One on ones are probably the most difficult situation for goalkeepers. It’s just you versus the striker, and the odds are stacked in favor of the striker.

We use a rough rule of thumb – we hope/expect keepers to save one in three, Ie a 33% chance of success. This includes penalties, which are also “one on ones”.

Every situation is different, but there are a few basic rules for attempting to improve success, and we discussed a recent example here.

But sometimes one sees an example which is quite controversial, where some observers would blame the keeper while others would put it down to bad luck or bad defending.

These examples can be quite illustrative of the plight of a goalkeeper – when to come out and when to stay put.

The case of Courtois

A recent game between Real Madrid and Athletico Bilbao has many useful goalkeeping moments and we discussed one of them here.

But the case of the Bilbao goal provides an interesting example of the “one on one”.

Thibaut Courtois making his first full debut for Real, had little to do until Bilbao put together an beautiful 11-pass move which resulted in the striker one on one with Courtois.


Watch here how Courtois decides to rush the striker, making himself big, but failing to make contact as the ball is slipped back into the box and bundled in by the Bilbao striker.

Upon first glance, it seems Courtois did all he could, and the defense reacted too slow to prevent the goal.

But there is another viewpoint – that Courtois commits too hastily and leaves the goal completely exposed.

His initial “set” looks good…


But the final lunge leaves him exposed to the side-pass, and this is precisely what happens..


So what could Courtois have done? Well when things happen so fast, and players demonstrate such skill, it’s hard. And Courtois avoided criticism in the press (although some suggested he “was all at sea”). But a keeper of his quality, and costing so much, has to be capable of “performing the odd miracle”.

In this case, looking side on and close up, its easy to see why he was duped into covering his near (left hand) post, and allowing the ball to be drawn back across.


In the above picture, Courtois makes a good set, with hands low and wide, and the striker looks likely to shoot (note the striker’s hips are open)…


But as the striker makes contact he closes his hips (pic above), making it clear he’s going to pass the ball across rather than shoot.

Notice Courtois’s head looks aimed at the ball, not the striker.. he’s watching the ball.


And there is his downfall. The striker passes back across the goal while Courtois continues his lunge down to his left preparing for a low shot.

Once committed, he has no chance of success, and he’s left his fate to the hapless defenders. Unfortunately they’re too slow and react poorly, and the ball is bundled into the open goal.

So what’s our conclusion, and what have we learned?

Well this was only slightly Courtois’s error – and the defenders didn’t help at all. We should put this down to a “team error” especially as the move started from deep in the opposing half.

But we should also note the following lessons;

  • Be careful when committing in a one-on-one.
  • Think faster, move slower. Hasty lunges are rarely the right choice.
  • Get your angles right – use GPS to narrow the angle
  • and make yourself as big as possible (body shape) as Courtois did here.
  • But attempt to read the striker, especially his hips. They will tell you what they’re going to do by the shape of their lower body. Don’t bother with the eyes. No one can “feint” the hips, without falling over. This was Courtois’s failing here.

Remember, the cheapest lesson is at someone else’s expense. So watching other’s mistakes and learning from them, like this one by Courtois, are a great way to learn.