The Art of Goalkeeping

When playing Football Manager we never really hear about how people utilise goalkeepers on the game. You might see the odd person mention they’ve had their keeper score a couple of goals over the years but for most parts, all we hear about keepers is people saying they ask theirs to distribute it to the defenders. I’d say that is about it for how people detail to use goalkeepers, no-one ever really talks about the other ways you can use the goalkeeper. I’m guessing most people see a goalkeeper and think ‘there’s nothing much I can do with them’. But they can be a great tool. Some of the ways you can utilise them would be;

  • Free kick takers
  • Pin point accurate balls into the channels
  • Starting attacks
  • Putting the opposition on the back foot
  • Playing out of defence

Goal Scoring Keepers

Over the years we’ve seen a lot of goal scoring GoalKeepers in the world of football. Probably the most famous of them all is Rogério Ceni who has scored an incredible total of 131 goals during his 25 year playing career. That is a remarkable feat when you think about it. 69 of the goals were penalties, 61 were free kicks and 1 was from open play.There are also other goalkeepers with good scoring records too but none as impressive as Rogério Ceni, who has scored 64 goals more than his nearest competitor.

In second place we have El Buldog, José Luis Chilavert who scored 67 goals during his 22 year playing career. More people are likely to think of José Luis Chilavert more so than Rogério Ceni due to how flamboyant he was. He is also known for his temper and short fuse, most notably his brawl with Faustino Asprilla in 1997. To say he was a character would be selling him short.

Chilavert scored many important goals over his career and even scored a hattrick back in November 1999 for Vélez Sarsfield against local rivals Ferro Carril Oeste in the Clásico del Oeste.

It wasn’t only domestically that Chilavert scored goals though, he scored a total of 8 International goals, four of them coming in Paraguay’s 2002 World Cup Qualifying campaign.

There have been many more keepers who had an eye for goal too, the top 10 can be seen here;

Without a doubt, people using them as free kick takers or penalty takers seems to be top of the list in Football Manager. That’s the one I’ve seen discussed the most and even then it’s still a small minority of people who have mentioned it in passing. Having them as free kick takers or even penalty takers requires nothing more than specifying them in those respective categories on the set pieces page.

Here are a few examples of them scoring free kicks;

But the goalkeeper can be so much more and can be utilised in many different ways too, let’s take a look at some of the other methods.

Playing Out From The Back

Seeing goalkeepers play out from the back is rather common these days and allows players to create space, as well as keeping possession of the ball. Not only that but it also allows width because players can stay winder than usual when they know the goalkeeper is going to pass it about patiently and build from the back.

There are many different ways to play out from the back though. Goalkeepers can roll or throw the ball outwards, they can kick it in a more direct fashion to the defenders (usually wider players i.e full backs) or they can even bring the ball out themselves.

Here are a few examples of my goalkeeper doing these things in Football Manager 2018;

Playing out from the back can be risky though and isn’t always the safe options. If the opposition are pressing you aggressively high up the pitch, then it can force your players to rush their decision-making and this can force you into making more errors. Your shape, roles, duties and player attributes will determine how likely you are to be forced into these errors though. Ball distribution from the goalkeeper and changing it based on what formation you are playing can have a dramatic impact on how easy you make it for your players.

If you face a two striker system and happen to use a back four, then if you are being pressed you can specify that the keeper distributes the ball to the full backs. This allows your central defenders to not be pressured and stretch the game by avoiding the strikers. Against a one striker system and maybe two wide players like an attacking midfielder left and right, then your spare man would be one of the central defenders in a back four. So you can distribute the ball to the central defenders as two of them should be able to handle the pressure of one striker.

The above also applies to back threes or fives too. You’d use the same principles.

