Attacking Structures

Attacking structures are tactical structures formed by a team’s attacking shape, off the ball movement and on the ball movement. A team has separate attacking structures for when each individual player is on the ball that take into account the nature of each player’s individual on the ball movement.

An analysis of a team’s attacking structures is particularly useful for assessing whether the team retains compactness effectively in the attacking phase, and whether the nature of its compactness in the attacking phase enables it to create space, penetrate space and retain solidity effectively.

Attacking structures are more difficult to analyse than positional structures due to the variable nature of off the ball movement and on the ball movement. However, they can be analysed more generally in terms of vertical movement.

The vertical movement of a team’s players can be analysed in order to assess whether the team’s attacking structures enable its players to create space, penetrate space, retain solidity and provide attacking support effectively.

Creating Space

A simplified approach to assessing whether the vertical movement of a team’s players enables them to create space effectively is to consider the team’s use of forward movement partnerships.

Forward Movement Partnerships

A forward movement partnership is a pairing of two players (the partners) who are assigned nearby playing positions and make vertical movement such that their relative or combined vertical movement creates space.

Types of forward movement partnership include direct partnerships, overlapping partnerships and interchanging partnerships, as well as off the ball forward movement partnerships and on the ball forward movement partnerships.

A direct partnership is a forward movement partnership where one partner (the attacking partner) is assigned a playing position that is ahead of or level with that assigned to the other partner (the ancillary partner) and makes forward movement to a greater extent than, or to similar extent to, the ancillary partner, such that the attacking partner tends to make forward movement ahead of or level with the ancillary partner.

An overlapping partnership is a forward movement partnership where one partner (the attacking partner) is assigned a playing position that is deeper than that assigned to the other partner (the ancillary partner) and makes forward movement to a greater extent than the ancillary partner, such that the attacking partner tends to make forward movement towards and then ahead of the ancillary partner.

An interchanging partnership is a forward movement partnership where one partner (the attacking partner) makes forward movement to a greater extent than the other partner (the ancillary partner) but the identity of each partner is alternated such that the players make forward movement to a similar extents overall.

An off the ball forward movement partnership is a forward movement partnership that occurs as a result of both partners’ off the ball movement.

An on the ball forward movement partnership is a forward movement partnership that occurs as a result of one partner’s on the ball movement and the other partner’s off the ball movement (as only one player can be on the ball at any one time).

How Forward Movement Partnerships Create Space

Forward movement partnerships can create space as a result of each partner’s vertical movement drawing players out of position. They are particularly effective at creating space in this way as the relative vertical movement of the partners can create space for each partner to move into, while their combined vertical movement can create overloads which can create space in other areas for other teammates to move into.

Both direct and overlapping partnerships can be effective at creating space through relative vertical movement, as long as the two partners make forward movement to different extents. The ancillary partner’s relatively lesser forward movement can create space ahead of him which the attacking partner can move into (or the ancillary partner is instead allowed more available space by the opposition team), while the attacking partner’s relatively greater forward movement can create space behind him which the ancillary partner can move into (or the attacking partner is instead allowed more available space by the opposition team).

Overlapping partnerships in particular can be effective at creating overloads through combined vertical movement. This is due to the attacking partner’s tendency to move towards the ancillary partner in an overlapping partnership. Direct partnerships where the two partners are assigned level playing positions and make forward movement to similar extents can also be effective at creating overloads. Furthermore, there is a greater tendency in such a direct partnership for both partners to remain close to each other. However, a direct partnership without level playing positions can still create overloads if the ancillary partner moves towards the attacking partner into the space created by the attacking partner’s forward movement, especially if the partners make forward movement to similar extents.

Interchanging partnerships can be very effective at creating space through both relative vertical movement and combined vertical movement. This is because an interchanging partnership can achieve relative and combined vertical movement similar to both a direct partnership and an overlapping partnership as the partners alternate. This can be the case even if the partners are assigned level playing positions, as the ancillary partner can move towards and then ahead of the other player when he becomes the attacking partner. Furthermore, the more variable vertical movement in an interchanging partnership can give a wider range of vertical movement to each player and make their vertical movement harder to predict for the opposition team.

The potential for a forward movement partnership to create space is reduced if the opposition team uses an extra playing position in the relevant positional area in order to outnumber the partners. However, from the perspective of the opposition team, this sacrifices the use of a playing position elsewhere, either allowing more available space in another more threatening area or reducing the opposition team’s own ability to penetrate space, depending on which positional area is ‘weakened’ as a result.

