Lukaku vs Carrick: Winning a header against a physically superior opponent

In the fifth minute of the FA Cup semi-final Lukaku almost scored a goal after Carrick and Fosu-Mensa failed to deal with a  long ball. The two United players made a mistake by letting the ball bounce. This is a classic mistake made by defenders, it leads to a loss of control over the situation. What is to be learned from this situation? What is the exact reason for Carrick’s failure to head the ball?  How can defenders solve these situations against physically superior opponents?

 In the video you can see that Carrick is watching the ball while it is in the air. Of course he knows where it will fall on the ground, he is backing into a good position to head the ball. The body position of Carrick is also good. He has a low centre of gravity. He has his hands out in the air.  He is facing the ball sideways, he can attack it with force and adjust his position easily. Well, at least this would be the case if Lukaku wasn’t there.

Carrick is clearly outmuscled in this duel. He is 188 cm tall with 74 kgs, while Lukaku is 191 cm tall and weights 94 kgs. If Carrick tries to compete with his strength body to body, he will loose.

Lukaku comes in from the side and goes shoulder to shoulder with Carrick, applying consistent force on his opponent. When Carrick has only one foot on the ground the push causes him to loose his stable body position, his upper body gets slightly behind his legs.   From this starting position he can not jump straight up, or forward to attack the ball in the air.

What could Carrick do differently?

One option for Carrick is to work together with Fosu-Mensah behind him. Instead of backing to head the ball Carrick has to stay high and position himself between Lukaku and the ball. His aim would be to make physical contact with the striker just for a brief moment, which would block the movement of Lukaku for just enough time that he can’t challenge for the ball, thus giving Fosu-Mensah enough time to have a clear header.

If Carrick plans to head the ball himself he should back off  in order to have a clear run forward and head the ball after a run up to the header. This way he doesn’t have physical contact with the attacker while adjusting his position, Lukaku can’t use his body against the body of Carrick. Carrick has to run towards the ball, and jump up vertically, jump earlier than Lukaku and put out his hands. This way if the attacker also jumps, his force carries Carrick higher in the air.

The third option is for Carrick to foul Lukaku when he sees that he won’t be able to head the ball away. In this case Fosu-Mensah can help his teammate by shouting to him to foul the attacker once  it is apparent that Carrick has lost his balance, and the ball will bounce on the ground. This is a last resort, and could result in a yellow card for the United player.  However it is still much better than giving Lukaku a chance to run towards the goal with the ball bouncing on the ground with only one defender and the keeper standing between him and the goal.



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