The FA Cup Third Round Brings January Goalkeeping Blues

By Sam Hudspith

News • Jan 9, 2023

The FA Cup Third Round Brings January Goalkeeping Blues
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Several high profile errors left red faces between the sticks at the weekend. What can we learn from them?

This last weekend was a tough one for top flight goalkeepers. 

The January blues hit us all, and the yearly return of the FA Cup is one item on every football fan's calendar that makes the month a little bit brighter. The minnows against the massive; the non-league upsets; the chance to give the young guns a run out, and a test of every Premier League team's character when a lesser name arrives to give the big boys a run for their money.

This year's third round saw its own fair share of upsets. Disney poster boys Wrexham dumped Championship side Coventry out with Your's, Mine, Away! Podcast Host Mark Howard between the sticks. Chesterfield held West Brom to a 3-3 draw, Sheffield Wednesday knocked Newcastle United out in a 2-1 victory at Hillsborough (Martin Dubravka, returning from Manchester United, started that fixture), and Stevenage - currently second in League Two - sent Aston Villa out at the third round stage, in front of their home faithful.

It was Old Trafford, Anfield, and Selhurst Park, however, that caught the attention for goalkeeper analysts. David De Gea kicked the weekend off with a rather bizarre error against Everton on the Friday night, before Saturday saw Vincente Guaita dispossessed by Adam Armstrong, who sent Southampton through. It was at Anfield where Saturday's action culminated; the opening event of note an uncharacteristic error on the ball from Alisson that allowed Goncalo Guedes to tap into an empty net. 

The unfortunate trio won't need to be reminded of their third round errors - and it was only in the Crystal Palace match where the mistake played a part in defeat - but we, as goalkeepers can learn from them. 

De Gea Holds On A Little Too Long

Fans, pundits, and analysts were left wondering exactly what happened when the ball squirmed through David De Gea's legs for Everton's only goal at Old Trafford.

Neil Maupay had managed to keep the ball in play as it threatened to run out of play on De Gea's left hand side. Stretching, Maupay hooked the ball straight towards the Spaniard's feet at his near post. De Gea couldn't sort out his feet, semi-froze, and the ball weaselled through his legs for Conor Coady to equalise.
 

Goalkeeper-xG's Dr John Harrison quickly pointed to De Gea's awkward set stance. United's number one was glued to his near post, with his left arm holding it. His stance was fairly upright, relaxed from the lower set position he had occupied as Amadou Onana turned into the box before playing Maupay in. 

As Dr Harrison notes in the below thread, this action made the set unnatural. Whilst it may be understandable from a psychological perspective (to reassure De Gea of his position relative to the goal), it is a poor habit that serves little purpose. It also reduces the amount of body available to defend the goal; two hands free is better than one. 

Given the range Maupay delivered from, De Gea should arguably also have retained the lower set position, allowing him to react more effectively to both a high or low shot, and defend at least the first third of the goal from the cutback-cross. 

The relaxation of this initial set could be attributed to the mere fact that - like many - De Gea expected the ball to run out of play. Whilst this analysis might seem simplistic, De Gea seemed to premeditate the next action, momentarily mentally preparing to gather the ball for a goal kick. In other words, he was simply caught by surprise, and couldn't react in time. 

Earlier that same day, United had confirmed the arrival of Jack Butland on loan from Crystal Palace. Erik ten Hag has been keen to reiterate that De Gea was the Red Devils' number one, despite the Englishman's arrival. 

Alisson sees Orange 

A mistake from Alisson Becker is a rarity, but even more so when it's an on-the-ball error. The Brazilian's ballplaying ability has been a deadly weapon in Liverpool's gegenpressing system over the last few seasons, but - although at no detriment to the many positives it has brought to Liverpool's game - it was in possession that Alisson was caught out against Wolves. 

In what was one of the first major actions of the tie, play had half-paused as Jimenez was went down under pressure from Thiago on the edge of the penalty box. The ball rolled through to Alisson who took a touch, momentarily scanning for options. As Alisson takes his touch, to-be goalscorer Goncalo Guedes glances at the referee before reengaging in play, realising the man in the middle has allowed the game to continue.
 

Alisson seems to panic. He quickly looks up, and with conviction, seems to try to play around Guedes and out to Jordan Henderson on the right. The angle is simply too narrow. 

Alisson's touch is taken centrally, but he opens his body up to the right to direct play wide. He has no options to his left - Andy Robertson cut off by Adama Traore on that flank. You can spot the moment he realises that Guedes is closing in, as Alisson speeds up his movement to pass out wide. By the time Guedes blocks the angle, Alisson has already committed to the pass. 

These are the pitfalls of playing the passing game for goalkeepers. Sometimes, the brain fog rolls in and the long ball never looked so fashionable, in hindsight. 

Guaita gifts Jones a second Southampton win 

It's been a tough start to life on the south coast for new Southampton manager Nathan Jones. In only his second role away from Luton Town - where, it should be noted, he was an immense success - Jones has struggled to galvanise a Southampton side struggling at the foot of the Premier League.

Sometimes, all you need is a little bit of luck. And that luck came through an unfortunate moment for Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vincente Guaita. 

The Palace number one's mistake is a fairly simple one to analyse; Guaita's touch led him into trouble. Calls for Guaita to play the long ball on his first touch aren't unwarranted - it would have been the safest option - but given the Spaniard has the confidence to play out, there would have been enough time to play into Will Hughes in midfield with a better touch. 

Admittedly, the pass back to Guaita was a little short. It required the goalkeeper to come and meet the ball, doing so with his body facing back out to the right where the ball came in from. This is the reason he can't turn out and switch the play to the opposing flank. Had the pass back had more pace on it, and Guaita could have met the ball deeper in the half, he would have had more time to open his body and find Marc Guehi to his left. 

Adam Armstrong's pressing was admirable, and his pace put Guaita under pressure. Nonetheless, the Spaniard likely won't look back on Saturday afternoon with much fondness over his role in Southampton's winner. 


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