Composition of Forward Movement Partnerships

Combinations of component role types that can form notable off the ball forward movement partnership compositions are listed below. Similar component role types that can be used in on the ball forward movement partnerships are given in parenthesis.

  • Low risk forward movement partnership
    • Attacking partner – supporting player
    • Ancillary partner – sitting player (or hold-up player)
    • Tactical risk – low.
    • Most useful for – direct and overlapping partnerships that retain solidity to a greater extent.
  • Medium risk forward movement partnership
    • Attacking partner – offensive player (or dribbling player)
    • Ancillary partner – sitting player (or hold-up player)
    • Tactical risk – moderate.
    • Most useful for – direct and overlapping partnerships that penetrate space and retain solidity to an average extent.
  • Overloading forward movement partnership
    • Both partners – offensive player (or dribbling player) – each partner can be referred to as an overloading partner.
    • Tactical risk – very high.
    • Most useful for – direct and interchanging partnerships that penetrate space to a much greater extent.
  • Balanced forward movement partnership
    • Both partners – supporting player – each partner can be referred to as a balanced partner, or as an interchanging partner in the case of an interchanging partnership.
    • Tactical risk – moderate
    • Most useful for – interchanging partnerships that penetrate space and retain solidity to an average extent.

An additional type of on the ball forward movement partnership is a pseudo-overlapping partnership. This is formed when two players in level playing positions are the partners in both an off the ball high risk direct partnership and an on the ball low risk direct partnership, but the off the ball attacking partner, who tends to receive the ball when ahead of the off the ball ancillary partner, is also the on the ball ancillary partner. The composition is therefore:

  • (On the ball) attacking partner = supporting player
  • (On the ball) ancillary partner = offensive and hold-up player assigned a level playing position

In an overlapping partnership in particular, but also in a direct partnership, the ancillary partner may be used as a deep-dropping player (as well as being a supporting or sitting player), in order create space more effectively for the attacking partner to move into, while also helping the team to keep possession more easily by moving to receive short passes. This therefore suits a team that tends to make short passes to a greater extent in deeper areas (as is the case with a more progressive passing range system, typically used with the attacking football core style, and the short plays attacking style).

In addition to the component role types referred to in the above compositions, the vertical movement in forward movement partnerships can be affected by each partner’s stretching play (and providing attacking cover) responsibility focus levels. For example, a player with a higher stretching play (or, equivalently, a lower providing attacking cover) responsibility focus relative to his partner may make forward runs and direct dribbles to a slightly greater extent relative to his partner than he otherwise would.

In particular, an interchanging partnership can be formed if both partners are given versatile responsibility focuses in an overloading forward movement partnership or balanced forward movement partnership.

One or both of the partners in a forward movement partnership may also be a positional, attacking phase or on the ball auxiliary player in the relevant positional area. Suitable auxiliary playing position role types depend on the positional responsibilities each player is expected to perform and examples are given in the Responsibility Distribution guide.

Use of Forward Movement Partnerships

The use of forward movement partnerships (off the ball forward movement partnerships in particular) in central midfield, on both flanks and in central attack should enable a team’s players to create space effectively through their vertical movement in the ways explained above.

Direct partnerships can enable a team to penetrate space more quickly due to the attacking partner’s more advanced positioning, as well as to retain solidity more effectively due to the ancillary partner’s deeper positioning (if the attacking partner tends to makes forward movement ahead of him), but they can make it more difficult for a team to create space effectively in comparison to overlapping partnerships.

Therefore, a team that tends to attempt to penetrate space quickly from deeper areas (as is the case with the defensive football core style), or a team that tends to attempt to penetrate space directly (as is the case with the direct plays attacking style), typically uses more direct partnerships.

Overlapping partnerships can enable a team to create space more effectively due to the use of both relative and combined vertical movement but they can make it more difficult for a team to quickly penetrate space and more difficult for it to retain solidity effectively in comparison to direct partnerships.

Therefore, a team that tends to attempt to create space in more congested advanced areas (as is the case with the attacking football core style), or a team that tends to attempt to create space by cycling possession (as is the case with the short plays attacking style), typically uses more overlapping partnerships.

Interchanging partnerships can enable a team to gain the benefits of both direct and overlapping partnerships but they require players to effectively alternate the nature of their forward movement.

Therefore, a team that uses a more fluid playing system, or wants to implement more fluid aspects to its playing system, may use interchanging partnerships as an alternative to direct and overlapping partnerships in some or all positional areas.

