How Jose Sa’s footwork is important to goalkeeping, from cross-step to bounding step

Home » How Jose Sa’s footwork is important to goalkeeping, from cross-step to bounding step

When Rui Patricio left Wolves for Roma in July 2021, he was leaving because the goalkeeper who helped information the workforce to 2 seventh-place finishes and a UEFA Europa League quarterfinal look in three seasons. He had additionally damaged the membership’s single-season clear sheet file twice, and had surpassed 100 Portugal caps whereas in Wolves colors.

Jose Sa, Patricio’s alternative, was becoming a member of Wolves as an uncapped 28-year-old with no expertise within the massive 5 European leagues. He had failed to ascertain himself as a full-time starter within the Portuguese Primeira Liga with Maritimo and Porto; and his solely actual successes had been successful the Primeira Liga in 2018 as an on-again, off-again starter, and successful the Tremendous League Greece in back-to-back seasons in 2020 and 2021.

“I used to be nervous, I used to be apprehensive, and I assumed we had been shedding an actual key spine of the squad,” stated Dan John, co-chairman of the New York Wolves supporters’ membership. “I assumed whoever we received was going to be a step-down.”

However quick ahead almost a 12 months after the 2 strikes had been made official, and John is singing a very completely different tune. “He is exceeded in each aspect; his agility, his domination of the field as properly,” he stated. “He is positively anyone I need to see at Wolves for a protracted, very long time.”

Not solely did Sa achieve changing his Portuguese compatriot, however he completed his debut Premier League season with a few of the greatest stats in Europe’s prime 5 leagues.

In response to fbref.com, he posted the perfect save share within the Premier League this season (79.3%) and saved 9.2 targets above anticipated, the second-most in Europe and probably the most within the Premier League by a 2.5 objective margin. On prime of that, Sa stopped 10.8% of the crosses he confronted in his penalty space (2nd amongst Premier League goalkeepers with 30 or extra appearances) and averaged about 1.1 sweeper actions exterior of the penalty space per 90 minutes (third amongst Premier League goalkeepers).

So how precisely has Sa exceeded expectations this season? One motive is his footwork, and as you may see, what goalkeepers do with their toes is each bit as necessary as how they use their palms.

A step-by-step course of

“You hear in regards to the Premier League [and] the adjustment interval that is often anticipated of goalkeepers, and he hasn’t had any want for that in any respect,” stated Justin Bryant, North Carolina State College’s Director of Goalkeeping.

Sa has been the “excellent” alternative for Patricio, in line with Bryant. His distribution suits Wolves’ tactical method and provides him a leg up on Patricio; he isn’t afraid to take accountability for balls performed into his field; and he is exuded a degree of composure that is given his teammates consolation and confidence in his talents. “His shot-stopping can also be very, excellent,” Bryant added.

The flashy response saves and the Superman-esque diving stops will dominate Sa’s spotlight reels, however spectacular as these saves are, the secret’s his footwork.

“If [the goalkeeper is] making saves, then they’re doing one thing proper with the bottom and the muse, and that’s their footwork,” Bryant stated.

In response to Bryant, footwork can also be about organising your physique in a approach that places you in the perfect place to make a save. “You may’t be caught in the course of a cross-step,” he stated. “You may’t have one foot in entrance of the opposite. You may’t have your weight in your heels or on the entrance of 1 foot [and] on the heel of the opposite foot. There must be a kind of symmetry and group to your physique, and that is what footwork is to me.”

With a purpose to preserve that organisation, goalkeepers will use a wide range of completely different step methods to maintain their our bodies prepared and their frames balanced – the most typical of which being the aforementioned cross-step step, which is used to cowl massive distances shortly; the facet step, which is used for brief to medium distances; and the bounding step, which helps the goalkeeper make minimal changes to their form instantly earlier than a save try.

The cross-step, or the crossover step, is known as so as a result of the goalkeeper crosses one leg over the opposite. Bryant stated this system is commonly used when the goalkeeper has to cowl as a lot floor as potential in as little time as potential.

