One of the hardest and most overlooked aspects of being a Goalkeeper is positioning.
Good positioning is vital for pulling out saves, putting in a defensive clearance, catching a cross/corner, and diving at the feet of opponents. All experienced Goalkeepers instinctively ‘feel’ where they ought to be in any scenario. But even the best GK’s in the world get caught in the wrong position.
So where should Keepers stand during games?
Know Where Your Goal Is
As a Keeper your primary job is to prevent goals. So you must not lose track of where your goal is!
Remembering where your goal is doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. But while you’re facing forward throughout frantic periods of the game it’s surprisingly easy to lose your bearings. It’s common for Keepers to shift a meter (or more) in one direction without realising. Unfortunately that creates more than enough of a gap for the opposition to aim at.
Stay alert. Use the penalty spot as the marker for the middle of your goal and glace at it regularly. And if the spot is too faded or muddy, then mark out a straight line on the pitch with your studs. When it’s safe to do so, look over your shoulders to verify your position.
Side-to-side positioning is easy to learn using a simple rule of thumb:
The following video introduces the principle of lining up the ball with the center of the goal.
This later part of this video demonstration touches on the importance of coming off your line in order to “close the angle”. We’ll get onto that later.
Forward & Backward Positioning
Learning precisely when to push forwards/backwards from your position, how far to go, and at what speed, cannot be explained with a few simple rules of thumb. Every situation is different, and requires sound judgement from the goalkeeper. This comes with experience.
However, as a starting point, consider where the ball lies within the three regions of the football pitch.
1. Opponent’s Third
If your team is on the attack, you can safely push forward in order to become (a) an outfield option if the pressure slows, or (b) a “sweeper Keeper” if the ball breaks.
Most keepers will stand outside of their box in this situation, no further than the mid-point between the penalty area and the centre spot (to avoid any serious back-peddling).
While the play takes place in the middle of the pitch there’s little threat of a dangerous shot at goal. There is however a more serious threat of a through-ball being played into your box, or just outside of it.
So you need to be prepared for that situation by standing anywhere from the edge of the six yard box (at least) to the edge of the penalty area. A mistake among young Goalkeepers is to remain overly cautious, rooted to the goal line — which is too deep.
3. Your Third
If an an attack is taking place in your third, you must constantly adjust your position to reduce how much of the goal the opposition has to aim at. This is what we refer to as “narrowing the angle” — which is the primary focus in goalkeepers’ positional training.
Goalkeepers usually stand anywhere from the goal line to half way up the penalty area, depending on how close and imminent the threat is.
Later in this post I take a closer look at how Keepers can practice calibrating their position during dangerous attacks.
There are several ‘unique’ situations where Keepers must push forward & backwards from their starting position in response to threats:
- The high ball. Dealing with high balls — such as corners and crosses — means rushing forward from your line. This can leave your team exposed if you misjudge the flight of the ball, or start from a poor position. Read my Goalkeeper’s High Ball & Corners Guide for positioning tips.
- 1v1 situations. In a 1v1 you need to push up off your line to narrow the angle so that the opposing striker has less of the goal to aim at. Learn more about Goalkeeper 1v1 Situations.
- Back-passes. Defenders will inevitably play imperfect balls back to their Keeper. Therefore you must be prepared to push out to meet the ball — while adjusting your feet accordingly — to clear the danger. Check out my Goalkeeper Distribution Tips.
Note that in these situations the GK has to to break standard protocol. In other words: do whatever it takes to reduce the threat.
Narrowing The Angle
You’ll often hear football coaches, pundits and even fans talk about Goalkeepers and their “angles”. For example, if a shot slips in at the near post you might hear words to the effect of “the keeper has got his angles all wrong”.
Getting your angles right is vital for improving your chances of making saves. And once you understand the logic behind “closing the angle”, it’s a lot easier to put it into practice.
Check out the following short video by Progressive Goalkeeping. It perfectly illustrates the role of the Keeper’s position in narrowing angles and reducing threats from in and around the penalty area.
Positional skill doesn’t come overnight; it comes with game time and regular goalkeeper training.
Take a look at ProGK’s training drills for “Angles & Shot Stopping” for inspiration. Note how the Goalkeepers maintain a set position directly in line with the centre of the goal, and stand far forward enough to reduce the amount of space strikers have to aim at. As the ball is passed, or rebounds out, the Keepers adjust their positions accordingly using quick footwork.
Limitations of Positioning
Keep in mind that good positioning will not eliminate every goal.
For instance, being correctly positioned significantly reduces your chances of being chipped — but it doesn’t entirely eradicate it. There’s times where you have no choice but to rush out to narrow the angle. And if the striker manages to pull off an impossible lob… well, that’s just unfortunate.
As a GK, you can only do your utmost to prevent goals against you.
The Value Of Good Positioning (Recap)
Goalkeeper positioning is difficult to master; there’s no substitute for regular practice and game time. However, there are basic guidelines for side-to-side and forward/backwards movements to keep in the back of your mind.
As you gain more positional experience you’ll increasingly find yourself in “the right place at the right time”. As a result, you won’t need to constantly produce heroics to prevent goals; correct positioning saves you the hassle. And that’s, ironically, why many great Goalkeepers will never get the recognition they deserve.
But remember that a goal prevented is a lot more valuable to your team than a Hollywood-style dive that wasn’t necessary in the first place. So give positioning the focus it deserves.