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Borussia Dortmund v 1. FC Koeln - Bundesliga

An Ounce of Prevention: Roman Burki’s Defending & Distribution

How does Roman Burki fare when it comes to other elements of a goalkeeper’s duties?

Photo by Alexandre Simoes/Borussia Dortmund via Getty Images

There are few BVB players for whom more ink has been spilled trying to decide whether or not they’re actually any good, so you might think writing thousands of words in a four-part series trying to give a definitive answer to the Roman Burki question might be a waste of time. You might conclude that the kind of idiot that spends so long on such pointless content must not value their own time at all. They must have no shame.

Anyway, this is Part 2 of my four-part series analyzing Roman Burki. In Part 1 I looked at the BVB goalkeeper’s shot-stopping, and compared his performance with keepers in the big five leagues in Europe. I came to the conclusion that Burki’s shot-stopping is sub-par, but that he is not helped by his defense.

Today I will look at the other aspects of a goalkeeper’s job: shot-prevention and distribution. We often focus too heavily on the shot-stopping element of goalkeeping, and neglect the importance of a well-rounded keeper that can contribute on both ends of the ball, and in a number of ways.

Shot Prevention

I will be focusing on two different types of shot prevention, that represent two different kinds of goalkeeping: sweeping and stopping crosses. A great goalkeeper can anticipate danger and intercept it before it turns into a shot. That can take the form of through balls and lofted passes in behind their defense, or crosses and cut-backs into the penalty area. But these forms of shot prevention represent two goalkeeping archetypes, the modern and the traditional keeper.

Sweeping

The sweeper keeper is not a modern invention, but it has become increasingly popular, in recent years, among top teams. Liverpool, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City have all benefited from goalkeepers that can operate far outside their own penalty area.

In offense, teams benefit from having a goalkeeper that can play at the base of the backline because it creates a numerical advantage. A ball-playing goalkeeper turns a team into 11 outfield players, and that man advantage allows them to create overloads in the buildup, making ball progression easier. In defense, a sweeper keeper helps a team to compress the pitch when the opponent has the ball. By providing defensive cover in behind the defensive line, the midfield and defense are able to push further up the pitch, reduce the space within which the opponent can play, and more effectively press and regain possession. The presence of a goalkeeper sweeping up behind the defense reduces the threat of balls in behind the high line.

As was highlighted in the first article in this series, Burki faces a below average number of shots on target. Is this because of Burki’s shot prevention? While he has made one or two howlers, most memorably against RB Leipzig last season, this is an area that Burki has performed admirably.

Defensive Actions Outside the Penalty Area
Paul Johnson

While Burki isn’t among the most elite sweepers, he still compares favorably with most goalkeepers, making a significant number of defensive actions outside his penalty area (~0.85 #OPA/90) and far off his own line (15.425 yards). He ranks 17th of the 74 goalkeepers in the subset in both categories. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Burki’s sweeping probably contributes to suppressing the quantity of shots he faces.

Cross Handling

While Burki is a good sweeper, he is less effective handling crosses, ranking 41st of 74, and stopping around 7.6% of crosses that he faces. This is almost bang on the mean average of 7.7%.

Percentage of Crosses Stopped
Paul Johnson

This is actually a lot better than I expected, because it has always seemed like a weakness in Burki’s game. This is in part due to BVB’s issues dealing with set pieces. Burki ranks 25th in terms of the share of total goals conceded that come from set pieces, which is not great. When you look back at the set piece goals that Dortmund concede, it is clear that no one is covering themselves in glory.

Burki often seems to get caught ball-watching but, and I cannot stress this enough, ABSOLUTELY EVERYBODY is doing the same thing. In this Koln example, the ball is knocked on by one of the bodies at the near post, and basically everyone in black (and green) appears frozen in time. The worst offender is Nico Schulz. I’m not sure if he was tasked with defending the far post or marking the Koln runner at the back, but what is clear is that he is doing neither of these things. However, Burki does his bit, reacting slowly to the play, and by the time he responds he is out of position and has to try and make a save with his hands, instead of being able to spread himself to try and get any part of his body in front of the header.

