What Is A Sweeper Keeper? – The Defensive Goalkeeper Explained

In the modern era of football there’s an increasing expectation for Goalkeepers to have “outfield” attributes in their repertoire. In some cases Keepers are encouraged to push higher up the pitch to take on the role of another defender, and to assist the outfield build-up play. This is known as the ‘Sweeper Keeper’.

 

What Exactly Is The Sweeper Keeper?

Simply put, a Sweeper Keeper is a Goalkeeper that becomes an extra defender at points in a game, acting as an eleventh outfield player.

A Sweeper Keeper regularly pushes high up the pitch in order to control the space behind their defence. This involves being in closer proximity to teammates than a ‘typical’ Goalkeeper, taking on a more active role in assisting the team with attacks and maintaining possession.

 

What Characteristics Do Sweeper Keepers Have?

The main characteristics of competent Sweeper Keepers are:

  • Confidence with the ball with at feet
  • Accurate passing and distribution
  • Excellent timing on challenges (e.g. through balls, 1v1s outside the penalty area)
  • Confidence in heading the ball away
  • Sound decision making when it comes to attacking the ball (or holding back)
  • Well-timed interceptions
  • High levels of concentration
  • Bravery (there’s lots of physical duels)

 

What Are The Pros & Cons of The Sweeper Keeper?

The main advantage of the Sweeper Keeper is that it enables teams to keep a high line, with the Goalie patrolling the space behind — usually up to the halfway line.

The idea is that a chipped passes or through-ball made by the opposition will be intercepted by the Goalkeeper before an attacker meets the ball and heads in on goal. Therefore the Sweeper Keeper’s team can focus on more aggressive attacks, rather than holding players back as a safety precaution.

A Sweeper Keeper is used by teams that base their game on build-up play and progression up the pitch, which requires passing options in the midfield. The Keeper not only gives another option, but also enables other players to make forward runs. So it’s no surprise that the role is favoured by Pep Guardiola — who’s teams consistently enjoy a lot of the ball and produce high pressing football. Teams facing Guardiola’s Man City will often try to “sit in” and ride the relentless pressure, often clearing the ball long — but the Sweeper Keeper will be ready to gather loose balls and launch yet another a fresh attack.

The downsides of the Sweeper Keeper are obvious, though.

It’s a huge risk for the Keeper to push high up the pitch, leaving the goal wide open. If the opposition presses the Goalkeeper with through-balls or runs in behind the line of defence, then there’s absolutely no margin for error. If the Goalkeeper isn’t switched on, fast, and accurate in meeting/challenging the ball then the strategy will fail; the Sweeper Keeper will be caught out of position, with wide open space in behind, and a high-pressed defensive line with no hope of getting back in time to help.

 

Examples of Sweeper Keepers

Indeed the Sweeper Keeper has proven to be a double-edged sword for some clubs adopting the role. Claudio Bravo had a torrid time in attempting to fulfil the Sweeper Keeper role with enough consistency at Man City and International level. There were several occasions where he was caught out of position, or failed to make the crisp pass needed from the last man. Here’s one of the compilations, which features some Sweeper Keeper moments to forget!



But there are also success stories for the Sweeper Keeper, of course. Manuel Neuer — widely regarded as one of the world’s best Goalkeepers — is well-known for rushing off his goal line to aid his outfielders. He has consistently demonstrated the ability to play the the ball calmly out from the back, helping to maintain possession and launch counter-attacks.

Neuer is able to read the game extremely well, and has the speed and accuracy to meet loose balls. Furthermore, his passing ability is equal to most onfield players. These are essential traits for fulfilling the role as Sweeper Keeper. Over the years he’s been a joy to watch.


 

Remember that playing as a Sweeper Keeper may not be beneficial unless your team presses high up the pitch and requires an extra player to fill the defensive void, and needs help in the attacking build-up. However, in the modern the game there’s every reason to develop the outfield attributes needed to become a Sweeper Keeper. After all, developing better control of the ball and the ability to help your team play out from the back is incredibly useful for any kind of Goalkeeper. Its these attributes that separate many great Goalkeepers from those that have only fine-tuned “Goalkeeper-specific” qualities — such as shot stopping.

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