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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Breaking down Ivan Toney’s free-kick goal vs Forest: Was Matt Turner’s wall at fault? (Yes)

It’s Saturday evening at the Gtech Community Stadium.

Brentford, trailing 1-0, have just won a free kick in a dangerous position against Nottingham Forest. Forest goalkeeper Matt Turner goes over to his left-hand post, sets his wall, then heads to the other side of the goal. The referee blows his whistle and Brentford’s Ivan Toney — in his first game back after serving an eight-month ban — whips a low, curling effort into the back of the net.

Something about the goal felt strange. But what?

To understand exactly where and why everything went wrong for Turner and Nottingham Forest here, we need to go inside the mind of the goalkeeper and break down their thought process in direct free-kick situations, what they should and shouldn’t do and why, at times, it can be hard to follow your own advice.

Why do goalkeepers build walls?

In a controlled environment, a goalkeeper has two of the most important things they crave when facing a shot: time and a clear sight of the ball to make the save. Additionally, their skill set and natural athletic ability help them cover the furthest outskirts of the goal with only one or two quick steps.

During matches, however, much of that changes. No longer is it just you and the striker; several other variables come into play that the goalkeeper has to consider during a free kick.

In particular, how many players are over the ball, who is going to shoot, how many are needed in the wall and how to position said wall. And don’t forget that goalkeepers have to do all this within a matter of seconds of the referee signalling for a free kick. Get any of these wrong and you’re probably looking at a goal conceded rather than a save. And that’s even before the shot comes — when there are several players (from both your own team and the opposition) obstructing your vision and diverting your attention away from the ball.

Losing just a few fractions of a second of reaction time from inside 25 yards can be catastrophic for the ’keeper, and often determines the outcome of the play. To offset and compensate for many of those variables — and to provide the best chance to make a save — the goalkeeper’s use of a wall becomes incredibly important.

A wall set correctly helps block a portion of the goal (ideally half of the goal, from 18-25 yards away), making the area the keeper has to cover much smaller, and allowing them to focus their attention on a shot to one corner.

(Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

The setting of the wall

Every goalkeeper is different and has different preferences when setting their wall, but it is fairly common to have only one player turned toward you in an attempt to set the wall correctly.

Whether that is the player on the outside of the wall at the first post or the second player can be up for debate, but my personal preference when I played was to use assistance from the player on the outside. I felt that it was easier to get the outside player to move the rest of the players in one direction or the other with a little shove or pull to get the wall set, rather than use the second guy from the outside of the wall, who would be required to move players by doing both.

One thing that isn’t up for debate is that a ‘keeper’s setting of the wall needs to be fast, effective and clear.

Against Brentford, Turner initially went over to the post and signalled for the wall to slide right, which was arguably his biggest mistake. With only a right-footer over the ball, there was really no need or benefit to him sliding the wall across there.

Turner signalling to his wall to move right

If you look at the angle Toney has above, it already appears possible for him to bend the ball around the wall and into the near post. Moving the wall to the right only makes that space for Toney to exploit even bigger. Turner should have moved his wall further left (or right, as Toney looks at it).

The primary job of the wall should be to cover the near post; then it’s the goalkeeper’s job to cover the back post. Sliding the wall over here meant that the opposite essentially happened, while also pushing Turner even further towards his back post in order to get a clear sight of the ball.

A confident and in-command goalkeeper only needs to go over to their post once, set the wall, and trust that the work they did was correct. Communication should come quickly and clearly. It’s invariably an insecure goalkeeper — low on confidence or afraid of making mistakes — who you see going over to their post over and over again to make sure they have got their alignment correct.

Turner can be seen going over to his post several times in the lead-up to Toney’s strike, each time appearing to be unsure of himself and if he got it right.

Here, Turner again checks his post to see if he got his alignment correct

If there had also been a left-footed player over the ball, it would have been understandable to see some confusion or insecurity from Turner, because more possibilities would have been available to the attacking team while also making the goalkeeper unsure of who would shoot. But in this instance, it was clear who was going to take the shot.

As a general rule, while setting your wall the goalkeeper should have one player completely outside the goal in your wall to guard against the attacker bending the ball around it. This can be adjusted depending on the position of the ball, who is shooting, and the distance from the goal.

I always found that when the ball was just wide of the D (as it is in this instance), I was most comfortable having one and a half (sometimes two) players outside the post allowing me to feel even more secure that the wall had the near post covered, allowing me to focus on my responsibility: the far post. I often felt the humiliation of getting things wrong and getting beaten at the near post was enough of a motivation to play it safe. The extra player was my way of doing this.

The goalkeeper typically wants the shooter to strike the ball to the far post because that’s generally where the keeper’s sight is uninterrupted and they have a clear line to the ball for the entirety of its flight.

The additional player at the near post can be the goalkeeper’s way to bait the shooter into thinking that they have more space at the far post to sneak the ball by the goalkeeper, when in reality this is exactly what the goalkeeper wants him to do.

Is anyone else responsible?

