It’s practically undeniable that a striker’s number one role in a team is to score goals. But the actual art of scoring goals is so much more complex than many think. It comes down to far more than just finishing ability and instinct. Movement, particularly movement done off the ball, is so important to a striker’s ability to score goals. The very best are masters of the art. Some are incredibly adept when it comes to movement in deep and linking up play with others lower on the field. But this article will explore those that are particularly adept at timing their runs into the box to perfection and scoring goals from their stellar movement off the ball. Here are 7 different movement patterns the world’s best strikers often use in games to score goal after goal, game after game.
The best strikers in the world often hide behind opposition defenders where they can’t be seen. This is called being on the “blindside” or on the “shoulder” of the opponent. In the example above, the nearest white team defender needs to have at least half an eye on the ball carrier. This allows the striker, if they are on the shoulder of the defender, to advance into space without the defender being able to react in time. Strikers like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Vivianne Miedema and Jamie Vardy are masters when it comes to blindside runs, never giving their opponents a chance to get an accurate viewing of their position due to their constant movement in behind.
Here is another example of a blindside run, albeit a very different one from the example above. In this diagram, both defenders can see the striker, although the nearest one is attracted to the ball carrier. The striker has realized that there is space to advance into in behind the nearest defender, especially if that defender continues to be attracted to the ball. Now, the attacker is on the blindside of the defender, making a run in behind to connect on the end of the pass from the ball carrier.
It is also important to note that if the example froze right here and the pass was made into the striker at that moment, either defender would be able to close down the striker and the pass itself would likely need to be played behind the striker if it were even to be received. As a result, movement in behind the nearest defender really is the best option.
This is an incorrect pass by the ball carrier as it’s behind the striker and gives both defenders a chance at winning the ball. Instead, the ball carrier needs to be more patient and allow the attacker to make a movement in behind.
This is another example of a blindside run, more similar to the first. The striker hangs off the shoulder of the defender and then times their run at the right moment to get into the box without the defender noticing where they are. In all of these examples, the ball carrier has attracted at least one defender toward the ball, potentially creating more room for the striker to advance into in behind. This illustrates that although the striker’s movement is imperative to creating a goal-scoring chance, the ball carrier’s role in timing the decision of when to pass is also equally imperative. In all of these examples the striker has also positioned themselves in between two defenders. This causes confusion to the defending unit as to who is supposed to pick them up. This is another one of the key principles of a striker’s movement off the ball to score goals.
in between the defenders
The best strikers in the world are the best at creating chaos for the opposition. One of the many ways they do this is by getting in between two defenders. As a result, diffusion of responsibility takes place between the defenders and nobody picks up the player. In the example above, the striker has simply positioned themselves in between the defenders and prepares for the cross. Because of their sound starting position (and in this case the proximity to the goal), only a small movement toward the flight of the ball is needed. Proximity to the goal is important here as if the striker does not time their run correctly and advances too early, the goalkeeper will be able to control the situation 9 times out of 10. This is an example of a striker’s ability to delay forward movement or simply hold their position when they’ve gotten into a good position, just waiting to pounce at the right moment. Delaying the run is also an important feature of the play of many modern day strikers, most notably the likes of Raul Jimenez and Danny Ings.
delaying the run
Whenever a cross is coming into the box, strikers need to ensure they don’t find themselves too close to the goalkeeper or opposition defenders too soon. In this example, the striker has read the position of the defending players as being relatively low in their box. If the striker moves too soon, they will get too close to the two defenders and the defenders will likely have the upper-hand in being able to clear the ball away. Instead, the striker delays their run into the box and arrives at the right moment, reaching the top of the box at the same time that the ball reaches the top of the box. This gives the stationary defenders no time to react, where the striker is able to go on and have a shot at goal.
wide / out to in
Out of all the striker movement patterns, this is perhaps the most simplistic and self-explanatory. But that doesn’t detract from its potential brilliance. This ‘out to in’ run involves the forward making a movement away from goal into the wide area, rather than through the middle as one might expect a striker to do. This type of wide movement off the ball is often done when the ball carrier has space to advance into in front of them. The longer the player can carry the ball, the more the defenders will worry about the next course of action and the players roaming around them. The defenders are all concerned about the ball-carrier, allowing the forwards to advance and stretch the opposition defense. If the opposition respond by tracking the run, a new gap will be created for a through-ball, or space for either the ball carrier or another runner to advance into. If they don’t track the run, the striker can find themselves with the ball in a wide area, with space to advance into and put in a cross or shot. Simple, but effective.
in then out
All players moving off the ball, whether they are a striker or not, can pull the wool over the defender’s eyes with some clever maneuvering. In this example, the striker has moved toward their teammate on the ball. This attracts the defender to move with them, hoping they can get a toe in on the ball and intercept what looks like will be a pass into the striker’s feet. But then out of nowhere, the striker shifts direction and runs in behind the space that has been vacated by the rash defender.
Now the striker’s gotten ahead of the defender and if the pass is right, there’s no catching them from there. The same kind of movement could also be done if the teammate actually did play the striker to their feet. In this situation, a give-and-go can occur as the striker passes right back and then spins around the defender into the space.
Above is another example. The ball carrier has beaten their man and looks to put a cross into the box, but they notice that the defender is in a good position. So the cross doesn’t come just yet and the player takes the space on the dribble instead. The striker meanwhile looks to create space away from their marker. So they attract the defender toward the six-yard box, and then suddenly, dart back out.
Now the crosser has the option to cut it back across the eighteen, where the striker’s caught the defender flat-footed. This is one of the smartest and simultaneously most difficult movement patterns to achieve, as it relies on sound timing from both the striker and ball carrier in conjunction, knowing when to move and when to pass respectively.
out to in (u-turn)
This type of run is similar to the in to out run and could be thought of as more out to in. In this pattern, the forward moves away from goal, curving a run away from the defenders and ball carrier in a rather unexpected fashion. Because it’s rather unusual to move away from goal and away from the ball carrier to such an extreme extent, the defenders think the attacker is making a decoy run for another player. This creates confusion and perhaps lessens the concern on the striker, before they make a darting ‘U’ shaped run inside and get on the end of a through-ball or cross from the ball carrier. Like any of these movement patterns, players need to recognize that even if they don’t get the ball at the end of it, they’ve still done something great in opening up space for other players or disrupting the opposition defense. They need to have the appetite to make these types of runs, even if they don’t receive the ball. That brings us to the final type of run to be explored in this article – the decoy run.
Strikers love to score goals and historically, have a reputation as being a bit greedy. But nearly all of the best strikers in the modern game have a knack for not only scoring goals, but setting them up for their teammates as well. What’s just as good as an assist for a striker? A decoy run that leads to a goal. Now normally, the striker would not be the one making the decoy run. That role is normally given to a smaller midfield player or second-striker, as the big target man up front waits to bang in the goal. However, strikers can also make decoy runs, as often seen by the likes of Wolves’ Raul Jimenez or Atletico’s Luis Suarez.
In this example, the ball carrier has beaten their man and gets their head up to deliver a cross. The striker makes a movement toward the near post, attracting the attention of the opposition defender and simultaneously – leaving their teammate wide open in the box. Sometimes this is done as a strategic game plan to stop the most aerially dominant defender from getting in a header, especially if the defenders alongside them are not quite as strong in the air. Other times, the striker can recognize moments where their movement away from the intended flight of the ball will set-up their teammate for a shot at goal.
So there it is! 7 different movement patterns to help players move off the ball like a world class striker. Which type of run do you find most effective at scoring goals? Which type is the most useful for young players to learn? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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