Tracking forward runs into the penalty box

By Alex Trukan

Forward runs in behind the back line can pose a major threat to any defence. One of the most important defending techniques, however, very often overlooked and ignored is tracking runners. Effective decision making on when to do it as well as execution will prevent many opportunities to create chances. It is much more complex than just following your man though. Details such as timing, body position, support and of course managing the off-side matter. This article analyses various ways to track and defend against forward runners showing various examples and suggesting solutions.

The most typical and most dangerous situation occurs when there is space available in behind the last defender and the player on the ball is not under pressure. Here, the back line has to make first decision whether to use the off-side or not. If they decide to not use the off-side trap, quick reaction is crucial. Centre back nearest to the striker should aim to reman between the goal and the striker, never letting the striker run past him. This is why, his starting body position should be sideways on, ready to react and win a running duel without having to turn.

The danger is when centre back reacts to first movement he sees and ignores secondary and blind side movements. Here comes the role of the players around and away (full backs, second centre back) who should look to cover and support. Strikers will be usually trying to make runs on the outside side of the centre back, between him and a full back. This is why, full backs will be required to track those type of runs and remain goal side.

Another important type of runs which is usually harder to defend are runs from midfield areas. As the back line is dealing with strikers, there will be often a spare man coming in from midfield trying to create an overload. It is the role of central midfielder to track those type of runs. This is why, centre midfielder should constantly scan around him (for players and ball) and remain sideways on to see any upcoming runners.

Runs from midfield can be often aimed at exploiting spaces between centre back and full back. As we can see below, central midfielder is delayed in his reaction and left behind. This forces the centre back to deal with the runner leaving other centre back and full back in a 2v2 situation.

As the ball is switched across, the back line should pay attention to any movements against the ball movement. This will often put a striker in a blind side position and offer good opportunity to threaten in behind.

Goalkeeper is often overlooked but massively important part of dealing with forward runs. He should aim to reduce spaces in behind the back line and intercept (if possible) any balls into striker that are played in behind. His communication skills will play a major role as well as he offers a better view into the whole back line.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest -  @AlexTrukan

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