The distribution of Hugo Lloris has been key to building our attacks from the back this season.
Hugo Lloris is one of the finest shot stoppers and commanders of a penalty area around. However, when it comes to distributing the ball, Spurs fans are split on just how good and reliable he is.
Pochettino’s goalkeeper distribution
Mauricio Pochettino not only requires the man between the sticks to be a shot stopper with lightening quick reactions, but also an excellent distributor.
Moving the ball to the right targets from the back is key to maintaining possession and getting play moving vertically, one of the objectives of the manager’s system. Therefore, Mauricio Pochettino requires a keeper who is comfortable with the ball in his gloves as well as at his feet.
There are four zones that Pochettino requires his goalkeeper to reliably hit:
1. The centre backs split very wide.
2. The defensive midfielder who drops inbetween the two centre backs.
3. The full backs who are pushed up extremely high.
4. The centre forward either through the air or with a lower driven ball to feet when he comes short.
We can see a good cross section of that distribution profile from one of Hugo Lloris’ recent matches.
We can see how he reliably hits three out of four of them. The two centre backs splitting wide, the defensive midfielder dropping in and the two full backs that push on towards the halfway line. The one area, often the toughest to hit, are the longer ball and clearances downfield towards the striker. These passes are often played under pressure, as there is nothing else on.
If we take each area in turn, we can see just what Hugo Lloris has to do with his distribution.
Split centre backs
In order to stretch and wear out the opposition’s front line, Mauricio Pochettino has our centre backs split extremely wide. This usually sees them moving to positions outside the widths of the penalty area when the goalkeeper has possession.
This should be the easiest distribution method for the goalie to reliably find his centre halves. At least one of them should be free against teams that only have one striker or don’t adopt a heavy press. Even if the opposition does bring pressure, there is a lot of ground to cover with the two centre backs being located so wide and the opposition should tire over a 90-minute match.
Defensive midfielder dropping in
The next player the goalkeeper needs to be able to find is the defensive midfielder dropping between the split centre backs.
This option is useful if the opposition is covering the centre backs split wide, but is also fraught with danger as the ball is being played straight out in front of the goal and often short.
This is often a high risk, high reward pass. If the player dropping in can turn, he can get the attack moving forward quickly. If he can’t and gets caught on the ball or his pass is intercepted, the centre backs are massively out of position and the opposition is in on goal.
Full backs pushing on
With the centre backs moving in to wider zones when the keeper has the ball, the full backs are required to get much higher up the park. This makes this pass often tricky to complete as it requires a great deal of accuracy and finesse to neither under nor over hit it. Too short and it will be hovered up by an opposing player in a dangerous position. Too long and it could go out for a throw.
Hugo Lloris regularly has to play this pass, as opposing teams are wiser now to what we do. We can see how he completes a number of them to Danny Rose against Stoke in very high up positions at the halfway line.
In our 3-0 win over Bournemouth we can see how, with the centre backs being covered, Lloris makes this pass to Kyle Walker perfectly to get our opening goal started.
Several Bournemouth players are taken out of the game as the ball goes over their heads and Kyle Walker is into a great attacking position. A higher risk pass, but higher reward.
Finding the striker
Mauricio Pochettino requires two types of passes from the goalkeeper to the centre forward.
The first is to hit him through the air with an accurate high ball. This pass can be as a release valve as the goalkeeper is under pressure and needs to clear his lines. It can also be to move the ball swiftly up-field as the centre forward has an aerial or size advantage on the defender. He can then hold play up for others to join in.
A good example of this pass was on our first goal in our 3-0 win over Man Utd. Being closed down by Anthony Martial, Hugo Lloris clears long looking for Harry Kane. We win the second ball and Dele Alli scores.
The second type of pass is a low-driven one over the ground to find the number nine as he comes short in to midfield. Mauricio Pochettino often uses his centre forward to drop off and make passes to the runners beyond him, as we have seen Harry Kane do this season, a type of striker pull effect. This is one way of getting the ball quickly to Kane, so that he can drag defenders out of position, allowing others to run beyond him in to good attacking zones.
Hugo Lloris distribution efficiency
Being an excellent goalkeeper is never questioned when it comes to Hugo Lloris. What is often in doubt can be his distribution. However, when you compare him to other Premier League goalkeepers, although their teams play different styles where they may not need a stopper who is good on the ball, he stands up incredibly well.
