Tag Archives for " Midfield "

Alternative Ways to Use Wingers

By Alex Trukan

Position of a winger has primary importance in the attacking strategy of many teams. Initially, their responsibilities were based around winning duels on the wings as well as delivering crosses into the box. However, that has evolved over the last years and now being a winger requires more versatile abilities and intelligence off the ball. Modern winger became a player that can be classed as a second striker or even a playmaker. That has happened due to evolving position of the full back which now started to occupy more attacking positions and spaces that used to be only utilised by traditional wingers. Evolution of a winger’s position has been also a response to increasingly better organised defences and changes in the role of a striker.

Once full backs started to be increasingly involved in the attacking on the opposition’s half, wingers started to move into more central positions in order to enable overlaps to happen. That has placed additional demands on them to be a ‘playmaker’ and link play with other midfielders and strikers. Having wingers cutting inside opened up possibilities to create a different angle for the strikers to run at and receive through ball as well as created more space for the midfielders who will be now less occupied by the opposition players. It has also started a trend to play ‘wrong footed’ wingers.



In addition to driving with the ball into central areas, winger can also have his starting position centrally to then receive the ball. The key space is the area between the opposition’s defence and midfield units and between opposition’s full back and centre back. Body position to play forwards it the technical detail to focus on.



Another role of the winger might be to cut inside when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch. That will create an opportunity to support a striker (or be a lone striker if he is not in the box) and be a finisher. The run should start on the ‘weak’ side of the opposition’s centre back/full back and curve to arrive in the key area between the back line and the goalkeeper.



Another key area for the winger to be positioned in, is the ‘zone 14’. This is the space that is normally occupied by the striker but having a winger in it instead, gives an opportunity for the striker to go and support wing play, make forward runs into the penalty box or create an overload in midfield.



Positioning in the central areas in the early phases of the attack gives a winger an opportunity to make runs in behind the opposition’s back line. That does not necessarily mean that the ball will be played to him. Instead of that, this type of movement creates space for the full back (opposition back line will drop back) as well as midfielders to receive.



Having a winger making a run in behind the opposition’s back line instead of a central midfielder will usually (not always) mean that a run is made quicker as well as more players who are better ‘playmakers’ will remain in central areas (central midfielders not making forward runs).



All of the above mentioned changes in how winger’s position might look like, changes the way we should develop players at younger ages. As we can see, modern winger has to be able to execute elements of midfielder’s and striker’s craft. That will mean positioning players in different positions and being flexible in the formation might be the way forwards.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest


Striker’s Movement to Support Midfield Play

By Alex Trukan

Recent years has seen a rise in formations and styles of play overloading midfield areas and getting away from the traditional role of number ‘9’, replacing it with a ‘false 9’ and formations like 1-4-6-0. That has pointed many coaches’ attention to possible alternative roles strikers can have. One of the more unorthodox methods of using strikers is support for midfielders in ‘play making’. That might include deeper movements beyond opposition’s midfield line, getting into ‘play making’ positions as well as more subtle runs to create options for combination play around the ball. Vertical movements towards own half can be especially helpful in creating overloads as opposition centre backs will usually hold the line leaving the striker unmarked.

That type of more traditional movement towards own goal to support midfielders might be made into space between opposition midfield and defending units as well as beyond midfield unit. Moving beyond or in between the midfielders will usually force midfielders to mark rather than centre back tracking the run. That in turn will free up spaces for other midfielders. In case nobody marks the striker dropping deeper, he will remain a free man to use to play out.


Staying between opposition’s back and midfield lines and moving horizontally has other benefits. For example, movement towards one of the wide midfielders would create an opportunity to combine play on the wing by playing around the corner. It would also help to split the centre backs and narrow up the back line what would open up spaces on the opposite wing.


Receiving in front of the back line can also put a striker in a play making position. For example, it becomes increasingly popular to utilise number ‘9’ in switching play from one to another wing and circulating the ball horizontally. It also creates opportunities for one of the midfielders to make a forward run.


If turning to face forwards/sideways is not possible (i.e. when marked tight), striker’s movement might still create additional opportunity to play a wall pass and transfer the ball between midfielders. Ideally, two midfielders should stay behind the ball when third one would make a forward run creating an option to play beyond the back line.


When playing with two strikers, subtle movement away from each other would help to split the centre backs leaving a gap between them. That would encourage one of the strikers to spin around the inside shoulder of the centre backs and go forwards. Created gap provides additional opportunity for a through ball and encourages direct penetration rather than combination play between strikers.


This kind of movement can really unbalance the opposition especially as the play is switched from one side to the opposite and strikers stay wide. That would initially overload both wide areas but it is only false perception as the central areas are left to make movements into in the latter phases of attack.


Recent changes in the roles and responsibilities of the striker as well as the shift from a traditional ‘number 9’ into a ‘false 9’ has placed different technical demands on the players. Strikers become more sophisticated technically with an ability to play in tight spaces as well as intelligence to be a playmaker.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest


Defending with a Flat Midfield Four

By Alex Trukan

Playing with a midfield four when out of possession is arguably the most popular way of setting up your midfield unit to defend. It is also relatively the simplest way of defending to coach and play based around several roles and responsibilities. If executed correctly, it is also one of the most effective methods of preventing the opposition playing through midfield areas. It is especially effective when the ball is in wide areas. On the other hand, the main drawback of playing with a flat four is lack of players in half spaces between the units what poses a challenge when the ball is centrally and the opposition attempts to play through the middle between the players, breaking the whole line.

The area in which the pressing starts to be applied will depend on the team’s tactics. In this article, the team used for the analysis applied mainly medium pressing. Therefore, as the ball is played on the opposition half, the role of the midfield would be to slide across and screen opposition midfielders trying to intercept the through balls. If the ball stays in front of the strikers, it is their role to apply pressure on the ball. Only after the ball gets passed the strikers line, the role of the midfielders to press starts. It is crucial for the players to understand as pressing too high and in wrong situations (i.e. when its strikers role) will create gaps.


As soon as the ball is behind the strikers line and it’s on to press (depending how high the team wants to press), the first player to apply pressure in wide areas is wide midfielder. His angle of approach as well as body position might show outside or inside. Nearest central midfielder comes across to support (within short sprinting distance) and other two midfielders narrow up to provide cover.


Midfielder supporting and covering spaces around the ball will often have to react to the movements of the opposition players. That might mean tracking the midfielder as he makes a forward run. Any gaps should be covered by other players narrowing further up. That will obviously open up spaces away from the ball but the key is pressure on the ball which should prevent that long pass from happening.


When the ball is centrally, the key is to prevent the balls through the centre, often into players positioned between the units. That will mean narrowing up and getting really close to each other what might open up spaces in wide areas but will prevent the bigger threat (defending priorities). Checking shoulders and sideways body position is the key.


At times, due to the movement of the opposition players, the shape of the midfield four might look unbalanced but it is crucial to find balance between reacting to the movements by marking the player within the zone and staying in the original shape. When playing with this shape, the priority is to prevent through balls and force back or sideways to apply a pressing trap also using full backs or strikers.


That is why, cooperation between units is one of the predictors how effective the team will be out of possession. Whichever shape the midfield four play, it should be related to the shape of the strikers and back units. For example, not having a defensive midfielder and playing with a flat four in midfield will force more forward movements from the centre backs (i.e. to track the striker dropping), what will then further narrow up the back line restricting options to use full backs in attack.


That links to the theory that tactics of the team should link between the phases (attack/defence/transition) as the way your team defends will influence attacking capabilities and options in transition to attack.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest