By Alex Trukan
Most of the work done by the strikers shown on the TV and appreciated by fans is when they're in possession of the ball: goals, assists, one on ones. That’s what matters the most, but we, as coaches especially, should also focus and appreciate all the work behind the scenes: subtle movement to create space, dropping down into midfield, body position to play forwards. All of these things have influence on the performance of the team. Striker’s movement in the final third is one of fundamental team tactical component that not only creates chances for himself, but also helps in the build-up play of the whole team.
Starting position and playing between the lines
Basic position of the central striker (number 9) in a 1-4-3-3 system would be between two central defenders of the opponent. That provides him an opportunity to be able to support both wingers as well as drop into midfield when needed. Positioning between two defenders will cause them a problem in zonal marking – where and who needs to mark?
Another useful starting position that is often used by strikers is on the ‘blind’ side of opponents. These are the spaces on the opposite half of the pitch to where the ball is. As all the opponents are facing the ball side, it is more difficult to mark and track a player who is on the opposite side. That also gives an opportunity for the team to switch play.
One of the movements that causes further problem for centre backs in coming deeper and playing between the defenders and midfielders of the opposition. That is especially effective when the opposition plays in a flat line, without defensive midfielder covering these spaces. Playing in those spaces gives a striker an opportunity to turn and play forwards upon receiving.
Vertical movement to support midfielders
Sometimes, coming deeper (vertical movement) and playing between lines might be an opportunity to act as a wall player and bounce the ball off. That can be used in switching play to the opposite side of the pitch. It also provides an opportunity for a second striker/offensive midfielder to exploit space created by a striker (central defender will move with him in most of the situations).
Exploiting spaces in behind of defence
When the ball is in the middle third, and opposition defence line stepped up to play higher, there are often spaces in behind of defence that can be exploited by forward runs. In this situation, the striker is coming deeper to create space and drag the defenders out of position. The timing of the run is crucial – striker should act off a trigger which is usually when a midfielder in possession lifts his head up.
It is useful to start the run between opposition’s full back and central defender as that creates an opportunity for a curved run and avoiding off-side. It also forces the defenders to make a decision whether to pass on marking or man-mark.
Supporting wing play
When the ball is in wide areas, movement of the striker towards the ball can create a situational overload as well as create spaces in the central areas for other players to exploit. As we can see below, it also drags the central defender towards wide area creating massive gap between centre backs for other players to run into.
Opposite situation is a horizontal movement away from the winger, what isolates him to create 1v1 situation against a full back. It is especially useful when switching play or using full back’s forward run without the ball.[wpsharely id="2988"][/wpsharely]
As soon as the ball is in the wide area of the final third, the striker would be looking to score from the cross. In order to improve timing of the run, it is useful to drop couple of yards and start the run around the penalty box half circle (when the ball is wide). That will give the striker extra time to adjust the run and also his body position will allow him to see the goal, defenders and a ball.
From the psychological point of view, it is important to make the striker aware of how much work can be done off the ball and its benefits for the team. That will make sure forwards will be motivated and thinking about their movements when not in possession of the ball.
By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest