ll be praised for thinking on your feet and using an unorthodox method (provided it worked!). Do whatever it takes to get the ball to safety.
- Use your feet if need be. There’s times where you’ll enter a tussle with an opponent and only option might be to break up the play as quickly as possible, kicking the ball out to safety (or getting a ‘nick’ on it).
- Recover quickly. If you make a mistake (e.g. going to ground too early), you have to stay determined. Get up immediately and try to narrow the angle down a second time. Some brilliant recovery saves are made by keepers gambling on a “dead certain goal”, with the odds stacked against them.
Take this triple save by Heurelho Gomes as a perfect example of “doing what it takes”. Note how he rushed out to shut down the second strike (feet first!), doing everything he could in that split moment. He got a touch, but it wasn’t enough. But he didn’t give up, and rushed back into the goal to make the brilliant third save.
I’ve covered a lot about diving at feet and dealing with 1v1’s as a goalkeeper. I could keep on going — there’s so many different scenarios to analyse. Anyhow, I hope you’ve taken something away from this article, if you made it this far!