Tactic Talk – The importance of goalkeepers to possession
In the first half of Manchester City’s recent game against Wolverhampton Wanderers, City struggled to retain any semblance of possession. Roberto Mancini elected to field an attacking XI with Johnson, Tevez and Dzeko playing almost as a front three and Yaya Toure pushing on from midfield. The problem they found, however, was that Wolves’ pressing game meant they couldn’t get a platform to build from deep. This led to the four aforementioned players lined up along the Wolves back line and Joe Hart punting long balls towards them, and Wolves comfortably dealt with it. Strong performances from Christophe Berra and Richard Stearman meant that City struggled through the first half. This is evident by the fact that Joe Hart played 16 passes in the first 45 minutes at Eastlands with a success rate of 50%, with all his failures being long balls.
Mancini changed tactics at half time, pushing the team into more of a 4-4-2, which meant that there wasn’t such a division in the team, allowing them to build from the back easier. In the second half, Joe Hart’s distribution improved to 74% with only 5 unsuccessful long balls.
Meanwhile, further west, Pepe Reina – who is renowned for his fantastic distribution – has struggled this season with the spectre of Roy Hodgson’s emphasis on kick and rush football still hanging over Liverpool. Although his statistics are still impressive, his effect on the team has diminished. The quick counter-attacking football generally propelled by Reina’s intelligence which was so prominent during Rafa Benitez’s tenure has become nearly non-existent.
Benitez originally targeted Reina for his defensive abilities as well as his passing. Benitez wanted to operate with a very high defensive line, but a slow centre-back pairing of Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher meant that he needed a goalkeeper who was able to rush out of his goal. Reina’s skills in one-on-one situations as well as being able to intercept long balls over the defence meant he was the perfect fit for Benitez’s tactics.
One of the first prominent usages of the ‘sweeper-keeper’ was by the Dutch national team during their totalvoetbal era, and in particular in the 1974 World Cup. Jan Jongbloed, the FC Amsterdam goalkeeper, was selected instead of favoured choice Jan van Beveren due to his footballing prowess instead of his goalkeeping ability. The Dutch coach, Rinus Michels, emphasised the importance of attacking from deep and dominating possession, meaning that Jongbloed, who was known to race out of goal and join the attack for his club side, was selected as he was able to start attacks.
But now, in the modern game, the importance of the ‘sweeper-keeper’ is especially relevant with many managers influenced by Arrigo Sacchi’s tactical mindset of moving as a unit, meaning that teams are playing with higher defensive lines.
The change in emphasis for Manchester City on the weekend yielded three goals, as well as a host of other chances that were created and this all stemmed from Joe Hart playing simpler balls from the back and letting the players with better passing take the game to Wolves. The importance of a goalkeeper either having the skills to start attacks or the intelligence to give the ball to players lying deep is pivotal to any team looking to dominate their opposition.