How to Attack in Soccer – 3 Principles of Movement

How to Attack in Soccer – 3 Principles of Movement

To be successful in soccer, every player should know where they are supposed to be on the field at all times. In order to do that, every player ne

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To be successful in soccer, every player should know where they are supposed to be on the field at all times. In order to do that, every player needs to understand the big picture of what the team’s objective is in that moment.

In the most general sense, there are always 2 main objectives in this sport: attacking and defending.

Today we are going to look at the basic strategy of team attack. I am going to break down some fundamental principles that every team follows in order to deliver the most threatening attack possible. Once you learn this well enough to implement it into your game, you will be a much better player.

First we are going to look at where players should be moving. This means that as soon as one team wins the ball back, everyone on that team should be moving according to these principles. Every attacking formation and tactical play is based on these 3 things:

1. Spreading the field as much as possible

As soon as one team wins the ball, they are going to want the players on that team to spread as far apart from each other as possible. This may seem counter intuitive, however it is absolutely essential that you understand this and can do it almost automatically.

By spreading your team out as much as possible, each player gets more time and space on the ball. The one player that has the ball will immediately receive more space/time to make a decision because the defenders will be running away to find and follow the attackers. Usually, this will cause some confusion among the defenders as they try to decide if they should pressure the ball or not, and if not, who they should be marking or where they should be going. If this happens, it will likely leave some players open, which become available options for the player with the ball to pass to.

Check out this video (best to watch on mute). From 0:20 – 0:33 you will see how wide Barcelona spreads the field. Their fullbacks/wide defenders stretch out really far wide and high up the field when they are in possession of the ball. Everyone starts to get as high and wide as possible. You will particularly notice this in the fullbacks/wide defenders and strikers. Notice how much time this gives the man on the ball to make a decision. Notice how the defense adjusts their shape to track the players that are moving.

Leave a comment if you noticed the players getting wide, and the defense starting to track them, which left the man on the ball with more time. If you don’t see it leave a comment and I will help you.

In the clip, Barcelona was playing against a well organized team. We can see that, even if the defense is well organized, the end result of spreading  out on attack is that the attacker on the ball will have to only contend with one defender at a time, rather than 2 or more because the other defenders will be “dragged” away (following the other attackers). We can see that Barcelona has way more space to play in – they are occupying more territory on the field.

Overall, spreading out as much as possible leaves a lot of open space for attackers to run, get creative and/or make mistakes. Therefore, as soon a team wins the ball, the wide players need to get as wide as possible (get your butt on the touch line!) and the forwards need to get as high up the field as possible. It’s important that this happens quickly, to not give the other team time to adjust and create as much confusion as possible. The quicker the better. This stretches out the defense, and exploits any poor organization.

2. Support

Once the team has gotten as wide as possible, it is necessary to move into good supporting positions. This means that once everyone has spread out, their next thoughts should be to position themselves so that the player with the ball has a clear passing lane to them. This may mean moving inside, outside, higher or lower on the field. That’s ok, as long as your whole team has already spread out to maximize the space. In other words, first maximize the space, then adjust into passing lanes. If you move into the passing lane without first spreading out, then you will put your own team under a lot of pressure, because the defense can easily contain you. You will also give yourself and your team mate less time and space on the ball.

The best passing lane to be in will vary according to your position on the field, however, as long as you are making yourself available to pass the ball to – no matter where you are on the field – you are doing this right. Ideally, you would be putting yourself in a position where there are 2 other teammates close by, so that the three of you form a triangle. However, depending on your formation, this may not always be possible.

3. Movement off the ball 

I know I just told you that there are some ideal positions to be standing in when your team has the ball. However, In order to make yourself and your team hard to defend, you need to be constantly moving. So, first you move to spread out as much as possible. Then you adjust where you are to get into a passing lane. But once you get there, you can’t just wait. You can pause there for only a moment before you have to move again. This makes you really hard to keep track of, which makes you really hard to defend.

It is crucial that all of the attacking players are moving at all times when their team gets the ball. This means moving into a passing lane, staying there only for a moment (3-4 seconds) and then moving out of that passing lane, running somewhere else, and trying again.

You should constantly be “recycling” your run. That means running to make yourself available for a pass, running away if you don’t receive it, and running into another available lane somewhere else. If you are standing still, you become easy to defend against because it is easy to keep track of where you are. If an entire team is hard to keep track off, that is when opportunities start to open up. Again, this is about exploiting disorganization in the defense. The more movement, the better. The more radical the movement (going from the left side to the right, going from the back to the front) the better.

Here is that video of Barcelona again. See if you can identify the three principles of attacking in the following clip (watch on mute):

So there you have it. Those are the fundamental movements when attacking as a team. Every formation used by Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson, or other expert professional managers build on these 3 fundamentals of attacking movement. Implement these, and your game will improve dramatically, especially if you can get your whole team to do them. Our next post will delve into what to do with the ball once you get it.

Be sure to leave a comment if anything was unclear and you want anything better explained. I will do my best to answer any question you may have.