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How switching flanks can exploit the space

In a densely populated city, space comes at a premium – it’s highly valued and sometimes you have to look hard to find it.

The same thing can be said of a soccer match. A feature of the modern game is to condense play in the areas around the ball. Teams will shift across to one side of the pitch to press and deny the opposition any room to play.

An obvious antidote to this tactic is to move the ball quickly from the side of the pitch where play is focused, to the other side where space has opened up.

If the switch is executed well, the opposition will struggle to readjust rapidly and an attacking move will result.

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is excellent at delivering not only crosses but cross-field passes to fellow full-back Andy Robertson

A number of teams regularly employ this tactic. Those who like to play with a lot of width will repeatedly move the ball across the face of opponents as they attempt to put wingers or overlapping full-backs into positions where they can cross or drive into the area.

Switching play often occurs when the attacking team has managed to pull the opposition defence apart in the final third, opening up pockets of space on the opposite side of the penalty area.

When the wide player has the ball, he or she must make sure to take advantage of the extra time and space to deliver a quality ball to the strikers, because switching play only works if there is an end product.

One of the best examples of this is the current Liverpool team. Full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are among the Reds’ most dangerous threats – and that was never more evident than when they combined for a Mohamed Salah goal against Manchester City in 2019-20, the season they became Premier League champions.

Right-back Alexander-Arnold swung the ball left-footed across the width of the pitch to Robertson on the left, with the Scotland international taking a touch before firing in a cross which Salah met at the far post.

“The reason me and Robbo switch the ball across the field that much is because as full-backs you understand how it feels when teams do that so quickly to you,” Alexander-Arnold explained to UK newspaper the Daily Mail.

 

“If the switch is executed well, the opposition will struggle to readjust…”

 

“Having to shift so much is exhausting. There is so much running involved – an extra 30 or 40 yards to try and close it down. It creates space. That’s the idea.”

Switching play pulls defenders out of position and a clever chip or pass across the penalty area can create the perfect space for your attackers to run on to.

It works particularly on the counter-attack, as defenders back-pedal and try to read where the ball is going. A fast run from one of your attackers on the opposite side of the pitch will often take them into a huge amount of space.

If the player on the ball looks up and can hit a good pass into the run of the advancing player, they will be in a great position to score.

If there’s one thing you need to make your young players understand, it’s that in situations where little space is available, they should try to switch the play.

If they are finding it difficult to work the ball on one flank, they will need to shift it to the other, or to wherever the space has opened up.

To be effective it must be done quickly or the opposition will have time to shift and reorganise.

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