Goalkeeper and defensive line distances when defending in the final third

FIFA, 31 May 2022


In the modern game, the goalkeeper's connection with their defensive line is vital to the team's ability to defend effectively.

The distance between the goalkeeper and the defensive line is extremely important at different stages of the game. Goalkeepers and coaches have their own preferences in this regard, and this is something that is always coached on the training ground.

Esteban Andrada (Monterrey)

For Pascal Zuberbühler, the link between Monterrey goalkeeper Esteban Andrada and his defensive line at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021™ was a prime example, particularly when Monterrey were in their defensive third.

"The relationship between Andrada and his defensive line stood out straight away when we first watched Monterrey. He plays high and dominates the penalty box, with his defenders allowing him to do so. It's clearly something they have worked on a lot. This didn't happen by chance."

When the ball came into the defensive third, Andrada took responsibility for his penalty area and kept his defensive line outside the box unless the ball was played in behind them.


When the average position of the goalkeeper in relation to the defensive line (when the ball was in the defensive third) was analysed by our Football Data Insights team, it was noted that Andrada maintained a higher position than Édouard Mendy (Chelsea) and Weverton (Palmeiras).

Andrada's starting position was also more aggressive, at an average distance of 4.8m from his goal line, whilst his defensive line also maintained the highest average distance from goal (17.4m). 

Average height of Monterrey's goalkeeper and defensive line, in comparison to Chelsea and Palmeiras.

Monterrey's holding line

When the ball was in front of them and in their defensive third, Monterrey's defensive line held a position no deeper than the edge of their penalty box, with Andrada starting from the edge of his six-yard box.

Monterrey were very committed to this tactic, wanting the back four to stay connected and to allow Andrada to deal with crosses and throughballs between his six-yard box and the defensive line's holding position.

As Al Ahly enter Monterrey's defensive third, their defensive line holds its position on the edge of the penalty area, leaving goalkeeper Andrada responsible for the space behind.

Hold until breached

Monterrey's defensive line consistently held its position on the edge of the penalty area until the ball was played into the space behind. Only then would the defenders drop back into the box. Once the 16m line was breached in wide areas, they showed great discipline by moving in relation to and in line with the ball.

Consistent application

These principles were applied by Monterrey consistently throughout the tournament and were a clear component of head coach Javier Aguirre's philosophy. If the opponent played the ball into the area beyond the 16m line, the defenders dropped back into the penalty area but immediately stepped back up again as soon as the opposition played the ball back out of the area. Andrada wanted to command the space in between.

As Al Ahly bring the ball beyond the edge of the penalty area, the Monterrey defence moves in line with the ball, allowing Andrada to command the space behind them.
Against Al Jazira, Monterrey hold a higher defensive line, remaining connected despite an attempted run in behind by Zayed Alameri (9). They always want to keep the line as high as possible.
As Al Ahly's attack enters the final third, Monterrey's defensive line holds its position on the edge of the penalty area until the ball is brought behind the line. Although Andrada pulls off a good save, there is no cover from his midfielders, which allowed the opposition to have a successful shot at goal.

The relationship between the defensive line and the goalkeeper is vital, as are the triggers used to change distances and positioning. The team requires discipline and communication to manage these distances effectively, and all of this must be worked on on the training pitch. 

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