“I believe for many goalkeepers, it is most likely probably the most naturally fast and quick solution to begin the physique shifting when you might have a variety of floor to cowl,” he stated.

Credit score: @Wolves Twitter

Sa gave a textbook instance of this system’s advantages throughout Wolves’ 3-1 win over Southampton in January.

Mohammed Salisu related on Oriol Romeu’s cross, however thanks to 2 good crossover steps, Sa was in a position to shortly put himself able to cease this try. This ended up being a key save: it saved the hosts up 1-0 late within the first half, and allowed them to enter half-time with a lead and finally win the sport.

Had Sa used a distinct step method, he most likely would not have been in a position to transfer throughout in time to parry this shot away.

Credit score: Wolves YouTube channel

When a goalkeeper has much less floor to cowl, it does not make sense to make use of a crossover step as a result of the goalkeeper might be going to place themselves out of place. Moreover, it would trigger the goalkeeper to grow to be unbalanced as a result of their legs could be in a clumsy place whereas in movement. With out stability, the goalkeeper can have extra bother pushing off into an satisfactory save try — they could battle to get a superb lift-off, leading to a poor dive; or their legs may collapse beneath them, leading to them simply falling backwards.

In these eventualities, a goalkeeper could need to use a side-step as an alternative, the place a goalkeeper strikes one leg at a time to at least one facet. A goalkeeper can nonetheless cowl a good quantity of distance utilizing this system, however will compromise much less of their stability than in the event that they’d used a crossover step.

“When the ball is on the foot of an attacker in a capturing place, the goalkeeper will transfer laterally with it utilizing small shuffle steps with a view to preserve the toes in touch with the bottom as a lot as potential so that they [can react] instantly,” Bryant stated.

Credit score: Leicester Metropolis YouTube Channel

In Wolves’ 3-2 win over Aston Villa earlier this season, Sa used a side-step to cease a harmful scoring probability. Within the twenty seventh minute, Villa’s Danny Ings obtained the ball a few yards away from the sting of Wolves’ six-yard field. As Ings set himself as much as shoot, Sa used just a few small side-steps to maintain his physique in step with the ball and the attacker’s actions. In doing so, he was in a position to readjust his place whereas protecting sq. to the opponent, his weight equally distributed throughout his lateral airplane, and his toes near the bottom.

This helped Sa get in an appropriate place to make a superb drop-step diving save — through which the goalkeeper pulls a leg inwards with a view to drop his physique to the facet of that leg — to his proper facet. Had Sa used a distinct method, resembling a bounding step, he might need moved too slowly and over-exposed the left facet of his objective; or moved too shortly and gotten caught in the course of a crossover step.

Credit score: Wolves YouTube channel

Talking of the bounding step, that is most likely the most typical step method when defending a shot. This method is much less about shifting the physique over medium or lengthy distances (just like the earlier two steps) and extra about getting the physique able to react to a shot. This method helps the goalkeeper make minimal changes to their physique’s set form. It could actually additionally assist load the goalkeeper’s legs for an enormous dive to both facet, in line with Bryant.

The bounding step is often accompanied by an arm swing. This arm swing helps the goalkeeper construct energy into their response and push off right into a dive with as a lot power as potential.

Credit score: Bundesliga YouTube Channel

One good instance of Sa utilizing a bounding step was seen in Wolves’ 2-0 loss to Crystal Palace in March. Palace’s Michael Olise dribbled the ball into Wolves’ field and took a curling shot to Sa’s far submit.

This difficult shot got here at Sa fairly shortly, so he needed to react equally as quick. He did not have the time to take a side-step or crossover step to his proper facet, nor did he want to make use of these steps provided that the shot did not require him to make main changes to his place. So as an alternative, he used the bounding step to make a minimal adjustment to his place to his proper, after which exploded into his aerial dive.

