The soccer world has got defending free kicks all wrong

April 16, 2008

Owen Hargreaves

Why don’t teams put a man on the post when defending a free kick? Week after week I see free kicks fly into the corner of the net with the keeper helpless at the other side of the goal.

The match winner from Owen Hargreaves in Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal on Sunday is a case in point. Here in Italy at least one free kick is scored like that every weekend. 

Top players are getting so good at whipping the lighter balls up and down over a wall that a free kick near the box is almost like a penalty. Yet I think a man on the post would halve the number of free kicks that go in.

The reason teams don’t put a man on the post is because this would negate any possibility of offside. Currently attackers have to stay roundabout level with the wall to avoid being offside.

But why would allowing the attackers to mill around the box make it more likely the opposition would score from the free kick? Surely more players close to the keeper in the box blocks the path of the free kick taker.

Yes, the goalkeeper may become unsighted, but he can never be as unsighted as he is now when he has five men stood in a line infront of him.

I’ve never been that convinced on the need for a wall either…but we’ll leave that for another day.

Mark Meadows, Milan

PHOTO: Manchester United’s Owen Hargreaves scores a free kick against Arsenal, April 13. REUTERS/Darren Staples


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It’s a good point Mark, and one that got me thinking. As I’m not much of a keeper I asked someone who is. He claimed that he would find it enormously off putting as he is required to fling himself full stretch in the direction of the player. Isn’t this the case at a corner? No, because according to the keeper, you are usually jumping out – away from goal at a corner and leaving the line exposed.

From a free kick, anyone on the line would be more of a hinderance than a help.

Posted by La Liga Review | Report as abusive

That might work, but the problem I would see is that you now allow the other team to set up shop right in front of goal (no one could be offside now). The free kick taker now has the relatively easy job of hitting a low drive around the wall into the area to be deflected or first-timed by one of the players standing there, and there is nothing the keeper could do about it from that close in.

Posted by Garry O | Report as abusive

I like this: don’t let the fact that the best coaches in the world have thought this through and rejected it put you off, Mark. You stand up for what you think! Now, can you tell us where we’re all going wrong on penalties next?

Posted by Luc | Report as abusive

what a great shot from hargreaves


Posted by phreakaholic | Report as abusive

Not only that, but many goalkeepers have been experimenting with not having a defensive wall (in training) in front of a free-kick as it blocks their view. I’d like to see this in a real game as players use the wall when taking a free kick to their advantage. would be interesting.

Posted by Paolo | Report as abusive

I’m on your side on this one Mark – and Paolo – why do goalkeepers need a defensive wall in front of them from free-kicks?
With many attacking free-kicks there will be at least four in a wall, leaving four attacking players – at least – unmarked in other dangerous positions.
Surely from say 25 yards out, it could work to their advantage to disregard of the wall and put those who would be in the wall marking the other attackers?
It might be the most incredulous idea I’ve heard for quite some time but also one of the more ingenious!
Well done Mark.

Posted by John Ford | Report as abusive

I started to think about walls after the Hargreaves goal too! But the man on the post is an old idea. I think it would be worth exploring new ideas. I like the idea of no wall. Pro keepers are quiet successful at saving most clear 1v1 shots outside of the 18 in training. So why not try it in a match? I also had this thought about a double wall: first a fixed wall 10 yards away then a jumping wall 5 yards in behind. If I were still coaching I would try this…

Posted by Johnny Centreback | Report as abusive

Thanks for all your comments. All I think is that teams should not be so dogmatic and should at least try a man on the post or having no wall. Maybe they do in training and it’s failed but Ive never seen it in a match.
Like you say Johnny, most shots from outside the area miss horribly, so why do free kicks go in so much? I think the reason is because the taker has an exact spot to aim for once he gets it over the wall. He knows he will be successful if he executes it as the keeper is the other side of the net.
Take away the wall and put a man on the post and at the very least the taker is confused and has to think up another idea.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

in one word ‘OFFSIDE’

a free kick taker is just roll the ball through to someone, or play a winger in behind the defence

Posted by Laurence Connelly | Report as abusive

Well, good point. It will be worth trying then the full wall on the goal line! So the GK keeps his full view unchallenged over the shot and may eventually travel to the highcorner in the far post should he see a bended lobbed kick landing that way!

Posted by Richard IV | Report as abusive

I have wondered the same thing myself.
Oh and Luc, the greatest coaches in the world used to think playing 2 in the back, 3 in midfield and everyone else up top was ‘the only way to go’ things change.

It really is no different than the corner kick thing. Some coaches don’t put a player there so the other team can still be offside, some do to make it harder to score. I think it’s probably just up to the preference of the keeper.

Laurence COnnelly, if they did just roll it to the side, one would presume your defenders would be prepared for such a scenario.

Posted by papa bear | Report as abusive

Firstly, having players on the post has been tried before, but just ended up making it harder for the goalkeeper. Attacking players can stand directly in front of the keeper on the goal line, almost taking the keeper out of play, and also causing a whole new controversy as to whether the keeper is unfairly impeded or not.

As for not having a wall, you have to realise that the whole technique for hitting free kicks would be markedly different- rather than placement, takers would focus more on power, and drilling low hard shots. Would be interesting, but I personally think it would only make it easier for attacking teams to score from free kicks.

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