Given the value of goals in football, the art of the goal-saving challenge should perhaps be given more love.
A lot of them don’t stick in the mind quite as long for the same reason that it’s impossible to prove a negative, but these pieces of defending are a match for almost any goal you can think of in terms of skill and execution.
Here’s five of the very best…
Raphaël Varane v Barcelona
Varane was just 19 years old when he picked Cesc Fàbregas’ pocket in a January 2013 Clásico, and the phrase going through our heads watching replays of the tackle is “you have no right”.
How dare he even get near Fàbregas as the Barcelona midfielder bears down on goal, let alone get himself in a position to make a tackle?
Fàbregas doesn’t even get a touch on the ball, despite having a headstart of about 15 yards. It’s as if he was never there.
Neven Subotić v Bayern Munich
Question one: Is this a tackle or a clearance? Question two: Does it even matter?
Subotić did this In a Champions League final, where even the best players around could be forgiven for freezing under the pressure of the situation. In his case, though, the bright Wembley lights seemed to give him an extra bit of power.
Arjen Robben is no slouch, and getting across within a couple of frames of the Bayern man would have been an achievement. To get there first, and to hook the ball away like a fisherman dragging in his catch, should be illegal.
Javier Mascherano v Netherlands
Javier Mascherano tore his anus making this challenge. Let us say that again, slowly. He tore. His. Anus.
“The pain…it was terrible,” the Argentina man said. No sh*t, Javier.
In any other circumstances, we’d feel sorry for Arjen Robben for finding himself on the receiving end of two of these.
However, he emerged from the World Cup semi-final with his anus safely untorn – at least to the best of our knowledge – so we’re leaving this one in.
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Ben Mee v Reading
We’ve seen Burnley repeatedly fight against the concept of xG during their time in the Premier League, and part of that may be the failure of even the best models to account for the way the Clarets can get bodies in the way of the ball.
Mee has been a constant of that success, but his double effort against Reading came back in 2012, when they were still managed by Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche was just a speck on the horizon.
Harsher writers might point to Lee Grant horribly fumbling the original free-kick, but I’m opting instead to focus on Jason Roberts as the Reading striker is first denied by Mee’s original challenge and then watches on as the defender prevents Noel Hunt from cleaning up.
That arm movement from Roberts is purely instinctive, his mind moving between celebration and confusion quicker than his body can react. How is this even possible?
Ole Gunnar Solskjær v Newcastle
There’s a reason this article references the best “last-ditch” tackles and not the best “tackles which won the ball”, and that’s because – as Solskjær showed against Newcastle, the latter is far too constrictive.
In April 1998, with Manchester United chasing a victory over Newcastle to keep their title hopes alive, they sent everyone up for a David Beckham free-kick. For once, the delivery didn’t result in a chance, and Newcastle broke, sending Rob Lee clean through on goal from the halfway line.
Solskjær’s approach was ‘stop him scoring at all costs’. After all, United couldn’t deal with losing. Last-ditch tackles only need to win the ball when you care about matters as trivial as “not getting sent off”, and isn’t that just overrated?
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