In the Werder Bremen example above, I think Burki is again caught napping, and fails to respond to the changing trajectory of the ball. As the ball passes by him, he doesn’t adjust his position to get in front of the ball, and it is well past him by the time he tries to get across the goalmouth. It seems like he is caught in two minds, because the ball flashes in front of him, and he may have been able to get to it if he comes to claim it. But once again, there are about seven BVB players stood still, while three whole Werder Bremen players stroll on by in search of the ball. WHAT IS ANYONE DOING HERE?!

In addition to his penchant for ball-watching and suspect lateral movement, he also seems to be reluctant to come and challenge for crosses when they are within range. It may be because Burki lacks the size and power to come out and claim crosses, but the lack of a physical presence that can come out and make a clearance or claim the ball does make the job harder for BVB. However, it is also clear that his teammates give him absolutely no help.

Distribution

While we tend to think of goalkeepers as defensive players, they also serve an important role in the offense, especially in possession-heavy and dominant teams. A goalkeeper that is effective with the ball at their feet can make the short passes that help a team retain possession and act as an outlet when the defense is under pressure, and playing accurate long passes that can evade a high press and spring dangerous counters when teams push far up the pitch. A goalkeeper that offers this dual threat can be extremely valuable because it creates a difficult trade-off for opponents. They have to choose between pressing high and risking long balls in behind the defense, or giving the opponent too much space to retain possession and build offense in their own half.

Distribution is an area of the game that Roman Burki is, for the most part, doing pretty well. He is a constant presence in BVB’s ball retention, and he’s a reliable outlet for his teammates. Burki has averaged 37.1 touches per 90 in the last four seasons, ranking 13th among the goalkeepers in the subset, about 10 fewer touches than Sommer, who tops the list. He also averages 74.6% pass completion, ranking 15th among all goalkeepers, around 10% lower than Ederson, who has the highest pass completion.

Goalkeeper Distribution
Paul Johnson

The above figure offers further context, and paints Burki in a positive light. Burki is averaging 13.2 long passes per 90, which is a little lower than the average of 16. Whereas Burki averages 28.2 passes per 90, which is slightly higher than the average of 24.1. Further, Burki makes significantly more long passes than many of the goalkeepers with higher pass completion percentages (the likes of Ederson, Neuer, ter Stegen, and Alisson). The fact he is able to maintain high pass accuracy while making so many long passes reflects well on the BVB goalkeeper.

That said, Burki’s long-ball distribution is actually where his lie accuracy tails off considerably.

Long Pass Completion
Paul Johnson

Burki ranks 57th of 74, completing about 36.6% of his long passes. His poor long-ball distribution was on full display against Bayer Leverkusen earlier in the season.

The pass was right into the path of a Leverkusen defender’s head, and they were able to turn it over and immediately put Borussia Dortmund under pressure. To Leverkusen’s credit, it was a brilliant ball by Leon Bailey, and Moussa Diaby does well to pick the run, but the play all starts with Burki’s wayward lofted pass.

While Burki is an active part of the BVB buildup, his inaccuracy when playing it long hurts the team. Because teams know he poses little threat when knocking it in behind the opposition, they have less to fear when pushing further up the pitch. While several of BVB’s defenders are capable of playing these dangerous long passes, they really need Burki to be able to provide a similar threat too.

Conclusion

The first part in this series evaluating Roman Burki highlighted his sub-par performance as a shot-stopper in the last four seasons. This article, however, has painted Burki in a more positive light. It’s clear that he is a well-rounded modern goalkeeper. He’s a solid sweeper and capable with the ball at his feet, but he struggles when it comes to facing crosses into the penalty area, and his long-ball distribution is poor.

The next article in the series will look at Burki’s performances this season, and use this and everything we have learned in the first two articles to evaluate where Burki and BVB stand now.

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