Goalkeepers in the build-up – a new meaning to the ‘Sweeper Keeper’

Embed from Getty Images

The role of the goalkeeper continues to evolve in the modern game, with keepers becoming better with their feet by the year. Not only are goalkeepers now a crucial part of their team’s build-up structures, but they’re coming higher and higher out of their penalty areas to contribute. We recently discussed how Robert Sanchez often joins the Brighton defense as an auxiliary centre-back when the Seagulls play out from the back. But Sanchez is not alone in the art. The likes of Alisson, Ederson and Manuel Neuer all perform a similar function for their teams, adding another number by which their team can shift the ball around and make the opposition sweat. But why exactly is this happening and what are the advantages? Let’s explore.


Embed from Getty Images

At the 2014 World Cup, Manuel Neuer attracted much in the way of attention for his ability to sweep in behind Germany’s high line and clean up messes in behind. He was quickly dubbed a “sweeper keeper” for his role, highlighting his transcendence from the average keeper tasked with making saves, to one who does so much more. But in the past few seasons, we’ve seen a whole new meaning to the term “sweeper keeper”, as goalkeepers are starting to become libero’s, tasked with helping their team create swift attacks from the build-up. There is no player better at the art than Ederson Moraes, who has the vision, accuracy and range of a midfielder (which makes sense given that he played as a midfielder in his youth). In Manchester City’s recent 2-1 victory over Arsenal, Ederson stepped far outside of his penalty area to play alongside Aymeric Laporte, as Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias stretched the field wide. This gave City another number to play out from the back, which would have been even more imperative had Arsenal suddenly ramped up their press.

In addition to just being another number, it offered City the advantage of having one of their best distributors in a better position to distribute. This seems like logical sense, but given that Ederson is a goalkeeper, it’s incredibly radical thinking. The result? The tactic worked like a charm. Ederson was intelligent with his long passes forward, adeptly spraying fast balls into half spaces for players to chest down. This allowed City to quickly advance up the field, breaking Arsenal’s high-block in the blink of an eye. He could do the exact same thing on goal kicks as Arsenal set up to press high, and in fact, it was he who made the picture-perfect pass into Gabriel Jesus’ chest seconds before Arsenal’s Gabriel barged into the Brazilian and got himself sent off.

Embed from Getty Images

By the same token, Brighton use Robert Sanchez to achieve positive results in their build-up. As Adam Lallana receives with his back to pressure in the image below, he still has many options. He could go into the middle centre-back, but that area of the field is slightly congested. Instead, the best option is to play in his goalkeeper, who has acres of space ahead of him.

By doing this and creating an extra number, Brighton pose a problem that becomes very difficult to solve. Each team has 10 outfield players, who if they want, can go man-for-man on their opposition. But in the examples we present of Manchester City and Brighton, suddenly there’s an extra player who simply cannot be marked without leaving another player unmarked. Simultaneously, the goalkeeper’s teammates can stretch the field and the opposition all the more, knowing that there’s now an additional body to spray passes around and switch play from a central position. This makes for a more efficient build-up process, allowing a team greater advantages in both wide and central areas as they pass the ball around. As goalkeepers become better with the ball year after year, this tactic may begin to take off in the years to come.


Now that we’ve dissected the advantages to this approach, we’d be remised to not mention that there could be some pitfalls if things were to go horribly awry. If say the goalkeeper in the image above accidentally played his next pass into the closest red attacker, he’d be out of position and done like dinner. Taking a goalkeeper away from the goal is a dangerous approach, and means they have to back-peddle a great distance if their team lose the ball in a disadvantageous area of the field. This is the one major downside to an otherwise foolproof tactical plan. So what does this mean? Well, only teams who are exceptional at playing out from the back (e.g. Liverpool, Manchester City, Brighton and Bayern), can successfully adopt this approach and get away with it. Without the right players, beyond just the goalkeeper, this could go horribly wrong. Luckily, we haven’t seen that happen yet, and clubs like City and Brighton are only reaping the rewards of this approach.


Embed from Getty Images

The role of the goalkeeper continues to evolve with each and every passing year, with the modern keeper becoming more involved in a team’s build-up structures than ever before. This past year, we’ve seen a change in how goalkeepers help in that process, as the likes of Ederson and Sanchez join their defensive line as another number to facilitate build-up. A brilliant tactic that puts a stellar distributor in a stellar position to distribute, things could go horribly wrong if this is done incorrectly. For now, we have to praise the likes of Ederson and Sanchez for their unique role, all part of the evolution of the modern day goalkeeper.

So there it is! A discussion about how adding goalkeepers to the build-up has given a whole new meaning to the term ‘sweeper keeper’. Be sure to check out more of our tactical analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite using the links below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

Understanding ball, opposition, teammates and space

Nothing can exist in football without perceptions of ball, opposition, teammates and space (BOTS for short if you want!). While there may never be one unequivocally correct answer to any given footballing problem, players can more adequately assess for decision making through muscle memory, experience, automatisms, sheer intelligence, and studying the tips in this article. But those same players, analysts and coaches must also recognize the deeply-rooted tandem bike quadracycle nature of the four elements of the game, and how they all co-exist to work in harmony.

Canadian Premier League – Player Ratings

After the first week of action in the 2022 Canadian Premier League season, we have officially launched our brand new Player Evaluation System. The details of this can be found in this article – Evaluating players based on role continuity, and we have already begun the process of identifying roles for specific players that may have stood out on the day. Here are how the players of the Canadian Premier League currently rank based on our brand new model.

The difference between seeing and understanding in analysis

When it comes to analysis, it’s no secret that the goal is to think on a deeper level, scrutinizing over the finer minutia beyond what you see at first glance. But it’s also no secret that this skill takes dedicated time and energy to learn. A lack of deep tactical understanding about the game often comes at a cost to coaches and amateur analysts. They are adequately able to perceive events on a football pitch, but they may be unsure of how to change what they are seeing for the better, or even fully comprehend what they are seeing to the level required. Coaches in my Mentorship Program often ask me – “How do you go from seeing to understanding?” Well that, my friends, is what we’re after today. In this series of notes, I’m going to give you a series of images and videos, where you can go from seeing, to understanding. If you’ve been doing analysis for years, no worries, this will still be an excellent way for you to practice and refine your skills.

Why Marc Cucurella is perfect for Manchester City

Out of all the names to be linked with Manchester City, Marc Cucurella would have been an obscure choice beyond belief this time last year. But after a successful first season in the Premier League with Brighton & Hove Albion, the versatile Spaniard may now be a few weeks away from securing a dream move to the Champions. Cucurella is one of the most versatile players on the planet, making him an ideal candidate to be City’s next rising star. Here is our analysis of the 23-year-old, and his potential fit for Manchester City.

UEFA Euro U19 Stars: Yusuf Demir – Player Analysis

A rollercoaster of a year for Yusuf Demir can end with his head held high after a tournament full of pride with Austria’s Under-19’s. Not reaching the semi-finals will feel like a major disappointment for Das Team, but the Wien local boy looks to have found the reinvigorating form that earned him a move to Barcelona at the start of last season. Things never quite panned out for Demir at Barca, and his contract was terminated after just six months. Since returning to Rapid, his performances have been up and down, but his evident technical quality still brings promise for what could become of the 19-year-old in the future. This Euros tournament has been all about regaining the confidence that sent Yusuf Demir to Camp Nou in the first place, and many top European sides will now be on red alert for his signature. Here is our analysis of Demir at this summer’s U19 European Championship.

9 thoughts on “Goalkeepers in the build-up – a new meaning to the ‘Sweeper Keeper’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s