Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Shielding the ball from the goalkeeper in the air is becoming more common

Placing an attacker on the goalkeeper is not new, but shielding the ball when it’s in the air is. This challenge on Vicario would normally be called a foul, but this season teams have been trying to find what the boundary of the rule is.

Figure 1.1 - Jack Harrison backs his body into Guglielmo Vicario.
Figure 1.2 - Guglielmo Vicario jumps for the ball, off-balance.
Figure 1.3 - Guglielmo Vicario misses the ball as it sails over his outstretched hand.

The FA Law 12 — Fouls and Misconduct:

A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball with the hand(s) when: - the ball is between the hands or between the hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body) or by touching it with any part of the hands or arms except if the ball rebounds from the goalkeeper or the goalkeeper has made a save - holding the ball in the outstretched open hand - bouncing it on the ground or throwing it in the air A goalkeeper cannot be challenged by an opponent when in control of the ball with the hand(s).

From my understanding of this rule, Vicario wasn’t in control of the ball when Harrison made contact.


A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.

Harrison was shielding the space where the ball could land with his back, and once Vicario went up to jump for the ball, Harrison didn’t follow him. This put Vicario off; he was off-balance.

This changes the game for corners. Everton attempted to shield the goalkeeper when the ball was in the air on every corner and were only called for a foul twice out of nine corners.

The rule is either going to be changed to take this out of the game, or every team is going to bully the goalkeeper on every corner.

Figure 2.1 - Ruben Dias backs his body into Guglielmo Vicario as they both go up for the ball.
Figure 2.2 - Nathan Ake kicks the ball into the net as Guglielmo Vicario falls.

This is the test of the boundary in the Manchester City match. Harrison didn’t follow him up to head the ball, but Ruben Dias not only shielded Vicario off, he also jumped to head the ball.

Personally, I think you should be able to both shield the ball and jump up to head it, as long as you are not interfering with the goalkeeper’s ability to stretch out an arm(s) or hand(s). Before, you had to immediately move away to give the goalkeeper a bubble to operate in once it went into the air. Any tiny contact would be called a foul.

Suddenly, physical attributes and cross claiming become way more important than they were before. If your goalkeeper is weak and easy to move, unsure when jumping for the ball, you’re at risk on every corner.

Match: Everton 2-2 Tottenham, 3 February 2024 — Tottenham 1-0 Manchester City, 26 January 2024

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