Credit score: Crystal Palace FC YouTube channel

It is necessary to focus on simply how composed Sa appears to be like utilizing all of those completely different methods. He does not appear like he is forcing himself to make use of a crossover step within the Southampton instance. Likewise, he does not seem uncomfortable utilizing a bounding step to arrange his top-handed diving save towards Crystal Palace. That is possible as a result of these methods are second nature to him, drilled into his unconscious after years and years of coaching and match expertise.

In response to Bryant, the intuitiveness of those methods is a key signal of Sa’s good footwork. “After we’re making an attempt to self-organize the physique in these moments of chaos across the objective, it is often in our greatest curiosity to go together with what feels intuitive,” Bryant stated. “The physique kind of is aware of the easiest way that it could possibly do that, and we’re greatest off letting it try this.”

Velocity and measurement

Though Sa has mastered the varied pre-shot step methods famous above, the place he actually lets his footwork shine is in 1-v-1 conditions.

“He is placing himself able the place he is very tough to beat [on 1-v-1s], and it takes nearly the right shot,” Bryant stated.

There are just a few key issues Sa does in 1-v-1 eventualities that assist enhance his probabilities of stopping these attacker-favourable possibilities. Firstly, Sa’s preliminary step in these conditions “could be very fast,” in line with Bryant. “What [looks] like area in behind his final defender that is weak to being attacked, he may shut that down in a short time,” he stated.

“An attacking participant who’s put their head right down to strike a ball would instantly discover this goalkeeper unfold out proper in entrance of him, taking away many of the objective.”

Brentford’s Vitaly Janelt had this precise scenario play out throughout his facet’s 2-0 win over Wolverhampton in September. After receiving the ball within the field, Janelt fired a shot first-time from about 8 or 9 yards out. However his shot was denied by Sa, who had run from a place deep in his six-yard field to the sting of his small field in a matter of steps and seconds.

Not solely did he time his first step properly in order that he was already closing down the angle earlier than Janelt will get right into a capturing movement, however his preliminary steps are massive in order that he can cowl as a lot floor shortly.

Credit score: Brentford FC YouTube Channel

A part of what makes Sa’s velocity intriguing is his body. The Portuguese goalkeeper is 6-foot-4 tall. He is barely taller than the common goalkeeper — and Bryant stated the frequent knowledge is that tall goalkeepers will not be as quick or as agile as their shorter counterparts, like Keylor Navas and Iker Casillas.

“It is thought that they only naturally cowl extra of the objective and might take care of crosses and site visitors … a bit bit higher by advantage of their measurement,” he stated. “So it does shock me a bit bit, and it is why I believe he is discovered himself as one of many prime performers within the league this season.” However Bryant stated velocity is “ineffective” for a goalkeeper if they don’t seem to be in a position to decelerate their physique beneath management. “It does not do you any good to have velocity if you cannot management that velocity,” he stated.

That is why Sa’s deceleration is simply as necessary as his acceleration, in line with Bryant. “We see over and time and again … his skill to take one or two very quick steps ahead with a view to shut the hole between him and the attacking participant … however then decelerate right into a set place the place he is completely balanced,” he stated.

Steadiness is the important thing motive why deceleration is necessary for a goalkeeper to have. When a goalkeeper is in movement — whether or not that is in response to a shot or as a solution to readjust their place — they’re usually in a state of imbalance. With out their weight being equally distributed, they’re extra prone to react in a single path over one other (in the event that they’re leaning in that path) or fail to react in an applicable method (in the event that they’re in the course of a step.) Provided that, a goalkeeper will need to be as balanced as potential as a participant will get into capturing movement — and that features in 1-v-1 eventualities.

That’s simpler stated than carried out, although. “The 6-foot-6 sorts have a bit little bit of a more durable time decelerating again right into a set place,” Bryant stated. “In the event that they’ve began to maneuver quick, they nearly at all times proceed to maneuver.”

Most attackers can use that dedication from the goalkeeper to both shoot the ball early (thus catching them mid-stride, earlier than they unfold their our bodies) or around the goalkeeper. However that is hardly ever the case with Sa. “There isn’t any extra ahead momentum,” Bryant stated. “It is nearly like that is the place he began and there by no means was an enormous quick step to begin it off.”

