Advanced Team Fundamentals II – System 🆚 System

Key Concepts For Good Ball Circulation



In order to attack well in positional situations, it is important to move the ball well and/or to move the players well in order to create spaces and generate advantages. In this tactical analysis, we will focus on two of the key concepts for good ball circulation: perception and player supports. Also, we will explain different types of ball circulation and which type of advantages we try to generate with each one.

We will take the example of one of the teams who is excelling at this which is Bayer 04 Leverkusen, under Xabi Alonso. The young spanish coach has managed to play really nice and effective football, by mastering the principles that we will explain in this article.

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The first concept we want to focus on is how good perception skills is crucial for good ball circulation, and in essence, for any game episode. Perception will allow players to identify the situations and find the best solutions. In modern football, where the rhythm continues to increase at the highest level, it is very important to train players from a young age in scanning. And when it comes to the keys for good ball circulation, it is very important as a team and as individual players to possess great spatial awareness.

It is important that players are able to identify open spaces and which spaces are opening or closing on the field, understanding the positioning of teammates and opponents, so that as a team we are able to move the ball to the most favourable situations. These abilities tie back to the key concepts for good ball circulation, emphasizing the importance of understanding the game situation.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Xhaka (Bayer Leverkusen, Midfielder) shows good perception skill by constantly scanning the pitch and identifying which player presses him and which teammate is free to receive the ball.


In the example, Xhaka (#34) is scanning his head constantly, detecting which player from Mainz is jumping to press him and which teammate is open to receive and progress.


The second individual fundamental that we want to highlight for a good ball circulation is providing the right kind of support that the play demands. At Ekkono, we differentiate between three types of support: emergency, continuity and progression.

To achieve good ball circulation it is important that players recognize when a teammate is under pressure and quickly move to offer emergency support. This helps to keep the ball possession, and therefore, to continue the attack. Not less important it is to apply well the continuity support, where the player is needed to move the ball to another area of the pitch. Lastly, there’s progression support, when the ball possessor is not pressed and is facing the opposite goal. In that moment,  teammates must offer a passing line that will break one or several lines of the opposite block, or at a depth that will allow to surpass an opponent with the first touch.

And, as we can see in the examples below, Xabi Alonso has managed to develop these concepts perfectly at Bayer Leverkusen and his players move or position themselves based on which type of support the ball holder needs at every moment. This, not only allows them to secure ball possession but helps them progress to advantageous spaces and create many chances in attack.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Continuity Support. Bayer Leverkusen (Xabi Alonso) is a team that offers constant continuity supports to help the team switch the ball if necessary.

Support Continuity 1080

As we can see in the image, Xhaka (#34) but also Kossounou (#6) are offering clear continuity supports that will allow the ball to be switched finish in a clear chance to score.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Emergency Support. Palacios (Bayer Leverkusen, Midfielder) understands that his teammate is being pressed and has no clear passing options, so he goes fast to provide an emergency support and help the play progress.

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In this example, Palacios (#25) plays the ball to Kossounou (#6), who is under press, and immediately makes a run to offer a clear support to save the ball possession.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Progression Support. Hofmann (Advanced Midfielder, Bayer Leverkusen) understand his teammate is not pressed and has time to play. Therefore, offers a passing line in diagonal, behind the opponent's midfielders line to surpass and accelerate the attack.

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In this last example, the ball possessor is not pressed, so Hofmann (#7) offers a support behind the midfielders line, to turn and attack the opposite goal.

Ball Circulation Strategies

Of course, the end goal of the two concepts – perception and providing the right type of support – is to improve the ball circulation of the team. We consider different types of ball circulation strategies: switch the ball, out-in-out, short-long, forward-backward, easy-move-quick and weak-strong. In this article, we will talk about some of them and how Xabi Alonso is using them to attract opponents and then move the ball to where the advantage has been created.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Bayer Leverkusen (Xabi Alonso) shows very good and diverse possession based parameters, with a good balance of progression, switching the ball, attacking central and attacking on the flanks.

Team_report_Bayern_Leverkusen – Slide 3

Xabi Alonso's side shows high percentage of ball possession, and a very good balance between progression, switching the ball, attacking central and attacking on the flanks.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Bayer Leverkusen (Xabi Alonso) shows how their priority is to play to the half-spaces (cuadrados, as Xavi Hernández calls them) to find advantage there.

Team_report_Bayern_Leverkusen – Slide 6 MOD

Additionally, it is evident how they prioritize the half-spaces or 'cuadrados' for progression. Typically, they employ a team structure that ensures there are players occupying those spaces.

In the first two examples, we will see how they switch the ball and play outside-inside-outside. When switching the ball, the objective is to attract the opponent’s block to one side of the pitch and then move the ball quickly to the other side where we will have space or positional advantage to create a chance. On the other hand, when we talk about circulating outside-inside-outside, the objective is to shrink the opposite block in width in the central lane and then play outside where wingers (or wing backs) will play with advantage.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Switching the ball. Bayer Leverkusen (Xabi Alonso), understands when the opponent's block has moved to one flank and has the ability to play the ball fast to the opposite flank.

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Side-to-side. Bayer is attracting the attention of most of the defenders at one side, and then switching to the other side, behind the last defender.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Outside-Inside-Outside. Bayer Leverkusen (Xabi Alonso) understands when to play inside and when to play outside, making the opponent's block shrink and open in width as they move the ball, and creating spaces.

Dentro-Fuera 1080

Outside-Inside-Outside. Bayer is playing from outside to inside, to shrink the opponent's block and then plays outside again.

The objective of ball circulation is to move the ball to a more advantageous space or to move the opponent to be able to create an advantage. As we mentioned above, there are several strategies that teams can use and Bayer Leverkusen excel at identifying where the advantage is and attract opponents to then move the ball to the player with advantage.

In the last two examples, we can see how they use shor-long and forward-backward. The first strategy, consists in a series of short passes to trigger the opponent’s press and create space behind their defensive line. In the latter, the objective is to play forward to then play back to a teammate who is facing the goal. In many occasions, this type of circulation can end in successful 4th player plays, as we can see in the example.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Play Short-Long. Bayer Leverkusen (Xabi Alonso) often attracts the opponent by playing a series of short passes, to then play a long ball behind their defensive line.

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Short-Long. Bayer plays several short passes to attract up to 5 players from the opponent to then play a long ball towards the space generated.

Key Concepts for Good Ball Circulation. Play Forward-Backward. Leverkusen, under Xabi Alonso, identifies very well third and fourth player plays, and creates advantage using this ball circulation strategy.

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Forward-Backward. With this sequence of passing, they attract the midfielders line and generate space to receive the ball behind them.


In this article, we’ve analyzed how individual fundamentals such as perception and providing the right supports contribute to a good ball circulation. It is important that players master these individual fundamentals to ensure a good team performance. Examples such as Bayer 04 Leverkusen under Xabi Alonso show how excelling in this two key concepts will ensure a good ball circulation and therefore, a good attack.

Their ability to consistently find and exploit advantages on the field is a testament to both the players’ skills and Xabi Alonso’s tactical acumen. As European football continues to evolve, teams like Leverkusen, which prioritize such intricate ball movement, set a standard for others to aspire to. Their game model not only showcases the beautiful attacking game but also underlines the significance of some basic individual fundamentals, usually learn during the academy years, for good ball circulation in modern soccer.

If you want to know more about Ball Circulation Strategies and how to use them, you can check our ‘Advanced Team Fundamentals‘ course.

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