In central midfield, where providing attacking cover is of higher importance than stretching play, a team typically uses at least one off the ball low risk direct partnership (or a balanced interchanging partnership as a more fluid alternative) regardless of its playing style. Furthermore, typically either both partners are given central midfielder playing positions or one is given a central midfielder playing position and the movement of the other partner is shared by two positional auxiliary central midfielders on either side, as this enables the partners to provide each other with sufficient defensive support in the defensive phases.

On the flanks and in central attack, where stretching play is of higher importance than providing attacking cover, a team typically uses off the ball high risk direct or overlapping partnerships and off the ball overloading direct partnerships (or overloading or balanced interchanging partnerships as more fluid alternatives), while also taking into account the suitability of direct and overlapping partnerships for its playing style as discussed above. Off the ball medium risk overlapping partnerships can also be suitable but are less commonly used.

However, off the ball overloading direct partnerships are mainly only used on the flanks and, if used in central midfield or central attack, they are typically only used to supplement other forward movement partnerships. This is because overloads in wide attack can be effective at creating space in central attack, while the use of relative vertical movement in central attack is particularly effective, as explained below. An exception is an off the ball overloading direct partnership made up of an offensive centre midfielder and an offensive centre forward. This can work similarly to an off the ball high risk direct partnership made up of a supporting attacking midfielder and an offensive centre forward, with the offensive centre midfielder acting as an auxiliary supporting attacking midfielder.

The use of an overload in wide attack can cause an opposition team central defender to be drawn out of position towards the overload, creating space in central attack.

The use of relative vertical movement in central attack means that an opposition team central defender must either allow himself to be drawn out of position towards the deeper ancillary partner, thus creating space in the opposition team defence for the attacking partner or another player to potentially penetrate, or allow the ancillary partner available space so that he can penetrate space more easily from in front of the defence.

Even against a three-man central defence this can be the case, either if an opposition team central defender is drawn out of position by a player in wide attack (due to an overload or a deep wide player who has not yet returned to his defensive position) or if there are enough players acting as central attackers at the same time to occupy the opposition team central defenders (bearing in mind that they may have defensive support from elsewhere); for example, two central attackers along with two wing forwards who act as auxiliary central attackers can result in this effect (although a wing forward may need to be on the ball if he is an on the ball auxiliary central attacker).

On the flanks, the use of an off the ball overloading forward movement partnership, or an off the ball high risk forward movement partnership where the ancillary partner is given a higher stretching play responsibility focus, can potentially cause problems with providing defensive cover in the defensive transition phase. Therefore, a team typically takes measures to retain solidity more effectively in such a forward movement partnership; for example, by giving a versatile stretching play responsibility focus to a deep wide player acting as an attacking or overloading partner, or by using an auxiliary full back, wing back or wing midfielder with a versatile or lower stretching play responsibility focus as an ancillary partner (that is, as a supporting player or sitting player).

Penetrating Space

A simplified approach to assessing whether the vertical movement of a team’s players enables them to penetrate space effectively is to calculate a ‘penetration score‘ for the team. This can be done by scoring the contribution of each of the team’s more advanced players individually according to the extent to which their assigned playing positions and off the ball directness attacking instructions enable them to penetrate space when off the ball.

The contribution scores of each of a team’s more advanced players can be approximated as follows:

  • 4.0 – offensive centre forwards.
  • 3.0 – supporting centre forwards.
  • 3.0 – offensive attacking midfielders, offensive wing forwards.
  • 2.0 – sitting centre forwards.
  • 2.0 – supporting attacking midfielders, supporting wing forwards.
  • 2.0 – offensive centre midfielders, offensive wing midfielders.
  • 2.0 – false-nine (supporting and deep-dropping centre forward).
  • 1.0 – sitting attacking midfielders, sitting wing forwards.
  • 1.0 – supporting centre midfielders, supporting wing midfielders.
  • 1.0 – offensive defensive midfielders, offensive wing backs.
  • 0.0 – sitting centre midfielders, sitting wing midfielders.

These contribution scores can be adjusted up or down, as appropriate, for the effects on off the ball directness playing methods of each player’s stretching play responsibility focus level. The numbers shown assume a higher stretching play responsibility focus for offensive players, a versatile stretching play responsibility focus for supporting players and a lower stretching play responsibility focus for sitting players.

The team’s penetration score can be calculated by dividing the sum of the contribution scores by an appropriate target score that is considered to be high enough to enable its players to penetrate space effectively. This results in a penetration score of 1.00 or higher if this target score is achieved. A typical target score, given the above contribution scores (regardless of any responsibility focus level adjustments), is 10.0.

