How to Attack in Soccer (pt 2)- Moving the ball

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

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To be successful in soccer, every player should know where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to do 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. That is, 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.

Last time we looked at where players should be moving when their team has the ball. We didn’t get specific by position, I just let you in on the 3 basic movement principles that every player on the team should know and implement when in possession of the ball.

Today we are going to move on to the next portion of building a team attack: knowing where to move the ball. Again, these principles are not specific to any position. These are universal, which means they apply to every player on the field, any time they receive the ball.

1. First look forward

The objective of mounting an attack is to eventually score a goal. After all, that is the whole point of this game (to outscore your opponent). So, whenever your team is attacking and a player receives the ball, the first thing they should be thinking is “how far away am I from the net? Can I score from here?“. If the answer is yes, it is up to you to decide if you’re able to take a shot. If the answer is no, then you’re left with two options: run with the ball or pass it.

Again, this is up to you to decide between the two. The right option will depend on where you are located on the field (attacking third, middle third, or defensive third), how much space your defender is giving you, how well the defense is positioned, how confident you feel, and what your teammates are doing. If the situation is right, the best choice may be to run at the defense and take a player on, which may open up some space for you to shoot or pass to an open player. Alternatively, the right choice may to be cross, or pass to a teammate.

If the right choice is to pass, you should always look to pass to your forwards/strikers first. Yes, this applies to the GK and center backs as much as it applies to the attacking midfielder. The objective is to move forward, so if you can play the ball into the striker, you have put your team in a better position to score. So, if you can hit a striker with a long ball, that’s usually a good choice. If you don’t have the time or space to find them, try to find any player that is ahead of you. If you don’t have the time or space to find anyone ahead of you, look laterally. And finally, if you can’t pass to anyone laterally, look behind you.

This can quickly be summarized as the following: First look is to goal. Second look is to a striker. Third look is to the midfield/wide areas. Fourth look is behind.

The quicker you can run through your options in your mind and come to a decision, the better off you will be. That’s why it is important to always keep your head up, keep your head on a swivel, and be mindful of where everyone is around you.

2. Keeping the ball is the priority

This second principle is going to help you decide on what to do if you ever get stuck. Yes, the objective of attacking is to move forward. Yes, you should be looking to advance up the field somehow. However, there will be many times when it is simply not wise to try to force the play forward.

If the defending team is well positioned and doing their job properly, they will successfully eliminate any chance you have to move forward by the means listed above. They will close you down quickly to stop you from shooting, they will cut off the passing lanes to the strikers, and they will position themselves so that they back each other up if one of them gets deeked out. This means that the probability of you moving your team forward is very small. You could try to force the ball to go forward, but you will likely not succeed. This means you are left with the options of playing laterally or backwards.

That is ok. Make the choice that has the highest probability of succeeding. If you have to play backwards, do it. This is better than trying to force something to happen, because the worst thing you can do when you have the ball is lose it. So if you think there is a good chance of you succeeding in taking someone on, then do it. But if the defense has done a good job of closing you down and there is only a small chance of you succeeding in taking someone on, it’s better to pass it off to someone else. The worst thing to do is lose the ball, because then your team is no longer attacking and they are no longer in control of what is happening.

There should never be an instance where you are forcing the ball forward. Always ensure your team keeps the ball. That is the highest priority in soccer. One simple way to achieve this is to always play the way you’re facing. If you’re back is to goal, play backwards. If you’re facing the left side, play left. Keep your decision simple.

To summarize, here is what you should be thinking as the ball comes to you:

  1. Can I move the ball forward (either by passing, dribbling, or shooting)?
  2.  If I move forward, is there a high probability of keeping the ball?

The answers to these two questions should inform your decision of what to do. If the answer to either of these two questions is no, then simply play the way you face.

***In order to play the way you face you must have teammates available in good passing positions. They are only going to be available if they move off the ball correctly***

3. Switch the point of attack

So now you are trying to move forward while making sure that your team keeps the ball. Excellent.

You and your teammates are each playing the way you face, while always looking for that opportunity to catch the defense off guard and move forward. The faster you move the ball from one player to another, the harder it is for the defense to effectively shut down your passing lanes into your strikers and your opportunities to shoot. Perfect.

Now you are going to finish them off.

As a team everyone should be moving around constantly. Which means that the way you are facing when you receive the ball should change. For example, if you are a midfielder going to get the ball from your own defensemen, maybe you will receive the ball with your back to goal and then play it back into your defensemen again, sending it back in the direction it came. Then you might reposition yourself so that you can receive it again with your body half-turned, facing the side. This time, even though you’re still playing the way you face, the ball will still advance up the field to one of your midfielders, because you have changed the way your body is facing. This is excellent.

Unfortunately, sometimes a team gets stuck in the trap of never being able to progress up one side of the field, because the pressure by the defenders simply becomes too high. Imagine a wide midfielder and a central midfielder only ever playing the way they face. They would be stuck on that one side forever, just playing short balls between the central midfielder, the striker on one side, and the wide midfielder. Forward to CM, CM to winger, Winger to CM, CM to forward. The defense is perfectly happy to let this continue, since playing around on the side of the pitch is far away from the goal, and its no real threat.

They can easily contain one side of the pitch, because there are only a few players playing the game, trying to attack. It is much easier to keep track of just a few players than it is to keep track of a whole team. So you, as the attacking team, need to get the the whole team involved. This means switching the ball from one side of the pitch to the other.

Once your team is closed down on one side, it is crucial to open up and switch the ball to the other side. This shouldn’t be done all the time, and it should only be done when there is a high probability of keeping of the ball (i.e. the player playing the long ball should be confident in their skill to hit a wide player across the field, and the wide player needs to be in a good position to receive it). It is is necessary to switch the point of attack in order to try to confuse the defense and catch them off guard. With that said, the more frequently you switch the point of attack, the more likely you are to confuse the other team.

Nothing is a substitute for experience when it comes to decision making on the pitch. But if you follow these guidelines, and most of all, actively practice with these in mind, you will find that you will become a much smarter, more effective player.

I would love to know what you think of these principles. Was something unclear? Was there something you disagree with ? Please let me know in the comments below.

Happy training!