The half-spaces as a key chance creation channel

It has long been hypothesized that ‘Zone 14’ is the holy grail of chance creation. The ideas around this concept were built around a study from the late 1990s that specified that successful teams had a higher frequency of getting into this zone when compared against their peers. Since opposition clubs often compact central channels out of possession, it’s logical to reason that teams who are more successful in advancing into one of the most congested areas of the pitch are more successful overall.

However, this does not necessarily mean that ‘Zone 14’ is the most optimal place on the pitch to create chances and work the ball into the penalty area. It also doesn’t mean that a team should endeavour to target this area of the pitch with their passes. Perhaps the teams in the study were simply better in possession, and were more successful as a result of their ability to keep the ball in all areas of the pitch, rather than anything specifically magical about this zone. Importantly, the studies that worked to confirm the original work are based around the fact that successful teams get into ‘Zone 14’ more frequently, not necessarily that they get out of it more frequently for the purposes of scoring goals.

I’ve spoken at length about how the modern day ‘Creative Ten’ is not only incredibly savvy with their passing, but incredibly savvy with their movement out of central channels. ‘Inverted Wingers’ – those that like to create from wider starting places, often venture into the same attacking spaces of ‘Creative Ten’s’ by moving in. So while everyone conducting public analysis is busy studying ‘Zone 14’ (not all that well), the best chance creators are consistently conjuring up magic from a different area of the pitch, due to the desirable outcomes that follow. Anyone who’s read the work of René Marić (now of Leeds United), or simply watched Kevin de Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes, and Fran Kirby; or read the title of this article, will likely know the area of the pitch we’re eluding to. This of course are the zones to the right and left of ‘Zone 14’ – also known as the ‘half-spaces.’

Players like Kevin de Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes and Fran Kirby have become particularly adept at not only moving into these channels to create chances, but in moving in such a vivacious manner that the opposition have no time to react, thus giving that in possession chance creator more time to work their magic. Of particular importance, the half-spaces have the advantage of being more conducive to whipping the ball away from goal. While this is not the only type of pass that can be given from the half-spaces, it is one that the likes of KDB and Bruno Fernandes thrive off delivering, and are often difficult to defend as they spin away from the noggins of the defenders.

From a central channel, it’s more difficult to create a chance that simultaneously spins away from goal, and sets the advancing runner up for a finish. Passes are more likely to be chipped, played through, or even overhit, all of which create more of an advantage for the on-rushing goalkeeper. So not only are passes that come from the half-spaces more likely to spin away from the keeper, but a higher variety of quality passes can be played into the box. A low and slow pass across the grass can be played through the defense, or a looped ball can be whipped in from the side. Either way, it’s far more difficult for the keeper to come and claim.

In comparison to the wide channels, the player is also starting from a more advantageous of being closer to goal, thus giving the opposition less time to set up as the ball hangs in the air. This is one of the many reasons why short corner routines are becoming particularly popular among top level sides. Instead of positioning someone like Kirby or Kevin de Bruyne on the corner kick itself, a top-level side can now position their most dangerous creator in poll position to receive the first pass, and then whip the ball in from a different angle.

While central channels are always more likely to be congested and crowded by the opposition, the wide channels also have the disadvantage of being close to the touchline. A player has less flexibility regarding the directions they can turn than in the half-spaces, and certainly less room to breathe. All of this makes the half-spaces an ideal corridor of space to create chances, and for a team to exploit.

So if I were still in the coaching business, I would prefer not to emphasize the necessity of my team to get into the most congested and crowded area of the pitch in the normal attacking phase of play. We might try to force play to ‘Zone 14’ when pressing, or utilize our verticality to exploit these spaces in transition. But we’d only be causing ourselves more distress by trying to advance into the most clogged position on the pitch. The half-spaces would instead be our aim, due to the variability of crossing angles, and the proximity to goal that simultaneously hinders the keeper’s ability to come out.

What do you think is the most optimal area of the pitch to create chances? Be sure to share your thoughts below or on Twitter @desmondrhys or @mastermindsite, and check out more of our Tactical Theory based articles. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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