Game of Numbers #15 – Jordan Pickford’s positioning masterclass

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Sometimes criticized across his Everton career, Jordan Pickford has enjoyed a formidable past couple of seasons for both club and country. The Toffees might be in serious threat of relegation this season and very well might have gone down last campaign if it had not been for their remarkable keeper. Despite the club’s poor form, there’s even a genuine argument for Pickford to be the goalkeeper of the season thus far. That argument came to life all the more in Everton’s recent match against Manchester United, where Pickford was one of the standout players on the pitch despite his side being completely outclassed. Here are the finer details behind Pickford’s stunning nine-save display against the Red Devils.


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Jordan Pickford has achieved much of his success through sound positioning, and quick but subtle adjustments of the feet to anticipate the shot. Even at 6’1, Pickford would be considered a “short” goalkeeper. Innately, he has more of the goal to cover through his mobility than the frame of a player like Kepa or Alisson. It then becomes all the more imperative that he positions himself correctly, and shuffles left and right when the shot begins to fly.

At the most basic level, young keepers can learn from Pickford’s starting position based on the location of the ball. When the ball reaches the far-right, Pickford narrows in on his left post, and vice-versa. This means that he naturally positions himself closer to the ball, while giving himself time to get across the goal, where he might already be enticing his opposition.

Pickford’s first save against Ten Hag’s men became a bit of a nothing burner, but still illustrates the importance of his starting position when deciding how to condense space across the goal. You can see how the positioning of the Everton defense naturally creates a hole that Pickford closes. If the man on the ball strikes for the far corner at this point, it very well may be intercepted or blocked by the narrow defensive line.

By the time we get to the fourth save of the day and Pickford’s already pumped up, his confidence and bravado only grows by the second. But again, it’s more than the psychological characteristics that allow Pickford to acclaim success. Check out the way he’s completely cut off the near-post, while remaining ready to spring to the other side given his low-stance.

At the moment that the shot is taken, Pickford makes himself big through the common ‘X’ shape, but keeps his arms relatively low within that stance. By keeping his arms engaged but not overstretched, he’s then prepared to save either a low or high shot. The British baller celebrates with bravado, only compounding matters for United as they begin to wonder what it’s going to take to beat the Everton man. This kind of psychological warfare is crucial to success as a keeper, and allows Pickford to remain in control of the frame when facing any tough situation.

So unsurprisingly, minutes later, he’s then faced off against Antony for the second time, in a near-identical situation. Just watch Pickford’s ever-so-slight side shuffle, and how he remains patient until the ball is struck.

Antony might feel the pressure of the moment having missed his previous chance, but Pickford again shuffles to his right to anticipate Antony’s shot. He reads the likely direction behind not only his body angle, but the previous shot that Antony hit in the same direction. It’s an ever-so-slight adjustment of the feet, but it again allows Pickford to remain ready to face the situation and spring to his right.

The way he gets a strong hand on the ball to push it away from goal must also be commended, and also remains a hallmark of Pickford’s success.

anticipating & INTERCEPTING

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Beyond the shot stopping, Pickford is also a king when it comes to anticipating and intercepting long passes over the top, or handling difficult 1-on-1 situations.

When you look at the below image, it would be easy to give the advantage to the attacker and propose that they will find the back of the net. But Pickford gives himself every shot of saving the day. First, he comes off his line ever so slightly, reducing the time and space that Rashford has to make a decision. He does not rush out or close down the striker like a maniac. He instead holds his position, and lowers his body stance to allow for a greater degree of ability to spring in either direction.

As he prepares himself for the shot, he reads Rashford’s momentum and leans to his left to cut off the likely direction of the shot. It ends up looking like an easy save. But it only ends up being an easy save from his prior preparation, quickness on the feet to get down, and strong hand to smack it away from the striker’s ability to rebound. Again, this is Marcus Rashford we’re talking about – a man who’s bagged 21 goals in 37 appearances league and Europa League matches this season.

It’s never an easy feat to face up against one of the world’s best, in-form strikers. But Pickford is a master of anticipating the moment to make himself big and cut off the shot.

Again, this save might not look pretty. But it’s another great illustration to Pickford’s patience when it comes to waiting for his moment to pounce. He’s not sitting and waiting in behind a high line to sweep. Instead, he’s turning on the burners when the grill gets hot. When the ball is initially played over the top, you could even say that Pickford is already too far away from his goal for the flight of the ball. So he quickly readjusts his feet and shuffles back, then to his right.

At the exact moment that Rashford lifts his foot to strike, Pickford’s already done the hard work in condensing space. All he needs to do now is make himself big in that ‘X’ formation, recognizing that the flight of the bounce limits Rashford’s ability to aim low. When we talk about reading ball, opposition, teammates and space (BOTS), this is a masterclass in how to read the flight of the ball as a keeper.

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On one of the key moments that United found their way over the defense with a ball into space for someone to chase, Pickford immediately sprung off his line and erased the concern.

We saw this many times with Dyche’s team at Burnley, where Nick Pope ended up being one of the ‘Sweepiest’ keepers around, despite Burnley’s low-block approach to life. Pickford will certainly be encouraged to cut off the half-spaces when opposition players surge through the channels, and he has all the necessary skills to be a speedy ‘Sweeper Keeper’ capable of handling those responsibilities.

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But most of the time, he will remain patient, and wait for his time to shine. That’s because the key to his game will always be his shot stopping antics. Pickford made nine saves against United, and could not do anything about their two goals. It was a formidable display from the 29-year-old against one of the league’s best sides, and one that will certainly impress Gareth Southgate as Jordan Pickford continues to cement the no. 1 spot for England.

So there it is! Our fifteenth edition to Game of Numbers where I discuss Jordan Pickford’s brilliant positioning, angling, shuffling, and his near-post cut-off. Be sure to check out more from this series, and follow on social media @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

-> Game of Numbers #14 – Ilkay Gündoğan’s Movement Masterclass
-> Game of Numbers #13 – Guerreiro as a ’10’

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