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How should midfielders attack the space?

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Thomas Muller is Attacking the space behind the defense line. midfielder attack the space

When we think of an advanced midfielder, often we visualize a player who is good at playing in tight spaces and can assist their teammates through passing. But is this all that we should demand from our advanced midfielder in attack? The answer is clearly ‘no’. They should also act as a second forward, in many occasions. This means, that as coaches, we should demand that at least one of our advanced midfielder has the ability to attack the space behind the defensive line in order to generate spaces and advantage on the final third of the field. In this article, we will explain the 3 main concepts advanced midfielders must apply to attack the back of the defensive line.

Identify the Ball Holder Situation

The first concept an advanced midfielder should do is to identify the ball holder situation. This is crucial as without understanding the advantage of the ball holder and having a good timing, any movement will probably be unsuccessful. Advanced midfielders need to understand when a teammate is without pressure and has a possibility to make a good pass behind the defense line. It is especially important if the advanced midfielder is positioned in diagonal. In this case they should think more as a second striker than a midfielder, because they have the responsibility to attack the space.

“THE ABILITY TO ATTACK THE SPACE BEHIND THE DEFENSE LINE IS A KEY INDIVIDUAL FUNDAMENTAL FOR ADVANCED MIDFIELDERS”

Look at Other Teammates Movements and the Defensive Line Position

After identifying the ball holder’s situation, advanced midfielders should pay attention to where there are any movements from their teammates. They need to analyze if teammates are generating any gap and where this gap would be. Are they coming close to the ball holder? Or do they run behind the defensive line? After analyzing this information, the AM must adapt their movement to the teammates.

It is also important to mention another detail regarding the position of the defensive line. If the defensive line is not balanced or are not in a good position, the advanced midfielder must attack to generate an advantage with a smart movement.

Adjust The Timing

The last concept related to running behind the defensive line is to adjust timing with a ball holder and attack the space with determination, usually in the gap generated between the full-back and center back. The AM needs to scan this kind of situation and make a run at the right moment, for example when the teammate has controlled the ball with the first touch. So, it is crucial to adjust the timing and understand when is the right moment to attack the gaps in the defense line. Because it is completely different to identify these kinds of situations and to identify the right moment to take profit of these situations. Of course, both of these skills are very important to succeed.

Examples

Let’s look at some real game examples of how midfielders should attack the space. The first example from Thomas Müller (Bayern München). Boateng (CB) is not being pressed and he has time to execute a good pass. Müller is in the diagonal position, taking profit from the gap between the full-back and center defender. And this gap is getting bigger because of the teammates’ movements. The timing of the run is just perfect.

In the second example below, we can see how Aitana Bonmati (FC Barcelona) identifies the right moment to make a run. She sees that Mapi León (CB) is in a good position to cross the ball. Also, Esther González (ST) is making a run, forcing the second center back of Finland to react to this movement and follow the striker. The gap in the defensive line is getting bigger, Aitana perfectly understands where the space is and attacks it with determination to score.

Attack the space behind the defense line. Thomas Muller

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Example 1. Thomas Muller.

ディフェンスラインの後ろのスペースを攻撃する。アイタナ・ボンマティ

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例2. アイタナ・ボンマティ

Conclusion

In order to attack the space between the defense lines midfielder needs to correspond to several requirements, like a combination of a high level of game intelligence and a good sense of timing. The examples of Thomas Müller and Aitana Bonmati illustrate how an acute understanding of positioning, teammate movement, and defensive vulnerabilities can create critical opportunities for scoring. An advanced midfielder must be brilliant at reading the game, anticipating the flow, and using spatial awareness to exploit gaps in the defensive line. This skill set is not just about physical ability or technical skill, but also about the mental agility to make split-second decisions that can change the course of a game.

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