Your typical goalkeeper settings for playing out from the back would look something like this;

I’ve seen people say they play out from the back but that the goalkeeper has a very low passing percentage. If you are one of those people, then you’ve set the goalkeeper up wrong because he should have between 80-95% pass completion. The reason why it fluctuates between these numbers is down to if you change the distribution or not. If not, then it will tend to be the lower end of the 80% mark. This is why my goalkeeper during the seventh season only got 84% completion rate as I never mixed it up. I was being lazy.

But if pushing numbers is your thing then they can get much higher like the season before, when I was mixing it up like discussed above.

It’s slightly fewer games but you can see the difference in percentages across the board in all games.

Sweeper Keepers

If you are unaware of what a sweeper keeper is or how it’s supposed to play then check out this short video from the people over at Tifo;

Jonathon Aspey also wrote about the sweeper keeper on FM18 recently, so I’ll try not go over what he covered and link the article instead;

How to Utilise the Sweeper Keeper Effectively in Football Manager

When Jonathon wrote the above article, he got comments along the lines of ‘my keeper does all of this and he’s a standard keeper’. How a sweeper keeper works on FM  though might not look that much different to a normal goalkeeper on the face of it, as the differences are much more subtle. All keepers can distribute the ball, collect loose balls and start attacks. So it can be hard to see what actually changes or how a sweeper keeper is different to a standard keeper. To figure this out you need to focus on how the keepers distribute the ball, which areas they distribute it to and just how aggressive they are in general.

Some of the comments Jon got for his article on social media were acting like they expected the goalkeeper to play completely different. But that’s not true or how things work. All goalkeepers will do a bit of everything, the different roles available don’t stop the keeper doing stuff or change what he does. Instead the different roles are more about changing how he does stuff.

That’s why for this part of the article I’ll do a little comparison of a sweeper keeper vs a standard one, so we can hopefully pick up on those very subtle changes. The main difference though between the two roles is purely positional play.

We have three duties available for the sweeper keeper role, defend, support and attack.

Defend - I don’t actually see the point of this duty, it’s basically just a normal goalkeeper due to it making the player less cautious. To me that defeats the whole point of a sweeper keeper in the first place.

Support - When using the role on a support duty you should notice the first real subtle change and that is, the player is much more likely to play on the edge of his box and come out of it more often at times. He also looks to do more risky passes which is more likely to see him hit the ball into space or to the front players much earlier.

Attack - The main difference here between an attack duty and a support one is the mentality. On an attack duty, the mentality is much higher as expected. This means the player is slightly more forward thinking, will look to be more proactive than usual. The second difference is his passing range, it’s slightly more towards the direct side of the passing schedule even though the game says its mixed. It’s because the passing is towards the end of the mixed passing scale, which means closer to being direct. The third difference is the keeper will freely move outside of the box with the ball at his feet.

For the standard goalkeeper we only have one duty available and that is a defend one. The mentality used here is much more defensive than the mentality used for the sweeper keepers. This is the main noticeable difference between both roles. What this means in simple terms is he will be less likely to come out of his box and be more cautious overall with his positional play. You can customise what he does with the ball to change that side of things. But the main difference aside from mentality between the two roles are positional and not distribution related.

As you can see they all do a similar thing and aren’t drastically different to each other. You can customise the role to achieve different things to add even more variation if you needed too. You can select a whole host of setting from the type of distribution to the players he distributes the ball to.

One area that the sweeper keeper lacks in though is what he does when your side aren’t in possession. The role still isn’t dynamic enough in these situations and indeed, the role does feel like a standard keeper at times. Ideally the role still needs a lot of work in my opinion but saying that, the game in general needs a big overhaul on how it handles defensive situations for a whole host of roles. But that’s a rant for another day.

Here we can see the keeper who is a sweeper keeper on an attack duty.

He quickly comes off his line and is charging towards the ball to pick up the loose ball and cut out the danger.

Once he picks the ball up he then starts to dribble with the ball at his feet deep into his own half.

