Remember that 30+yard shot from a Gareth Bale in the ECL, that caught out Liverpool keeper Karius, and cost him his job? We discussed it here.

Well Bale has been at it again, this time with a 20yr free kick against Athletico Bilbao in September. New 21yo keeper Unai Simon found it just as difficult as Karius, but the result was completely different, making an excellent recovery save.

We can learn something from this one, just as the Karius error taught us some important lessons.

Firstly, here’s the kick and save, from several different angles.

From first look, it looks like a bad spill. But from behind it’s clear Bale puts a lot of spin and swerve on the ball and it moves back to the keeper’s left, and drops sharply as it reaches him. It’s this sudden drop which catches him out.


Looking at his “set”, it’s perfect (see pic above ). The wall is perfect, with one player “burned” inside the angle between ball and near post. Note, this is unnecessary with a left footed kicker as the swerve will make it swing right to left, even if hit at the top left corner of the goal.

His position, to the right of the wall, means he has full sight of the ball. He’s also feet planted, and hands balanced ready for a high or low dipping shot.

The Real player peeling off from the wall moves early so doesn’t distract the keeper, but does become an attacker capable of tapping-in any error. There is a second attacker driving into the box ready for a fumble. It’s this striker that takes advantage of the keeper’s mistake and gets in the shot.

Thankfully the keeper moves out fast and smothers the shot, and recovers to make the save.

So the question remains, why did the keeper drop the ball and more importantly, push it out so far away from his body to encourage an attempted rebound?

In slow motion it’s easy to see the ball swerves from the keeper’s right to left. It’s not a bad swerve, being worth about 2-3 inches of movement on the hands (to the left) to cover the ball.

But the ball also drops sharply as it reaches him, due to the top-spin put on the kick. This catches the keeper out, and in dropping his hands to get behind the ball, his touch is heavy and the ball rebounds into danger.  This forces him to make the brave recovery save.

Was the keeper at fault like Karius? No – Bale is capable of making a football do remarkable things, and in this case, the keeper was set firmly, feet on the ground, and strong, enabling him to adjust his feet if needed, unlike Karius who was in mid-air when the ball arrived.

With a ball hit with such swerve and top-spin, the keeper has to try to kill the energy in the ball, and parry it downwards, preferably close to his feet, allowing a grasp at the second attempt before strikers can pounce. Note, after parrying the ball downwards, the top-spin will make the ball bounce back towards the keeper once it hits the ground, so try to make use of it.

Making a good strong “W” or “triangle” with the hands, feet firmly planted and a slight downward motion of the hands to kill the energy, should be enough.

In this case the top-spin caught Simon out, and his “touch” was poor, resulting in him having to redeem himself. But at least his firm “set”, feet on the ground, allowed him that opportunity to recover.

So the lesson here is;

  • Set up the wall and make sure you have clear lines of sight
  • Keep your eyes on the ball -don’t be distracted by players.
  • Make a good “set” for when the ball arrives – feet firmly planted and hands appropriate height
  • Make final adjustments for swerve and top-spin by adjusting hands.
  • Attempt to take energy or “sting” of out the ball by slight downward movement of hands at point of impact.
  • Pounce on the ball unless safely caught.
  • Don’t try to catch difficult, stinging shots. Better to parry and then pounce.
  • Be prepared to make a recovery save.

And of course, good luck!