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How to Attack a Mid-Block

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FC Barcelona attacks a mid-block

Attacking against a compact block is one of the most difficult things in modern football. In recent years, coaches have perfectioned how their teams defend in mid-block, making this one of the most exciting challenges when we think on how to organize the attack to surpass them. One of the teams that impress the most in this aspect is FC Barcelona femení, under the guidance of their coach, Jonathan Giráldez, the team has developed an exceptional style of play that has led to spectacular results.

This article focuses on how F.C. Barcelona Femení handles situations where the opposing team defends in a mid-block. We will analyze the circulation strategies employed and player movement, observing how the team uses different solutions generate collective advantages.

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Free Player within the Opponent’s Block

Firstly, it is crucial to highlight the strategy of finding a free player within the opponent’s block, between lines, either directly or via a third player. Moreover, another key in this strategy is that, when the open player receives the ball, an advantage is created behind the opponent with a fourth player threatening that space, taking advantage of any imbalance in the opposing defensive line. Typically, the center forward participates in this action, as in the Catalan team’s play, the center forward often drops back as a false 9 to receive and create a numerical superiority in midfield.

Attack Mid-Block. Salma Paralluelo (LW) drops inside and finds space to play back to a teammate who is facing forward and can pass towards the space generated.

Free Player within the Opponent’s Block b

In this example, we can see how Salma Paralluelo (LW) is able to move inside the opposing block to receive the ball and activate a teammate who is facing forward and can play towards the space.

Attack Mid-Block. Attack the space behind the opposing defensive line.

Free Player within the Opponent’s Block b

As a result, it imbalances the opposing defensive line and creates a bigger gap between opposing central back and full back.

Ball Circulation Strategy: Short-Short-Long

Secondly, we observe a circulation strategy characterized by attracting rivals with short passes, to create space in other areas of the pitch. The players of the Catalan side execute combinations in a specific area of the field, clustering several opposing players. From this gathering, they look for support to pass the ball to a free player who is facing the opposing goal and can make a long play.

As a result, they have two options for the long play: first, to play the ball behind the opponent’s defense; second, to switch the game orientation and initiate an attack from the opposite wing. This strategy is typically used to move the ball to Rolfö, their left back, who joins the attack effectively. When this action is performed, the winger on that side changes position to inner space and places herself between the opposing center and full back, freeing up the space for the left back. This movement also allows the winger to offer a solution in depth, being able to attack the gap between the center back and the full back.

Attack Mid-Block. Playing short in a certain area of the pitch allows the attacking team to attract many opponents and create advantages in far areas of the pitch.

Attracting Rivals with Short Passes a

Barcelona is playing short in their lower-left side of the block, attracting many opponents towards that zone.

Attack Mid-Block. After creating space by attracting opponents towards the ball, Barcelona plays towards the space created and generates advantages.

Attracting Rivals with Short Passes b

After attracting multiple players and creating space behind the mid-block, Barcelona activates Paralluelo (LW) to attack the space left behind the block.

Attack the Space from Space 4

Lastly, it’s important to highlight another strategy FC Barcelona implements, which is based on playing towards space 4 and from there, again threatening the back of the opponent’s defense with an inner player. Especially, this action is aimed at the winger, usually the right one, while the full back or Aitana, the current Ballon d’Or winner, joins the attack from the inside. Aitana is very effective in these situations, as she can interpret these movements very well, generating a significant impact on the opposing block.

Other top teams Europe such as Manchester City under Pep Guardiola are also using this principle when attacking against mid-blocks. This type of passes, for inner players who make runs in behind, are more successful when made from Space 4 as the passing distance is smaller and the trajectory of the pass is diagonal and towards the goal. This makes the unmarking movement more likely to be successful. Also, if this movements are done after switching the game orientation, it can cause the opposing block to have separated in width, being more likely to appear these inner gaps.

You can check this article to learn more about space management.

Attack Mid-Block. Switching the game orientation is another useful strategy used by FC Barcelona to attack a mid-block.

Playing towards Zone 4 a

Switching the game orientation towards Space 4 is also a good solution when attacking a mid-block. It can be done by a long diagonal pass or also by playing inside the opposing block.

Playing towards Zone 4 b

Once the ball arrives to Space 4, Barcelona activates inner players who make runs in behind to generate advantages for the team.

Conclusion

Tactical evolution has contributed to teams defending more compact, the mid-block defense one of the most effective defensive strategies against teams that dominate the game. Even teams who usually dominate it, will use this defensive approach during some phases of the competition. Therefore, teams must also master the tactical concepts that will allow to attack effectively against a mid-block.

Without a doubt, FC Barcelona femení have mastered these concepts allowing them to dominate Europe in the past years. Their ability to find open players inside the opposing block, their ball circulation strategies to find advantages in far spaces and the way they activate their inner attack once the ball gets to space 4 makes them one of the most deadly teams when attacking mid-blocks.

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