Tim Howard vs. Liverpool

I was recently asked what the biggest mistake a young goalkeeper typically commits. Of course there are several bad habits young goalkeepers form in the mid-teen years. Then there is the confidence issue where they are afraid to come off their line or communicate to their team. But I think the biggest one is listening to the wrong people who cannot identify a good save or a bad mistake. Too often a goalkeeper is let off the hook on a goal because it was a "great shot" or it was hit with power when in reality had he been in position or set in time he would have handled it with ease. Hearing these faux compliments builds up a false reality of what a goalkeeper is responsible for.

A common situation that goalkeepers almost always have no responsibility to saving the shot is a 1v1 scenario. People routinely put these on par with penalty kick situations in that if they make the save it was glorious but if they are scored on we usually hear "There's nothing (name) can do on that one!" This is inaccurate. There are several things a goalkeeper can do to make the shooter miss the shot without even touching the ball. This brings us to yesterday's Liverpool-Everton match, where Liverpool won 4-0 (despite only having 39% possession). Howard had a busy day with one goal coming from a corner, three 1v1s, and fouled a shooter in the box for a penalty kick. (The subsequent kick was shot over the crossbar and every American dad yelled "three points!"). Let's take a look at these five situations to see if Howard could he have done better.

 

Early on, Howard has already made a couple of saves and Liverpool is really looking lively. In the twenty-first minute, a corner kick is sent in and is powered home by Steven Gerrard. (Some might remember Gerrard scoring the lone goal for England in the 1-1 tie in 2010, which Howard was also in goal for.)

 

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You can see the small shuffles Howard takes towards the near post. This is good. As the shot is taken, Howard remembers he has a teammate covering the front post and doesn't make the dive, hoping the postman will send it back out. Unfortunately his teammate isn't set in time for the quick redirection.

 

 

 Ball already half way to goal and postman is still in air, making his body frozen in its place and only able to barely move his head over. If he is already planted, he can slide his body behind the shot better.

Ball already half way to goal and postman is still in air, making his body frozen in its place and only able to barely move his head over. If he is already planted, he can slide his body behind the shot better.

Verdict: Not guilty. It's a close range shot and even if Howard dives for it through his teammate he most likely wouldn't get there in time. Although his wide stance doesn't give a lot of confidence that he's ready to dive. It looks more like he's stuck in the ground. Watch as his feet slowly separate throughout the gif.

Liverpool continue to press and Howard is faced with his first 1v1 at the 33 minute mark.

 

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Obviously this is not an ideal situation but Howard does not help himself.

 

His arms are too straight, too far back, and too far above his thighs. His feet are too far apart and as you see on the last frame the ball is not all that far from his body.

Verdict: Could have saved it. If he brings his arms in and doesn't try to save a shot that's head-height with his feet he can deflect that wide.

Not three minutes later Liverpool adds on the hurt with the goal of the day.

 

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The gif might be too blurry to see but the ball actually bounces behind Sturridge. Howard must do a better job of reading the flight of the ball (watch how much he has to bend his run atop the 18). The ball is trailing away from Sturridge and a defender is closing down the area quickly. If Howard drops back, he forces Sturridge to beat him with an even better goal, not simply chip him for an easy one. Or perhaps consider had Sturridge not shot it and laid it off in the middle of the field for Suarez (?). Howard would be toast.

 

Verdict: Should have stayed home. The ball is too far from goal with his team dropping back. If Howard pulls back, Sturridge has to either beat someone on the dribble, pull off an even better shot, or try to look for help from another teammate. All of which sound better than rushing out of the 18.

Five minutes after the break Suarez catches Everton on another 1v1.

 

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Howard's hands are closer to his body here but they're not intended to make a save. Howard is still clearly looking to make a skate save, even if the shot is too far from his feet.

 

Verdict: Could have done better. I'm not saying he should have saved it because this is a tough shot to get down for but he isn't helping himself by only trying to save with his feet. His left hand could drop to make that save. A tough save, yes. Impossible? Far from it.

It's now 4-0 and again Liverpool is pressing forward. In the fifty-fourth minute Sturridge is eyeing a hat trick. He slips past the holey Everton back four and Howard comes screaming out.

 

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The foul looks bad but on second viewing Howard makes minimal contact.

 

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Howard maybe clips Sturridge's left foot as he leaps over Howard but that's about it. Howard actually makes a concerted effort to not accidentally hit him. Doesn't matter. Howard has completely impeded Sturridge from making another touch and a penalty kick is rightly awarded.

 

Verdict: Guilty again. Howard does not need to come out for a tackle here. Sturridge is going to beat Howard to the ball by some distance so Howard must stay on his feet. If Howard stays up and makes himself as big as possible without any gaps in his form he likely makes the save. Instead he overcommits and almost gives up a fifth goal. ("Field goal!")

A goalkeeper must not be one-dimensional in his approach. There is moderation in everything. He can not always collect a cross; he can not always sit back on the line; he can not make every save but he can not make it easier for the shooter.

Featured photo belongs to Sports Mole, seen here: http://www.sportsmole.co.uk/football/liverpool/result/result-liverpool-cruise-to-merseyside-derby-win_133569.html

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