Credit score: Wolves YouTube channel

Sa’s skill to speed up shortly and decelerate simply as swiftly could be attributed to the completely different sizes of steps he takes in 1-v-1 eventualities.

A part of the rationale why some goalkeepers solely go full-force ahead in 1-v-1s is that they take a variety of massive steps when chopping the angle. There is a profit to massive steps — they assist a goalkeeper cowl a variety of floor in a single stride, and that may be helpful when making an attempt to trace a cross-box go, or when approaching an attacker on a breakaway — however there’s additionally a time and place for it. If a goalkeeper solely takes massive steps, they’re extra prone to get caught mid-step, which might have an effect on their skill to react successfully to a shot coming at them at that second.

“With an enormous ahead step proper because the ball is struck, they will discover it — simply from a biomechanical standpoint — very tough to react laterally in the event that they’re requested to now dive proper or left,” Bryant stated.

That is when small steps can play a much bigger and extra advantageous position — and the place Sa actually excels. “He actually by no means will get himself in that place as a result of his steps are very small. His toes keep very low to the bottom as soon as the ball is able the place it may be struck,” Bryant stated.

Credit score: Wolves YouTube channel

One in all my favorite examples of this got here in a February match towards West Ham United. After a Wolves participant didn’t clear the ball away, West Ham’s Pablo Fornals performed Jarrod Bowen in behind Wolverhampton’s line of defense.

At this level, Bowen had a number of issues he may do with the ball. He had two different open teammates he may’ve squared the ball too for a tap-in; or he may’ve taken the shot. Sa was conscious of this and although Bowen had a transparent path to his objective, the Wolves goalkeeper saved his cool. As a substitute of instantly making an attempt to shut the angle with massive steps ahead, Sa used a number of small steps to creep nearer to Bowen.

Sa’s adjustment was right for just a few causes. Firstly, they made positive his toes had been as near the bottom as usually as potential, that means he was in a superb place to react shortly to a go or a shot. By taking small steps ahead, Sa was additionally in a position to preserve his physique well-balanced throughout his lateral airplane — he wasn’t leaning in the direction of a selected facet. So if Bowen took a shot, Sa would be capable of react successfully to both facet.

Secondly, the small steps allowed Sa to chop the angle, even when it was ever so barely. This manner, the longer Bowen delayed his determination, the nearer Sa may get to Bowen and the larger he would seem.

Lastly, by staying affected person, Sa was in a position to purchase time for a few of his teammates to shut down Bowen and the passing shops. It additionally compelled Bowen to make the selection of what to do, somewhat than forcing a shot or a go out of the West Ham attacker.

Credit score: West Ham United FC YouTube channel

Wanting forward

Sa’s mastery of various footwork methods is a key a part of the Portuguese’s sport — however on the finish of the day, it is nonetheless simply part of Sa’s general high quality.

“Good footwork results in stability [and] good stability results in good dealing with – it is onerous to catch a ball in case you’re leaning backwards or your shoulders are turned counter to your hips,” Bryant stated. “These items are all related. It is all a part of the identical kinetic chain, and it actually all begins from the bottom up, from the toes.”

And whereas there’s at all times room for enchancment, Bryant believes Sa has discovered a formulation that works for him. “He is had such a profitable season — and once more, that is simply his first season. It is not unreasonable to suppose he might be even higher subsequent season,” he stated.

If that occurs, John would not draw back from Sa getting a brand new contract. He stated Sa ought to be within the dialog for the signing of the season, and there is presently no goalkeeper he’d swap him with.

“There are steps up like Alisson and Ederson, however they don’t seem to be a sufficiently big step up that I’d commerce anyone who’s keen to decide to our membership, to need to come right here and to be a part of the venture, [away for],” he stated.

“I am very happy to be [proven] unsuitable after I’m nervous a few participant, and on this case, [I’m] actually, actually blissful I used to be,” he stated.

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