How the new goal kick rule – changed the game

”In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender.”
– Johan Cruyff

Coming into the 2019-20 season The International Football Association Board (IFAB) had approved several amendments and clarifications to the Laws of the Game with a series of changes; both major and smaller.

For me, the rule change with the highest impact on the dynamics of the game must be the redefined procedure of taking the goal kick; now allowing a teammate to take position and touch the ball inside the penalty area. This can easily be regarded as a preliminary culmination of recent seasons’ evolving job description and responsibilities at the feet of the goalkeeper – starting all the way back when ‘the back-pass rule’ were introduced in 1992.

When the premises of the game are changing it is obvious to take a closer look at teams with the main principle of trying to play out from the back to see how they want to take advantage of the new opportunities that emerges – and as a byproduct seeing how the opponent would try to counter this.

This article will only take a closer look at some of the short variations and the principles behind the goal kick that now are possible because of the new rule.

Adjusting to the new goal kick rule

In the very beginning the new rule was quite open to interpretation and somewhat creative solutions. As seen in the preseason match where AC Milan faced S.L. Benfica – giving flashbacks to scenes from the exceedingly early 90’s. If you do not remember, you can easily find it on YouTube or Twitter. This was however quickly disallowed and once again force teams to find ways of playing the situation.

More space, new angles to attract and stretch the opponent

Antonio Conte and Inter Milan has throughout 2019-20 demonstrated some of the benefits of daring to play out from the back utilizing the new rule. E.g. In the Champions League match against FC Barcelona at Camp Nou where they were surprisingly willing and daring in the attempt to play out and from the goal kick. This bravery almost resulting in two would-have-been-amazing goals.

I Nerazzurri often prefered to set up playing around the opponent’s organization with the consequence of attracting them to one side only to advance diagonally towards the opposite / weak side for the break through.

Starting point: 7v5 near goal area
Drawing in the players covering behind the first line of pressure.
Opening the space inside the FCB organisation
After switching the play: Advantage on the weak side. Making it an easy overload.

Another example and again the solution to the situation created an transition-like attack after attracting the opponent to one side and switching play to the other.

Goal kick followed by exchanging passes within the goal area in a 5v4 senario
Ball ends on one side - opening for a diagonal ball
Next connecting player sprint into open space.
Succesful lay off: New possible overload without direct pressure.

The advancing goalkeeper

I must disallowed admit that FC Barcelona is not one of my “one to watch” teams but having enjoyed the work of Quique Setién in Real Betis (especially in the successful 2017-18 season) I had to watch how he would implement traits of his approach to a squad with the qualities of Barca.

In short, things are looking a bit more interesting – Setién is bringing back some of that old Barcelona flavour with more emphasis on the possession style of play. Following Setiéns appointment there has been required more from goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen when re-starting the game and playing out from the back. A testament to this can be found in a match against Getafe at Camp Nou where ter Stegen had the highest number of completed passes (69) for a goalkeeper in La Liga since 2005.

Not only the frequency of involvement was interesting but also the strategy when taking the goal kick was eye catching. Instead of taking the goal kick ter Stegen had the ball given to him from either of the two center backs, Piqué or Umtiti. From his central position the German were able to find the solutions through the first line of pressure. For me, this was a first time seeing this particular approach to the goal kick.

Starting point: Umtiti giving the ball to ter Stegen.
ter Stegen advancing the ball and finding an open passing line, flat to the feet of the last line
Starting point: Piqué giving the ball to ter Stegen.
ter Stegen releasing the ball after taking pressure - opening a lay off around the pressing player.

Manipulating the structure

With good reason Pep Guardiola is credited for many innovative re-designs of how to position the players in the different phases of the game moments – the goal kick being no exception. Already in the Community Shield match against Liverpool, he opted to place the center backs on each side of the first line of pressure. This required the goalkeeper Claudio Bravo to step away from the goal and play at a more lateral position – creating a “box” with interior lines through Liverpool’s first line of pressing.

This underload in front of the pressure is of course something of a gamble and are seldom opted to go for if the players do not manage to adjust the passing lines when up against a more dynamic pressing style.

Starting point: Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and center back Nicolás Otamendi create a 2:2 structure with center back John Stones and DCM Rodri.
Breaking the pressure: When pressed, Bravo use Otamendi as a detour to get the ball to Rodri.

Center back in halfspace

Following up on the trend of adjusting the positions before the goal kick is taken, some teams are showing the courage of letting their center backs adjust during the build up after the goal kick has been taken.

For a few examples of this I would like to point out a team like Dynamo Dresden from the bottom of the 2. Bundesliga. They have tried to use the goal kick situation to created an overload in the half space by letting their center backs advance into space to recieve the ball behind the first line of pressure. As far as I have seen this was before the head coach was sacked/resigned.

After the goal kick the center back advance behind the pressing player with a wall pass
Percieving the open diagonal space allows the ball to be advanced away from six opponents
Third man solution after the goal kick: Right CB plays left CB in behind
From this advanced position in the half space the CB can connect to an overload

To sum it up

The new rule is a testament to recent years’ illustration of the evolution of the goalkeeper’s job description and obviously requires some training ground work on equipping the whole of the team with the confidence to take advantage of the new possibilities. As Tim Krul has been quoted in The Athletic: “Playing out from the back is such a big thing now for goalkeepers.” and elaberates with “A few years ago it was literally just ‘kick it long and make sure you keep the ball out of the net.’ It’s definitely changed. You’re more of a playmaker now.”

For me, it has been a joyful way of looking at the situation surrounding the goal kick with a pair of fresh eyes. It is inspiring to see the different takes on the new situations that can be created, and it is exciting to see how some positions is being evolved as a byproduct; not only within the team tactics with the ball, goalkeeper and central defenders in particular, but also how the opponent must find new ways to defend against the ball.

With everything being quite new it is certainly easy to find inspiration on different structures and approaches, but the big question is whether the new trend is worth the risk? The answer is (as always) like a double-edged sword.

Adrian Clarke has recently documented the statistics for the current Premier League season. The numbers tell us that teams have better progression of the ball following a shorter goal-kick than rather than from a longer goal-kick. The average distance reached in possession been 49 metres and 38 metres respectively.

However positive this may sound, the shorter goal-kick is correctly “losing” 5-9 across 288 matches in terms of goals scored and conceded after the shorter re-start. And as an aggregate, six more chances have been given away than created. Hence the conclusion that work is needed on the training ground before the risk is turned into reward.

There are so many layers to this, many more than covered in this piece, and I believe we are only just seeing the tip of the iceberg. There will be coaches who wished to stretch the boundaries and there will be coaches who will come up with new ways to counter this relatively flexible build up play. But already now we can take some of the tendencies and statistics to back our decisions of why, how and when we do what we do, in terms of the goal kick and the flow of play that follows.

Nikolaj Hørby Kjeldsen
Head Coach U-17, AaB

What inspired me in 2019/2020 – series
The advancing center back

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