He then kicks it long towards the strikers. This kind of positioning is something you’ll see often if you use a sweeper keeper on attack. On the other duties you will still see this kind of behaviour but less often and he might not bring the ball as far out as this. He will be more inclined to release the ball earlier in areas closer to your own box. And if you use a standard keeper then these kind of actions are extremely rare unless it's a dead ball situation.

Back Foot

The above is another example of the sweeper keeper but this time he has some personalised instructions to offer me something different.

The idea behind this is that he hits the ball towards my advanced forward who then knocks it down to either the midfielders, his strike partner or the wing-backs. In this game Boro are quite narrow and have quite a lot of space between their midfield and the defence. So I see this as helping me put them on the back foot instantly and making them defend.

I have the numbers in midfield to offer support and the wing-backs are in acres of space and unmarked. So when this works as planned not only do we put them on the back foot but we also commit numbers forward in support giving us the advantage in numbers. On top of this, we also use the width of the pitch to stretch the Boro defence and cause them all kind of defensive disorganisation. All of this comes from something simple like these type of balls. You can see in the clip just how ragged the Boro midfield and defence is, they’re running all over the place. This then creates space for my players because every one of the Boro players are running back towards the ball and not even marking my players.

There is a downside to this though so it’s a case of weighing up if the risk is worth the reward. When it doesn’t work you give possession away cheaply and needlessly.The goalkeepers passing stats can take a massive hit, especially his completion rate. In the game the example is taken from though, it doesn’t really matter for me as the aim is to make Boro defend early.

If I really wanted I could ask the keeper to distribute the ball quickly, which would see him dribble less into his own half and take less time on the ball. One of the reasons I didn’t do this though was due to the fact that I need my midfield to offer support to the front players. If the keeper distributes the ball even earlier, the chances are they wouldn’t be in a starting place to be able to offer that kind of support. Basically they’d be far too deep in some scenarios which in turn would isolate my strikers.

You can have lots of fun here customising the keeper to distribute the ball to all different players or kind of areas. Another route I go sometimes is against extremely narrow formations, ask the keeper to distribute the ball to the wing-backs who are nearly always unmarked. I also like to do this against sides who press high up the pitch as I can start play out wide and shift it towards the middle later in the move when the midfield have caught up.

I might add to this over time with lots more examples as I have plenty of them. Sadly I don’t have the time currently to collect them all though.

So how do you utilise your keepers?


7 thoughts on “The Art of Goalkeeping”

  1. Hello Cleon, thank you for a nice article.
    It’s fun to see a goalkeeper to score a goal.

    Are you using 5-2-1-2 formation? Then how do you deal with the 2vs1 “overlapping” situations when defending with your wingback?
    And what do you think about high pressing with this formation?

    1. I use a flat 352 as documented in the other parts of the series, which can be found here;

      I don’t worry about what the opposition is/isn’t doing. Instead, I focus on what my side does, what my strengths are and focus on those. I’m not trying to counter the AI or match it. I’m trying to build my own brand of football where the opposition worries about me. If I worry about them and adjust, then I lose some of my own style.

      All of this is explained in the various other articles on the site though 🙂

      1. Are there any special attributes that a sweeper keeper should have ?, I notice in most of the tactical setups you have posted you tend to lean toward a standard goalkeeper. Is there a specific reason for this or does it have more to do with that particular system you are setting up?

        1. I normally change the keeper role quite a bit during a save and switch back and forth all the time. It depends how risky I’m playing overall though. The more risky and high I play, the more useful a SK will be for me.

          As for attributes, speed is probably the attribute I hold the most valuable for how far off their line they come. Then the rest is just stuff I’d look for in a normal keeper. It’s probably the only position I really use the standard default suggested attributes for.

  2. Everytime I have the thought “Hey, I’ve learned everything worth knowing in Football Manager” there’s a new writing from you and I’ve got to go back to school 😉 As always, your article is informative and an inspiration. Surely I will relate to it on my (german) FM-Site.

    Keep on the good work 🙂

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