High relative overall ability teams tend to use formations that give a higher penetration score, while low relative overall ability teams tend to use formations that give a lower penetration score.

Retaining Solidity

A simplified approach to assessing whether the vertical movement of a team’s players enables them to retain solidity effectively is to calculate a ‘solidity score‘ for the team. This can be done by scoring the contribution of each of the team’s deeper players individually according to the extent to which their assigned playing positions and off the ball directness attacking instructions enable them to retain solidity when off the ball.

The contribution scores of each of a team’s deeper players can be approximated as follows:

  • 4.0 – sitting sweeper, sitting centre backs, sitting full backs.
  • 4.0half-back (sitting and deep-dropping defensive midfielder).
  • 3.0 – supporting sweeper, supporting centre backs, supporting full backs.
  • 3.0 – sitting defensive midfielders, sitting wing backs.
  • 2.0 – offensive sweeper, offensive centre backs, offensive full backs.
  • 2.0 – supporting defensive midfielders, supporting wing backs.
  • 2.0 – sitting centre midfielders, sitting wing midfielders.
  • 1.0 – offensive defensive midfielders, offensive wing backs.
  • 1.0 – supporting centre midfielders, supporting wing midfielders.
  • 1.0 – sitting attacking midfielders, sitting wing forwards.
  • 0.0 – offensive centre midfielders, offensive wing midfielders.

These contribution scores can be adjusted up or down, as appropriate, for the effects on off the ball directness playing methods of each player’s providing attacking cover responsibility focus level. The numbers shown assume a higher providing attacking cover responsibility focus for sitting players, a versatile providing attacking cover responsibility focus for supporting players and a lower providing attacking cover responsibility focus for offensive players.

The team’s solidity score can be calculated by dividing the sum of the contribution scores by an appropriate target score that is considered to be high enough to enable its players to retain solidity effectively. This results in a solidity score of 1.00 or higher if this target score is achieved. A typical target score, given the above contribution scores (regardless of any responsibility focus level adjustments), is 16.0.

High relative overall ability teams tend to use formations that give a lower solidity score, while low relative overall ability teams tend to use formations that give a higher solidity score.

Providing Attacking Support

A simplified approach to assessing whether the vertical movement of a team’s players enables them to provide attacking support (and defensive support during the team’s defensive transition) effectively is to calculate a ‘support score‘ for the team. This can be done by scoring the contribution of each of the team’s players individually according to the extent to which their assigned playing positions and off the ball directness attacking instructions enable them to provide attacking support when off the ball.

The contribution scores of each of a team’s players can be approximated as follows:

  • 3.0 – offensive defensive midfielders, offensive wing backs.
  • 3.0 – supporting centre midfielders, supporting wing midfielders.
  • 3.0 – sitting attacking midfielders, sitting wing forwards.
  • 2.0 – offensive sweeper, offensive centre backs, offensive full backs.
  • 2.0 – offensive centre midfielders, offensive wing midfielders.
  • 2.0 – sitting centre midfielders, sitting wing midfielders.
  • 2.0 – supporting defensive midfielders, supporting wing backs.
  • 2.0 – supporting attacking midfielders, supporting wing forwards.
  • 2.0 – sitting centre forwards.
  • 1.0 – supporting sweeper, supporting centre backs, supporting full backs.
  • 1.0 – sitting defensive midfielders, sitting wing backs.
  • 1.0 – offensive attacking midfielders, offensive wing forwards.
  • 1.0 – supporting centre forwards.
  • 0.0 – sitting sweeper, sitting centre backs, sitting full backs.
  • 0.0 – offensive centre forwards.

These contribution scores can be adjusted up or down, as appropriate, for the effects on off the ball directness playing methods of each player’s stretching play (or providing attacking cover) responsibility focus level. The numbers shown assume a higher stretching play (or lower providing attacking cover) responsibility focus for offensive players, a versatile stretching play (or versatile providing attacking cover) responsibility focus for supporting players and a lower stretching play (or higher providing attacking cover) responsibility focus for sitting players.

The team’s support score can be calculated by dividing the sum of the contribution scores by an appropriate target score that is considered to be high enough to enable its players to provide attacking support (and defensive support) effectively. This results in a support score of 1.00 or higher if this target score is achieved. A typical target score, given the above contribution scores (regardless of any responsibility focus level adjustments), is 12.00.

However, a team that tends to cycle possession to a greater extent (as is the case with the short plays attacking style) typically requires a higher support score, while a team that tends to cycle possession to a lesser extent (as is the case with the direct plays attacking style), typically requires a lower support score.