In this blog, Dan Simpson, FA game insight analyst, and Ian Parkes, FA coach developer, use examples from the Euros to discuss how two players can connect in wide areas.
UEFA Euro 2020 smashed all previous records for number of goals scored in a tournament finals, with 142 goals scored at a rate of 2.8 per game. In total 26% of all open play goals featured wide play and one of the key trends we have seen in creating these goal scoring opportunities is two player connections in wide areas.
What is a two-player connection?
Two-player connections can occur in a variety of ways and a common sight throughout the Euros were teams creating a 2v1 scenario against the opposition full back. However, when this was not possible, we were still seeing a 2v2 against the nearest two players. Most commonly this would occur with the attacking team’s full back and winger but could also be created with a midfield player or striker moving across to create the overload with whichever player is wide.
Who has been doing it well?
Spain and Portugal are two teams who deploy this strategy regularly with very attacking and creative players operating in these areas. However, England were arguably the outstanding performers in creating and taking advantage of 2v1 or 2v2 scenarios in wide areas, particularly down their left side through Luke Shaw and Raheem Sterling. The opening goal in the Final was scored as a result of England’s Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker attacking in a 2v1 against the Italy full back. Walker’s movement to overlap created uncertainty for Emerson as he had to decide whether to follow Walker’s run or engage Trippier, and as a result space and time was created for Trippier to deliver a cross for Shaw to score. This can be seen at 5 seconds into this video.
How do these situations occur?
These situations occur in several ways. They can be when a team has controlled possession and starts to position players in the half spaces. When passes are played between the lines to these players it can create 2v1s on the opposition full backs or a 2v2 if the inside player is marked. Also, if play is switched quickly to a player on the opposite side (usually the opposite full back) or there is a quick counterattack, this can often lead to a 2v1. Furthermore, they might occur when a team is attacking centrally and therefore force the opposition to defend with a narrow and compact shape, creating space for the ball to be played into wide areas.
What movement patterns are involved?
When observing the attacking play in wide areas, the 2v1 or 2v2 scenarios have involved a range of movement patterns, including wall passes, diagonal runs, drive and slides and overlaps.
Let's look at them in more detail below...
A wall pass occurs when a player passes the ball to a team mate before immediately receiving it back again. In the context of a two-player connection in wide areas, the widest player plays a wall pass with the player inside them. By staying on the ball a little bit longer, the wide player can control the situation, enticing out the direct opponent and waiting for the team mate to get into a position which draws the defender out, reducing the amount of cover they can provide to their full back.
As the pass is played there is a clear change of tempo as the winger runs forward, and on the blindside of the defender. The initial pass inside must be played with a good weight and on the safe side of the attacker to allow the ball to be easily returned first time into a position where the winger can receive and deliver into a dangerous area.
The use of a diagonal run without the ball is intended to take an opponent away from the middle of the pitch. This gives the ball carrier two options. They can either play the ball down the line for the runner to run onto, or they can travel inside to combine with another team mate.
Harry Kane’s opening goal for England against Ukraine highlights this movement (see 25 seconds in this video). Raheem Sterling receives in a wide 2v2 scenario with Luke Shaw, who makes a diagonal run into the corner with the purpose of either receiving in behind or opening central space for his team mate. To be successful, the ball carrier must scan as they travel with the ball to see which option is best based on what the defenders do and where his teammates are. In this instance Sterling takes advantage of the central space created by driving into the space with the ball before playing a through ball for Harry Kane to score.
Drive and slide
This is where the player inside the pitch receives the ball and carries it between the full back and centre back, with the purpose of keeping the opposition full back as narrow as possible. As soon as the full back turns their body to face inside, the attacker releases the ball to his teammate. Because the full back has been kept narrow, more time and space has been created for the receiver to deliver a cross. The timing of this pass is key to ensure an element of disguise, whilst the positioning and movement of the free player is important to stay wide enough in the initial phase before then timing their run to ensure they stay onside and can run onto the ball.
This is a similar concept to the drive and slide, but the widest player has the ball. This means when they travel inside to engage or ‘fix’ the defender, the supporting player who starts narrower takes their space on the outside. The pass can be played in a variety of ways, either as a back heel, a reverse pass, or a clever flick, often to try and disguise the pass.
England’s third goal against Ukraine was a great example of this (See 2mins 56secs in this video). Sterling received the ball at the edge of the box before engaging the full back, providing Luke Shaw with the opportunity to join the attack and create a 2v1 (wing back and winger vs opposition full back) and taking up the space on the outside to overlap cross for Harry Kane to score.
Here are some questions for coaches to think about...
- How often do you give your players the opportunity to practice 2v1 or 2v2 scenarios?
- What type of connections do you see occurring in the game and what information can you give to your players to help decide what to use and when?
- How can you provide game realistic practices that allow 2v1 or 2v2 scenarios to occur in wide areas?
We would love you to comment below and let us know your answers.