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What Is A Clean Sheet In Soccer? All You Need To Know

A common question surrounding soccer jargon I often get is what is a clean sheet in soccer? It has nothing to do with being well-behaved, but all to do with how well you defend.

A clean sheet is when a team prevents the other team from scoring a goal. By the end of the match, a team can claim to have a clean sheet in soccer if the opposing team has a 0 next to their name.

Why Is It Called A Clean Sheet?

This term dates back to times when scores for a soccer match. Important events in the match were recorded using paper and pen. Like many other sports before technology, data was jotted down for analysis later. This would include things like fouls, yellow and red cards, and of course, goals scored. You often find this used in sports like baseball and basketball.

As the game of soccer has progressed, so has the method of recording what has happened in a match. These things are much easier to track stats without having to resort to pen and paper. The fact this phrase still exists is a testament to the old-fashioned way of doing things.

Some things never die!

But what is a clean sheet in soccer in terms of importance? Here’s where many people misunderstand the concept.

Why Is A Clean Sheet Important?

Whilst it is not the most important stat for a soccer team (that would be scoring more than the opposing team), it’s a sign that the team has performed well. Particularly the defensive unit which includes the defensive midfielders, defenders, and goalie.

To not concede a goal is good feedback that the training and drills performed before a game have paid off.

A team will often run defensive drills and cover analysis of how to defend against a team’s style of play or their players. If this works and they gain a clean sheet, the coaching staff can use this data moving forward.

It’s also a sign of how well the team is working together, also known as team chemistry. Sometimes players rotate and move to a different position. If the team’s performance improves, the manager might use this formation moving forward.

Can You Win The League If You Never Concede A Goal?

Although it might seem like a surefire way to never lose a match, stopping a team from scoring is only half the equation. If you don’t score goals, you limit your chances of gaining a lot of points.

Let’s say your team is in a league of 10 teams. If you play each team twice and draw every game without conceding a goal, you only have 18 points:

18 draws x 1 point = 18 points

Now let’s take another team. They concede a goal every single game, manage to win 9 of their games, and lose the other 9. They will end the season with 27 points:

9 wins X 3 points = 27 points

The team conceding more goals finished higher. Even though on paper they were worse defensively.

This is also the same in cup-tie events when there can be no draw and a winner is always decided. You will never progress in the tournament without scoring as the other team can beat you on penalties.

How To Keep A Clean Sheet

The best way to keep a clean sheet is to practice defensive drills in training situations.

Defensive players will focus the majority of their training on these drills. But don’t be surprised if the strikers help defend as well. This means every player should have some form of defensive awareness when playing a soccer match.

Here are a few drills to try.

Set Pieces

The most common set pieces to defend from are corners, a throw-in, and a free kick. Have your players split into two teams; the defenders and the attackers. Have the attackers run each of the scenarios to score. Whilst the defenders must prevent the attackers from scoring.

One of the easiest ways for a team to score a goal is through a set piece. This is a dead-ball situation and the opposing team has a free opportunity to kick or throw the ball without the opposing team intervening.

Corners can either go long or shot. Meaning a player can kick the ball directly into the box or pass it short to another player. Defend both of these scenarios and be sure to look out for short passes and players making runs into the box.

A throw-in can also be long or short. Short throw-ins are more common, but some teams use a throw-in like a corner, by using a player who has the strength to throw the ball into the box.

Remember that a player cannot be offside from a throw-in, so ensure the defenders are picking up players, even behind the defensive line.

Free kicks are a little different as the other team can score directly without having to pass the ball. The closer the foul happened to the goal, the easier it is for the other team to score. Ensure to defend against direct free kicks by having a wall, and marking any player that could make a run.

Penalties are another set piece, and this will be up to the goalie to practice, as no other player can intervene. Other than practicing penalties against players, the coaching staff may also have data on the opposing team. They can inform the goalie who is likely to take the penalty and which way they are likely to shoot.

Player Discipline

Another common method of defensive practice is positional discipline. Poor positional discipline often occurs when players wander into other areas of the pitch. This allows the opposing players to exploit the open area.

This also refers to how you approach retrieving the ball and regaining possession. The easiest way to lose discipline and concede a goal is to lose the ball in a dangerous position. Or to commit a foul that leads to a free kick or a penalty.

Players that win the ball without committing a foul gain more clean sheets and help the team succeed.

Teams that defend well and keep a lot of clean sheets have practiced the art of good discipline. Every player knows where they need to be and the roles they have.

What Now?

Many other rules in soccer are misunderstood. You should check out the rule for how many players are on the soccer pitch at any one time. You can also check out this guide on how long a soccer game lasts.


Is It Hard To Keep A Clean Sheet?

This will depend on many factors, including how good your team is at defending and how efficient the opposing team is at scoring. It can also depend on the age group, as older players are more experienced and more likely to defend better.

Who Has The Most Clean Sheets?

For this statistic, we look at the goalies who have not conceded the most goals. MLS legend Nick Rimando kept 168 clean sheets in 553 matches for Miami Fusion, D.C. United and Real Salt Lake. Petr Cech of the Premier League has the best ratio, as he kept 202 clean sheets in 443 games playing for Chelsea and Arsenal.

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