Only Kasper Schmeichel (822) has played more passes than Hugo Lloris (800) in the Premier League, but his pass completion (37.1%) is way lower than Lloris 66.1%. Now, Leicester play a lot more long ball so would complete a lower number of passes. However, even when comparing Lloris to other possession heavy sides that build from the back, no keeper completes nearly the same percentage of passes as him. Simon Mignolet is the closest with 61% completion, Lukas Fabianski next at 60.6%, Petr Cech at 59.8%, Tim Howard at 58.4%, David de Gea at 55.9%, Joe Hart at 53.4% or Thibault Courtois with 46.8% completion.
So, even though we do see a few wayward or stray passes, Hugo Lloris has had a pretty exceptional season with the ball at his feet. Overall, being able to consistently hit the four zones that Mauricio Pochettino requires him to has been key in building our attacks from the back.
Michael Black says
I think we are extremely lucky to have Hugo. He is a great goalkeeper. However just because other keepers are even worse on their distribution does not turn him into a goalkeeper who kicks accurately . It seems from your statistics that one third of his distribution goes astray. His poor kicking accuracy has been remarked on regularly by our group of supporters . He would be even better if only he could improve this particular skill.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Hi Michael, i think that only 1/3 not finding their target is actually very good. If you think about the number of times a keeper may just have to send the ball downfield as he is being closed down or maybe just kicks clear when pressured in the box, then its actually a decent completion rate. Everything counts as a pass, whether he throws or kicks, even the clearances where he may have a target or not, even if he just boots it out for a throw-in, so comparing to other keepers just gives greater context. Supposed better distributors eg David de Gea, actually complete a lower percentage of passes than he does.
Yes Lloris does send the odd one over a player’s head and out for a throw when looking for the longer pass to a full back or maybe straight to an opposition player from time to time. These incomplete passes often get highlighted and focussed on above the good ones. Yes he could do better, but he’s actually a better distributor than many give him credit for. I didn’t see anyone, for example, praise his part in our opening goal against Bournemouth – in the video in the article. A perfect, and highly difficlt pass, to set Walker away to cross for Kane.
I don’t know if some fans expect him to be 100% perfect with every pass he attempts, but having to kick with both left and right feet, as sometimes he doesn’t get time to have the choice, he’s among the better keepers at it for me.
Michael Black says
Undoubtedly he’s one of the better keepers at distribution. Your stats show that.
I think the area of concern is definitely the long kick. I would welcome an opportunity to see his stats ,if available, just for long kicks – rather than distribution of all types merged into one stat. It seems that too many of his long kicks go into touch without going near a Spurs player. But of course they are not all bad and the one at Bournemouth was very much to his credit.
For me he has, regrettably, too many misdirected kicks even when not under pressure . It would never be expected that a goalkeeper would get 100% of these kicks right but some are better than others at this particular skill and regrettably Hugo does not excel at it. This aspect could surely be improved by practice Although this is very easy for me to say because I’m sure he is concentrating in practice on what he does best -which is shot stopping.
Anyway as always Mark you have raised an interesting matter for consideration and have no doubt prompted some heated discussion. Many thanks.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Hi Michael, I only have access to some limited stats for long kicking. These only show a kick of over 20 yards, so it could be a clearance, an intended pass or just a heave downfield. Also, need to bear in mind that when kicking long the target is often just as important. For example, when Joe Hart is clearing long he is aiming for Aguero, de Bruyne, Silva, Nasri and small types that will not win clearances that require an aerial challenge. We only really have Harry Kane that will win aerial clearances, but Lloris still ranks pretty well.
First listed is the keeper. Second, his number of long passes. Third, completion percentage in brackets.
Cech 628 (44%)
Forster 395 (43%)
De Gea 621 (42%)
Lloris 614 (41%)
Gomes 856 (40%)
Adrian 697 (39%)
Fabianski 689 (39%)
Mignolet 506 (38%)
Butland 702 (37%)
Howard 381 (35%)
Schmeichel 1066 (31%)
Hart 520 (35%)
Michael Black says
Those stats are really interesting.
I have to agree that Lloris is actually not too far behind Cech and De Gea at all even though my feeling was that they were far better at finding players with long kicks than he was.
It just goes to show the value of stats when evaluating players’ performances. I will still wince when Hugo kicks a long ball well into touch but will feel comforted by knowing that other goalkeepers are doing the same as regularly as he is.
Thanks for clearing up that point.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
The stats are quite eye-opening. He is our keeper so I guess that we tend to notice any failed passes even more. They may also come at a point in the game where we are chasing a goal and so are magnified by frustration.