Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Head the Ball Down

If you head it high, like Erling Haaland, you generate less power and make it easier for the goalkeeper to make a save. The better technique would be to head the ball down into the ground, generating power, to make the ball bounce below the goalkeeper.

Figure 1.1 - Erling Haaland jumps to head the ball. Emiliano Martinez is positioned well to save the shot across goal and the near post.
Figure 1.2 - Emiliano Martinez saves at body level, to his right.

Erling Haaland gets enough height on the jump but elects to head the ball at the goalkeeper’s chest height. This reaction save was incredible, strong hands to palm it to his defender, but it could have been made more difficult if Haaland instead chose to head the ball into the ground below Martinez. He could have scored.

This is a choice Haaland made previously in the match against Manchester United, and Onana made the save.

Figure 2.1 - Erling Haaland jumps to head the ball. Andre Onana has left the entire left side of the goal open.
Figure 2.2 - Erling Haaland heads the ball to the left, allowing Onana to make the difficult but simple diving save.

Instead of heading the ball into the open net to the right, towards the ground, Haaland attempts to head it at head height, to the left, across goal. This header requires a lot of control and precision, and the ball will float into the net. More air time. That choice to go for the far-side gives the out-of-position Andre Onana a chance to make the save.

Figure 3.1 - Erling Haaland gets a similar unmarked header on the back post. Andre Onana is positioned far to the right.
Figure 3.2 - Another angle of Erling Haaland heading the ball.
Figure 3.3 - Erling Haaland heads the ball to the left over Andre Onana.

Haaland later in the game gets a similar chance, free on the back post, and he again chooses to head the ball across goal. He hits it further to the left of Onana, he doesn’t get a lot of power on it, probably on purpose to try to make Onana dive early and fortunately for him, Onana does dive and is too far out-of-position to make the save. The ball floats over Onana and into the net.

Here is a good example by Virgil Van Dijk in 2019 of the type of header I think Haaland should elect to use next time. Head the ball into the ground with power.

Figure 4.1 - Virgil Van Dijk heads the ball down.
Figure 4.2 - The ball bounces beneath the goalkeepers legs.
Figure 4.3 - Ball bounces into the net for the goal.

There is almost nothing the goalkeeper can do to stop this. You give them a chance if you get their hands involved, but if you hit it at their feet and it bounces, it’s really tough to save. All they can do is flail at it with their legs.

You don’t need to worry about controlling where the header goes, because anywhere works when it’s bouncing below the goalkeeper’s hands on the ground. And you can get way more power on the header because you’re heading down, not leaning back. You go through the ball.

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