Dean Santangelo: Goalkeeper's build-up - supporting, receiving and passing

Dean Santangelo, 14 Jan 2022


In modern football, goalkeepers are required to be an integral part of passing sequences when building from the back and need to position themselves intelligently during transitions. Since the current trend is for teams to press collectively from the front, goalkeepers need to be able to make themselves available to their team-mates as a passing option.

Goalkeepers need to be able to pass accurately and use the space effectively so as to play through the press. They also need to be prepared for when their team lose possession and to understand how to position themselves effectively in the defensive transition. By focusing on their position in relation to the space, their team-mates and the opposition, goalkeepers will be able to make better decisions in build-up play and during defensive transitions. 

This session was designed and delivered by Dean Santangelo, FC Zürich's youth goalkeeping coach. The aim is to improve goalkeepers' decision-making skills when their team are in possession of the ball. The session starts with a possession-based drill, in which the goalkeepers need to work with their defensive players to move the ball accurately, and closes with a game featuring an outfield 2v2 plus two goalkeepers (2+1v2+1).

Session overview

In this session, the number of players used varies. It is therefore suggested that players work with another coach when they are not needed for exercises, for example, during the 2+1v2+1 exercise.

  • Part 1: building from the back – supporting, receiving and executing passes
  • Part 2: 2+1v2+1 – adapting position in transition

Key coaching points

  • Decision-making is a crucial aspect when receiving and executing passes, so goalkeepers should always be thinking about the best space to occupy.
  • Goalkeepers should be encouraged to constantly scan left and right to identify the best options on the pitch before receiving the ball.
  • Delivering quality passes, showing intelligent spatial awareness and making good decisions give goalkeepers the required consistency.
  • Technique and a quality first touch are vital in order to move away from pressure and around obstacles. This will give goalkeepers better control when in possession.
  • Good positioning is also key in order for goalkeepers to receive passes safely. To that end, they should continuously look to keep a good distance away from the opposition and open up safe passing angles. 
  • Participants should learn how to reposition defensively so that they are prepared for a shot on goal or a 1v1 situation when their team lose possession.

This session was designed with a specific game situation in mind: how can goalkeepers position themselves well to provide support and receive and execute passes in build-up play?

Part 1: building from the back – supporting, receiving and executing passes

This session should give goalkeepers and defensive players the opportunity to improve their build-up play and deliver more successful passes when playing through a press. Goalkeepers should be constantly thinking about their positioning in such scenarios and focusing on space, the passing angles, the quality and timing of their passes, the timing of their movement and staying away from pressure, thus allowing them to provide a safe option for their team-mates and to execute passes themselves during build-up play. 

  • Set up 4 mannequins in a diamond shape on the edge of the area, as shown in the images.

  • Add another mannequin in the centre of the diamond.

  • Position the goalkeeper in front of the goal and behind the closest mannequin.

  • 2 centre-backs should position themselves alongside a separate mannequin on the edge of the area.

  • The remaining player should position themselves by the last mannequin, as shown in the images.

  • The 4 players should pass to each other.

  • They should bypass the mannequins, including playing the ball around or between them or into space.

  • The players should stay active and on the move (e.g. the goalkeeper should drop deeper as necessary), so as to create good angles to receive passes away from the mannequins

  • Variation 1

    • Add a defender in the centre, between the mannequins.

    • The defender should move in the spaces around the central mannequin, looking to block off angles and passes.

    • To make it more difficult for the players in possession, the defender should not stay too close to the central mannequin

  • Variation 2

    • Add a second defender in the centre.

    • The defenders should work together to press and shut off passing angles, especially to the goalkeeper.

  • Variation 3

    • Add 2 wide players to provide wide options for the team in possession.

    • The 2 pressing defenders should increase the pressure and force the goalkeeper wide when possible.

Coaching points
  • To successfully bypass the pressure, passes should be firm, accurate and quick.

  • When they do not have the ball, goalkeepers should ensure that they have a clear angle so that team-mates can pass to them and that they are always a playable option.

  • Staying away from pressure allows the players to exploit the space and make themselves available for a less risky pass.

  • Dropping deeper ensures that goalkeepers have more than one passing option.

  • Feints and dummies can deceive defenders and allow players with the ball to create clearer passing lanes.

Part 2: 2+1 v 2+1 – adapting position in transition

In this drill, the focus is on how goalkeepers can adapt their positioning when in and out of possession. Playing on a small pitch provides more turnovers, giving goalkeepers frequent opportunities to adapt their positioning, as well as to support their team-mates in build-up play. The goalkeepers will learn whether it is better to stay high or drop into their goal depending on whether their team are in possession.

  • Mark out a pitch (approx. 30x20 metres) as shown in the image, with 2 full-size goals.

  • Mark a line 5 metres in front of both goals.

  • Each team should consist of 2 outfield players and 1 goalkeeper.

  • The goalkeepers should start the exercise on the line 5 metres in front of their goals.

  • Play starts with the coach, who will play a soft shot to one of the goalkeepers.

  • As soon as the coach initiates the shot, the goalkeeper in question should drop back onto their goal line to "save" it.

  • Immediately after collecting the ball, the goalkeeper should look to play it to one of their team-mates.

  • The team with the ball should now look to create a goalscoring chance by making quick passes.

  • The goalkeepers have to get involved in the build-up play.  Goals scored by the goalkeepers count as well.

  • The team without the ball (including the opposing goalkeeper) need to stop them from scoring.

  • The offside rule does not apply.

  • If the ball goes out, then the goalkeeper restarts play with a pass from behind the goal. Both goalkeepers need to restart play quickly.

  • Make the pitch larger so that it becomes harder for goalkeepers to reposition themselves across larger spaces.

Coaching points
  • It is important for goalkeepers to read situations well so that they can reposition themselves quickly when their team lose possession.

  • By staying on the front foot and not being glued to the goal line, goalkeepers will be able to anticipate the loss of possession better and put pressure on attackers.

  • Goalkeepers should be constantly scanning and anticipating so that they can read attackers' runs and close down shooting angles.

  • When their team are in possession, goalkeepers should continuously adapt their position and make themselves available for a pass.

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