By Alex Trukan
Creating, maintaining and exploit space is one of the crucial concepts in attacking phase of the game. It allows to build up from the back, play through the thirds as well as penetrate forwards. Especially on the opposition’s half, space becomes a valuable asset as the defending team will aim to reduce and restrict it, making it difficult to create chances. Attacking players should be therefore, able to play inside the condensed space as well as away from pressure. Apart from that, they should have a crucial ability to create space, whether it’s for themselves or other players on the pitch. In order to develop that, a lot of decision-making opportunities in game related practices when not in possession should be provided. That will ensure players have opportunities to think and plan their movements when they don’t have the ball but their team is attacking. One of the crucial players to have that skill are strikers.
Vertical movements away from the ball
One of the key type of movements to create space is a run in behind the defence. That might happen when there is a lot of space, during build up play, as well as closer to the opposition’s goal. The main requirement is a timing of that movement to make it realistic. If it is not good opportunity to play in behind (player on the ball pressurised or not appropriate starting position of the striker), the opponents will not get tricked by the movement and therefore won’t react. In terms of creating space, this type of a run is used to get midfielders on the ball and move the opposition back line away from their midfield unit in order to create gaps in between.
Another option for the striker is to have his starting position in behind of the defenders. In most of the cases the defender won’t follow him and leave him off side but that will force him to check his shoulder and adjust. In case, the defender follows him, that will break the opposition back unit line and create gaps within it. The striker should position himself jusy two or three yards in behind the defender. If the position is to deep, the chance of the centre back following him will be reduced.
The outcome of that type of movement are spaces created in midfield. That can be exploited by central midfielders getting on the ball and receiving on the turn if possible. Another space which might be created is between the opposition defenders. That can be achieved if the striker curves his run and runs forwards on the diagonal angle.
Vertical movements towards the ball
Second type of striker’s vertical movement might be towards the ball. Here, when the ball is positioned deeper (usually one of the midfielders or defenders in possession), striker moves towards the ball on the slight angle to create a passing option. That in turn might be exploited by a direct pass to him or movement and pass into one of the midfielders making forward run. The space create by this type of movement is in behind of the opposition back line as well as in between their defensive and midfield units.
As it can be seen below, the space is created behind the striker and one of the midfielders made a run to exploit it. That doesn’t have to be used directly though. The pass into that created space might be made in a second tempo, after a little combination play between a striker and one of the midfielders. The team can’t wait for too long though as that space will be covered by the defenders if not exploited early.
Standing still and horizontal movements
In many situations, players make unnecessarily movements which only condense spaces for their own teammates. Sometimes, the best ‘movement’ is standing still and its part of the striker’s skill to recognise when to do it. That is usually the case, when the ball is played to the wings and the best option for the striker would be to stay in the central areas rather than move to support. That won’t be the case though, when the wide player is pressurised by two players. In that scenario, one of the decisions the striker can make would be to move horizontally into wide area to support him and combine to break through forwards.
Whichever player is coached to make movements to create space, he should be made aware and shown the outcomes of this type of work. That will make him feel important and valued, regardless if he receives the ball straight away or one of his teammates gets it in the space that was just created. Being a team minded player is important trait when working on creating and maintaining space.
By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest