Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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Goalkeeping is a game of split-second decisions. You’re the last line of defence and the smallest mistake is likely to result in the ball finding its way into the back of the net. All aspects of shot-stopping are all about coping under pressure and being ready to make a tough decision in the blink of an eye, but none more so than 1v1 situations.

Breakaways are particularly tough for a goalkeeper due to the sheer number of possibilities that may occur as a result of the attack. Do you rush out to meet the attacker or do you stay back and prepare for the shot? Will the attacker blast it, place it or chip it? Do you stay on your feet and make yourself big or go to ground and try to smother the ball before the shot comes in? Where should I stand to close off as much of the goal as possible? A good goalkeeper, determined to make the save, will be asking themselves questions just like those, all within the few seconds that it takes for the attacker to advance.

There is no place for nerves between the sticks. While it is a good sign that your mind is processing the unfolding attack, the key to winning a 1v1 situation is to do the right thing with that information – a poor goalie will panic, becoming intimidated, make mistakes and ultimately concede a goal, but a good goalkeeper will keep their cool, decide on how best to stop the attack and perform the maneuver with conviction.

There are two key areas when it comes to goalkeeping – the mental side and the physical side of the position. To emerge victorious from a breakaway, you must have the belief and desire to stop the shot, as well as the skills and techniques too.

“I think they’re the most difficult thing for a goalkeeper, but knowing more or less where you need to be can help a great deal. When a striker is through on goal, if you’re well positioned, it’s often far easier to make the save,” former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes explains. “It’s a difficult skill, but hard work and training can make a big difference.”

Valdes’ approach to 1v1s focuses on the physical side of the game, the ability to shape your body and cut off as much access to the net as you can. When approaching breakaways from a physical perspective, it is important to focus on the shape and positioning of your hands and feet, your stance and your place within the penalty area.

The very best goalkeepers will add a mental edge to the physical side of the game in order to take control of the situation. Considering the attacker will help to improve your positioning and timing, and your determined appearance might even intimidate them enough to make them fluff their lines.

“I’ll always try to get as close to the forward as possible – you want to get right into them then stand your ground. That way, you’re pressuring him, making him decide what to do next. Don’t sell yourself or try to guess – wait and react,” Leicester City’s Premier League winning goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel insists.

“They key to being a good keeper is being brave. Don’t bottle it. You’re likely to get hit as a keeper, and it’s going to hurt, so stick yourself in the way, don’t flinch and get ready for the pain.”

Breakaway situations are difficult and should, to an extent, cause alarm. However, knowing how to deal with the problem, both mentally and physically, will put you in a great position to make the save. In a 1v1 situation with an attacker, you know need to make sure that you’re in control and ready to pounce at a moment’s notice. If executed correctly, you will make the save.

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