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GK Analysis: Christian Eriksen’s goal on Samir Handanović

On Tuesday, September 18, Inter Milan’s Samir Handanović conceded a goal to Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen which sparked some debate over his handling of the attempt. After turning aside Eriksen’s initial shot, Handanović saw the rebound bounce back to the Danish international, who then struck a deflected effort over him for the game’s go-ahead goal.

Inter Milan would go on to win the Champions League bout 2-1, thanks to goals from Mauro Icardi and Matías Vecino. But the victory didn’t save Handanovic from criticism. The Slovenian’s save attempt on Eriksen’s shot was questioned well-after the game, with most agreeing that Handanović should’ve done better on the goal.

But, how should Handanović have done better? What are the aspects he could improve on to increase his chances at saving the shot? Is he even at fault for conceding the goal? In my first GK Analysis for Cloud Sports Football, I hope to answer those questions and provide some insight on the factors which did and didn’t work in Handanović’s favour.

The Rebound

A big talking point behind Eriksen’s goal was the rebound Handanović gave up leading up to it. Some have been quick to point out that Handanović redirected the ball back into a dangerous area and gave Eriksen a second chance at scoring. His handling of the attempt has been brought into question, with some viewers suggesting that the goalkeeper should’ve deflected the ball to his right side, away from any incoming danger.

But, while these are good points, I think Handanović’s save is more complex than that.

When looking at the attempt again, Eriksen’s shot looks to just be a little too close to Handanović for him to be able to direct the ball to his side efficiently. Goalkeepers would prefer low shots to be just an inch further away from them because it allows them to extend their body more and get better power behind their dive. A low shot that’s closer to the goalkeeper tends to be tougher to deflect wide.

A similar situation was faced by David De Gea last season. When Alexandre Lacazette got a shot off from 12 yards out, De Gea couldn’t direct it wide because the low attempt was too close to his body and he couldn’t get enough power behind his dive to push it to his sides. Instead, he could only hit the rebound back into the danger area.

Goalkeeping is a game of inches, and that little bit closer to Handanović makes the attempt more difficult to deal with efficiently. Add in the ball’s pace and the subtle bounce it took on its way, and Handanović would’ve needed to time his dive perfectly to deflect the attempt wide.

I also don’t believe the rebound Handanović gave up can be classified as a "bad rebound". Although it went back into the danger zone, Handanović was able to direct the ball away from Harry Kane, Tottenham’s closest attacking threat. Érik Lamela also had to deal with the rebound’s drop and his back facing the goal, meaning a shot was unlikely to come from him. The only player who could’ve struck the ball was Christian Eriksen, who was at the edge of the box. By then, Samir Handanović was already on his feet.

Of course, we as fans and viewers would prefer our goalkeepers parry shots to their sides rather than back into play. It’s in the best interest of everyone. Unfortunately, this can’t always be done. There are some attempts that are just a bit more difficult to deal with, be it because of their bounce or because they’re too close to the ‘keeper to get a good parry on, and I think Eriksen’s initial attempt was one of them.

The Deflection

When I watched the goal for the first time, two things stood out for me. Firstly, it was the deflection that Eriksen’s shot took. I don’t think this deflection should be undersold. It was a significant deflection, and the ball’s speed and trajectory were altered drastically as a result.

After hitting Miranda, Eriksen’s attempt changed from one that was quick, powerful, and moving about straight-on, to deceptively slow and following a more arching path. That’s a big change in motion, and it’s one that would be difficult for any goalkeeper to set for. Keep in mind that this change happened suddenly (Eriksen hit the ball at 52:36 and the shot passed by Handanović at 52:37), so the short time frame made it even more difficult for Handanović to prepare himself in time for the shot.

Some readers may be skeptical over the difficulty of reacting to such a sudden change, but science actually supports the goalkeeper in this case. According to a 2013 study done by vision scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, it takes the brain one-tenth of a second to process something the eyes see; a considerable delay in situations where one must react instantly. To compensate, the brain will actually shift the object forward in the direction that it’s moving, so as to predict where it’s going to be.

You can see how this explains Handanović’s slow reaction to the deflection. The Slovenian had already processed Eriksen’s initial attempt and set himself for it, but then realized tenths of a second later that the ball had massively changed direction, so he had to scramble to set for the change. It’s a very difficult thing for any ‘keeper to adjust too, and scientifically speaking, Handanović had the odds against him at this point.

But, what about the fact that Handanović was already on his feet when the deflection happened? I don’t think it matters in this case because Handanović was already in motion and setting himself for the initial shot before he realized that a deflection had taken place.

Take a look at his body and feet (above). Note that Handanović was still in the process of moving to his left when he noticed that the ball had changed its trajectory, so he quickly adjusted his steps and reacted in the opposite way he was initially going.

As you can see, the deflection caught him off guard, and I think this happened because of the ball’s sudden change in speed and direction, and his own human limit to processing and reacting to new visual information.

The Save Attempt

The second thing which stuck out for me from Eriksen’s goal was Handanović’s save attempt. In my opinion, this is the only thing I would change from how he tried to stop the shot.

If you take a look at the replay (below), you can see that Handanović attempted to slap the ball over the crossbar. His palm is facing upwards and his arm is swinging towards his left; the side that he’s diving away from.

This type of save needs a solid launch (jump) because you’re attempting to fight gravity (as well as any power left from the shot) and push the ball upwards. You can’t do so if you don’t get enough force behind your slap, and that force is generated from your launch. You also need to be close enough to the crossbar to divert the attempt over it, in case you only get a tip on that ball.

As the replay shows though, Handanović had none of these boxes checked.

Handanović didn’t get enough power on his jump (mainly because he was caught off-guard by the deflection and couldn’t set himself properly in time), and he was a good couple of yards away from the crossbar, so a slight tip wouldn’t have done him any good in this situation. It wasn’t the best save attempt he could’ve made, and I think he should’ve attempted to stop the ball through other means.

In fairness to Handanović, this was more of a desperate save attempt and less of a thought-out process with every factor taken into consideration. He obviously didn’t have the same amount of time that I have writing this analysis, and when you’re caught by a deflection like the one he faced, you don’t think of how you’re going to try to save the shot, you just think of saving it.

For future cases though, I think Handanović should try slapping the ball to his right as opposed to his left because his body is generating more force in that direction (he is jumping to his right, after all). I also think he should focus more on directing the ball to his side rather than above the crossbar, as he has a higher chance of hitting it wide in that position. If he really wants to tip it over the bar though, under the same circumstances, a fist would have a better chance at knocking the ball away than a slap (although, I don’t think it would’ve produced a different result here).

But, what do you guys think? Do you agree with my analysis? Or do you think I overlooked a few things/got some stuff wrong? Let me know in the comments!