Offensive & Defensive Strategy in Soccer

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

If you're relatively new to soccer and want to learn basic strategies, this lesson will give you a solid understanding. If you already know a lot about soccer, the lesson will still help with offensive and defensive strategy.

What is Soccer Strategy?

Soccer is a game played on a field between two opposing teams of 11 players each. The object is to get the ball into the opponents net. Sound easy? Wait - there's one more rule. Players aren't allowed to use their hands, except the goal keeper. How a team sets up their strategy often determines who wins the game. Strategy is a method used to outwit the opponent, and soccer relies on one idea, how players are positioned on the field, called formation, as one strategy. What is formation, exactly?

Formation Explained

In soccer, formation means how the players line up on the field in the absence of the other team. Of course the other team is always there, and every player is constantly making positional adjustments based on where the ball is, who has the ball, where the ball is on the field, the score and many other factors. Nevertheless, the convention for naming formations is how many players would line up in defense, midfield, and offense. The goalie is ignored in all of these, since there is always one goalie and he or she is the last line of defense.

Martin and Jerry are discussing their favorite team and the formation they think they will be using next game. Martin thinks the manager wants a low-scoring game and will opt for the very traditional 4-4-2. This formation has four defenders, four midfielders (who play a fair amount of both offense and defense), and two offensive players. Jerry, however, thinks the manager will opt for the more offensive minded 4-3-3, essentially taking one of the midfielders and making them focus more on offense. Ramon overhears them and suggests that the team should really use a 3-4-3! Three defenders in the back end of the field is a formation that chooses a weak defense in favor of a strong offense.

Formations have a large effect on which strategies are going to work well. A formation with lots of defenders is going to have a hard time scoring with a predominantly short passing strategy. Let's take a closer look.

Offensive Strategies

When an offensive player has the ball and is opposed by a single defender, there are 4 basic options to advance the ball towards the opposition's goal:

  • shoot towards goal
  • dribble up the field
  • short passes
  • long passes

Which is best? Well, that depends.

  • Shooting strategy

Is shooting really an offensive strategy? No, not from most areas of the field. However, we are mentioning it here because it is a strategy once you are close enough to goal. The problem is that since most of the time the ball isn't within shooting range, some teams seem to get caught up in the other strategies and forget to shoot when appropriate. In general, any time there is a reasonable chance the ball will go in the goal, shooting is a perfectly viable offensive strategy that should be used.

  • Dribbling strategy

Dribbling might be the second most obvious strategy, but at all levels of the game, it is the one least employed. This is because the offensive player needs to be much better than the defensive player to have a decent chance to get around them. Dribbling is also a strategy that can be used effectively if doing so at pace can bypass defenders that thought they had the dribbler covered.

  • Short passing strategy

A player with the ball at their feet, who is too far away to shoot and elects not to dribble can only pass the ball. Making short passes, usually on the ground, is effective when the team is functioning as a unit. This is because the passing game relies on two things to be successful: the passer looking for open players and the other players making runs into space where they can get the ball. This movement, if done correctly, will do one of two things: make for an open player to pass the ball to or make space for another player to run into to be open. A team with little movement is going to have difficulty making passes of any kind. A team with lots of movement and accurate passing should create lots of scoring opportunities.

  • Long passing strategy

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