How execution, not intention, failed Jordan Pickford
On Sunday, Dec. 2, Liverpool hosted Everton in the 232nd edition of the Merseyside Derby. With Liverpool aiming to cut Manchester City's lead at the top of the table and Everton looking to close the gap between them and the top five, this was a much talked about and previewed derby match. There was no room for error on both sides.
Unfortunately, Jordan Pickford didn't get the memo.
In the final moments of Sunday's match, with the score tied at 0-0, Liverpool were awarded a free kick near the halfway line. After the ball was cleared out of Everton's box, Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk scuffed a shot that looped towards Pickford's goal. Wanting to flick the ball out of play, the English goalkeeper raised both palms above the crossbar. Unfortunately, his fingertips kept the ball in play, and Divock Origi was there to pounce on the game-winner.
Following the match, there were a number of legitimate questions being asked of Jordan Pickford. Why did he go for the ball? Why didn't he just leave it be? What steps could Pickford have executed better to avoid this situation? In my second GK Analysis for Cloud Sports Football, I hope to answer these questions and provide some insight on why Jordan Pickford attempted to do what he did.
Before we look at how Jordan Pickford erred, I think it's important for us to understand the why behind his actions. Why did Pickford attempt to reach a ball that looked to be going out of play? Did he just lose his mind, or is there a reason he went after it?
The answer is yes, there is a rationale behind why Pickford followed the ball and tried to make contact with it. As he admitted post-game, Pickford tried to flick the ball out of play, but his hand unfortunately hit the crossbar.
One may question why Pickford felt it was necessary to attempt to flick the ball. After all, it looked like it was going to go over the goal, but Pickford's fingers kept the ball in play. The reason is down to standard goalkeeping practice.
When dealing with attempts like the one Pickford was faced with, goalkeepers are always encouraged to interfere by getting a tip on the attempt. This is because it's always better to be safe rather than sorry. This is also the case with dealing with shots we aren't certain will be missing the target. When it comes to fine margins, goalkeepers are discouraged from staying idle and risking a goal.
Sure, this attempt may have looked like it had 70% chance of hitting the backside of the bar and going out of play. But as a goalkeeper, you never want to play with the 30% chance it bounces back onto the field because you could be caught off-guard and cost your team a goal.
Keep in mind that what the TV audience sees is different than what a goalkeeper sees. While we, the TV viewers, may have been certain the scuffed shot was going out of play, in Pickford's eyes, it probably looked a little more threatening. And again, when you, as the goalkeeper, have even a slight doubt regarding the whereabouts of an attempt, you make sure you get something to it.
When you're in goal, you always want to make your decisions with 100 percent certainty. Letting a ball that you're not fully certain about slip by could result in you conceding a goal and looking bad. Therefore, I believe Pickford's intentions were spot-on.
So if his intentions were correct, where did Jordan Pickford go wrong? Looking back at the replay, I think it's down to Pickford's form.
Note how the Englishman approached the ball. He didn't set himself up to tip the attempt properly. When approaching a high ball, the goalkeeper must make sure that their back is not facing the ball or that the ball is not behind them. If any of these are the case, the goalkeeper will find it difficult parrying the ball because they won't be properly balanced and their rebound control will be difficult to manage.
As you can see below, Pickford doesn't follow this rule. Although Pickford does get both of his hands underneath the ball, it's too far behind him for Pickford to actually control it properly. His body shape is awkward and he doesn't get enough power behind his jump to lift enough of his hands over the crossbar. Instead of jumping with his left leg, the leg that's pulling his body in the direction he's moving in, Pickford jumps with his trailing right leg. This doesn't generate enough force for him to lift off and properly parry the ball.
In order to reach the attempt, Pickford should've followed the technique shown below (credit to ARS Goalkeeping).
Notice how the goalkeeper in this video A) lifts off with his right leg, which is the leg that's pulling his body in the direction he's moving in, B) makes sure he's always at least partially facing the ball, and C) parries the ball with one hand instead of two.
In a near-similar situation to Pickford's, all of these factors helped the goalkeeper deal with the attempt better. Jumping with the leg pulling him to his right allows him to get enough power behind his jump to reach the looping ball, keeping the front part of his body facing the ball allows him to get under the shot and not lose focus and control of the attempt, and going with one hand, his trailing left hand, allows to him to get more reach.
Going back to Pickford's quote, you'll notice that the Englishman brought up how his hands hit the crossbar on his execution. While this may sound like a bad excuse, it's actually something that can impact a goalkeeper's chance at saving an attempt.
When the back of your hand hits the crossbar in that position and with the momentum Pickford had, you lose both the shape and control of your hand due to the forces being applied by both your hand and the crossbar. You can see for yourself when you swing your hand at a table or chair (don't harm yourself, please).
This obviously adds difficulty to saving the attempt. When going for a catch, the goalkeeper always wants to make sure their hands are set and ready to absorb the ball. By hitting the crossbar though, their hands lose their form (even if momentarily). Unfortunately, Pickford ran into this problem over the weekend and the result was exactly what would've been expected.
In conclusion, I don't think Pickford can be questioned over why he went for the ball. What Pickford can work on for future cases though, is his execution. By properly going for the ball, he could've avoided a clash with the crossbar and flicked the ball out of play like he intended to.