“I don’t believe there is such a thing as a ‘born’ soccer player. Perhaps you are born with certain skills and talents, but quite frankly it seems impossible to me that one is actually born to be an ace soccer player.” – Pele
So you think you’ve got the dribbling skills to nutmeg the best? Your bicycle kick wows all of your friends? Think of yourself as the second coming of Lionel Messi? All these showboat moves mean nothing unless you know the basics fundamentals of soccer.
There are three basic offensive strategies and one defensive strategy every soccer player MUST be aware of. These will seem like common sense in retrospect but it is surprising how often these are blurred in the heat of a match. Get these in your head so they are second nature and you’ll be on your way to doing those big tricks in games to get the crowd and your team pumped.
THREE BASIC OFFENSIVE STRATEGIES:
- Finishing – GOAL!!!! That, afterall, is the “goal” of every game. Without getting that ball behind the goalkeeper into that net, everything else is pointless. Finishing is more than that. This game is a team sport. Without your teammates developing plays to achieve this, “Finishing” is a near impossibility even to the greatest players alive. When finishing, keep in mind three important aspects:
- Shooting: It may seem right to always shoot for the goal but it’s more important to think about the best opportunity to shoot for the goal. Maybe setting up a fellow attacker is the best option.
- Rebound: Most goals result in a rebound either off the goalkeeper, a defender, or the crossbar. When this happens, it’s necessary to have enough players on the frontline to retrieve the ball for another shot…but not too many. Balance between the number of players on offence versus those left on defense is key. Too many on offence leads to holes in the defense leaving you open to attacks from the opposition. Not enough and you may never get through their defenses or lose possession.
- Finishing Runs: these are runs without the ball towards (or away) from the goal as a purpose to give the dribbler an option to pass for a better shot on goal. Sometimes these runs are used as decoys to fake out a defender. So remember, finish as a team and you’ll win as a team.
Buildup – Keep that ball! Sometimes the best strategy is playing a big game of “Keep Away” from the other team to burn off minutes on the clock. If you’ve got the lead (especially in the dying minutes), why waste energy going for the goal? The longer you have the ball, the less time the other team has to score. Do this by passing between teammates, dribbling to reposition the ball on the pitch, or maintaining control of the speed of the game. Possession time is just as important as finishing. Also, possession allows your team to organize or “buildup” structured plays to finish instead of going full tilt towards the goal.
Pressure – Get the ball back! That ball is life and death in any match. You will lose the ball at some point. The trick is getting it back. Pressure the other team to make a mistake, to make that risky pass, to think too quickly, to try that nutmeg. Get in their head. But have back-up. With forcing pressure creates the risk of your opponent anticipating the move and using it against you to get around you. It is comforting to know that if the attacker anticipates the kind of pressure you’re putting on him or her, you have someone watching your back. This may seem like a defensive strategy but consider it more of an offensive defense because of how active this is.
BASIC DEFENSIVE STRATEGY
- Limit their Offence – As opposed to Pressuring the opposition for the ball, you can take the basic tact of making it as difficult as possible for them to get to your goal. Cut off that passing lane. Slow down the other player. Eliminate their options. Clear the ball. Force those attackers to the flanks and the longest possible route to the goal. Sometimes (with a comfortable lead) the best strategy is one that wastes as little energy as possible to retain it for late in the game. Let your opponent wear themselves out running around you like pylons. Your team will be fresher for those final minutes.
Each of these strategies can be expanded upon but let this serve as your snapshot of what you should be thinking about when you’re on the field. When you get these downpat, even Ronaldihno will be respecting your game.