Yes, without a doubt. The other players in the Forest wall also need to take responsibility here. They are the ones who should be facing the ball and keeping an eye on Toney.

But it’s clear that there isn’t one single player looking directly forward at Toney for the entire time it takes Turner to set his wall. Every one of the players in the wall at some point is turned around and looking at Turner, wondering if they are positioned correctly, or has their line of vision to Toney/the ball blocked. This shouldn’t be happening. More eyes on Turner means fewer on the ball — and less chance of seeing what Toney was trying to achieve.

This is only a few seconds after Turner initially set the wall. Not one player is looking at the ball, giving Toney and Mads Roerslev a chance to discuss their approach to the free kick.

Below is Toney adjusting the ball for the first time, and again not one single player in the wall is looking at it.

And here is Toney adjusting the ball for the second time.

Again, not one single player looking forward. At each crucial moment, their eyes are focused elsewhere. You can even see Ryan Yates (No 22) and Chris Wood (the player facing Turner) still unsure that the wall has been set correctly.

The goalkeeper only needs one player to be turned toward him to establish contact with the wall and assist in setting it correctly. Any more than that only leads to confusion.

When I was in goal, the player who I wanted to have contact with was the one on the outside of the wall. For Turner, that would be Yates. This is the player who I often trusted the most to help with the setting of the wall and the one who I wanted turned toward me to a) help with the alignment and make sure he was in line with the post and 2) to create face-to-face contact during our communication.

Professional football games are loud and it can be sometimes impossible to understand what your team-mate is saying to you even when they are just a few yards away. Having eye contact helps with the connection between the two players and also allows them to use body language to assist in their communication and dialogue.

Below, you can see several times that Yates is attempting to use body language and signalling to Turner to relay what he expects Toney to do. Yates makes a gesture with his right hand to signal to Turner that Toney is going to whip the ball around the wall and toward the near post. But Turner, unsure or unable to translate what he is saying, puts his hands out to his sides in a signal of confusion.

Only Turner can answer the question as to whether he was aware of what Yates was trying to tell him or not — but to those of us watching on TV, it was about as clear as a signal as possible what he was trying to communicate.

This communication from Yates should have been enough for Turner to adjust his wall accordingly and take the extra cover (the addition of another player outside his first post) to eliminate the option Toney eventually picked. Set the wall, trust your work, and make the shooter try to go up and over.

Moving the wall over as much as Turner did also meant that, rather than being able to take up a more central position in goal, Turner now had to move even further over to the far post to see the ball.

This makes Turner’s original decision to slide his wall over as much as he did even more peculiar. Covering the far post by himself (and not the wall) when facing a right-footed shooter should have been a comfort rather than an insecurity. It should have made Turner’s decision of how to set the wall even clearer.

The final player of note is Callum Hudson-Odoi (No 14). Throughout the entirety of the play, he can be seen standing off to the side with his hands on his hips, uninterested and unaware of what’s developing.

If I’m Turner, I want him as an extra player in the wall, ideally stationed next to Yates once it becomes clear that he isn’t needed elsewhere.

If Brentford had an additional player on the ball it would be understandable to have him in his final position (slightly off the wall) to eliminate a run and simple pass around the wall. However, that never appeared to be on. What inadvertently happens is that Hudson-Odoi’s positioning leaves the space that Toney needs to score.

Hudson-Odoi leaves crucial space between him and the wall for Toney to exploit

As a goalkeeper, you want every one of your defenders to have an assignment and responsibility. When they don’t, players can appear uninterested, unimportant and feel as if their job is already done.

The repositioning of the ball

But what about the fact that Toney moved the ball twice before shooting?

This is a valid point as it plays a role in the outcome of the play. Forest manager Nuno Espirito Santo was perplexed in his post-match press conference as to why the situation wasn’t looked at by VAR.

“Every goal must be checked. Every situation must be checked when it leads to a goal. I do not know if they checked this, but the ball was displaced. You would all agree with me?”

However, Nuno also felt that his players could have responded better — either by blocking the free kick from being taken or by shifting the positioning of the wall.

“We have to be more mature in that situation. You cannot allow the ball to be moved, because it changes the position of the wall. Everyone thinks that it was a mistake, with the positioning of the wall. But it was a clear case of ball displacement. It was not only inches, it was almost a yard,” he said.

“The wall did not move because our players did not realise that (the ball had been moved). That is our responsibility: stay in front of the ball, have a word with the referee.”

The setting of the wall is crucially important for the goalkeeper. Get it correct and the wall becomes an asset to the goalkeeper in a critical moment when the odds can be stacked against them. The last thing the goalkeeper and his team-mates want to do is make things easier for the striker of the ball, which is what happened here.

Had Turner positioned his wall correctly, it would have made the fact that Toney moved the ball irrelevant. He would have had to move the ball an additional yard or two to get the advantage that he was afforded here. And that amount of movement would have been so noticeable that it would almost certainly have been spotted and reversed.

Setting the wall is a collaborative effort, but the responsibility lies with the goalkeeper. This goal was no different.

(Top photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

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