Welcome to the Final third

Congratulations, your team has successfully built from the back by breaking down the opponent’s high pressure. After exhibiting perfect positional play, your team has penetrated into the final third, now what? How is your team going to create scoring ch

ances in an extremely complex and “crowded” area on the field?

One of the main reasons as to why the final third is an extremely complex “zone” is due to the limited amount of space behind the defensive back line (i.e. the space between the opponents back line and the goalkeeper). Depending on where the ball is positioned in the final third will ultimately determine just how much space your team has behind the opponent’s back line.

Olympique Marseille under Marcelo Bielsa has been showcasing one methodology that is primarily predicated on crossing the ball into the box once the ball finds itself in certain areas on the pitch. Please see the video below, which is highlights from the Marseille – Bordeaux match from a few weeks ago.

As you watch the highlights, pay particular attention to the different technical and tactical executions that Marseille employed in the match in order to deliver crosses into the box. With that in mind, I present you with these questions:

- Is every cross executed with the same technique? - Who/how many players position as “targets” in the box? - Are the targets waiting in the box, or are they arriving “on-time” with the delivery? - Is the build-up to each “cross” the same? - Who provides the team with “width”?

The reason why I presented you with those questions is due to the fact that creating scoring chances in the final third is much more complicated than simply, “getting the ball wide and whipping it into the box”.

The next strategy I would like to discuss regarding attacking in the final third is the “pass-chip” from a deep position. As I mentioned in my previous article, FC Barcelona under Guardiola circulated the ball with the intention of creating time and space to penetrate the opponent with a pass, dribble, or shot. In particular, Guardiola often utilized the tactical play of having the player on the opposite side of the ball make a penetrating run in order to stretch the defense. If the timing is right, a “pass-chip” could be executed and the player is successfully in a scoring situation. If, however, the timing is off, the player executing the penetrating run has successfully created time and space for a teammate.

Please take a look at the video below that presents perfect examples of Dani Alves executing the “pass-chip” to teammates making penetrating runs (the best “pass-chip” show at :17, :39, 1:30, 1:41, 2:52, 3:19, 3:50, 4:00, 4:10) . As you watch the video, please pay particular attention to: The weight of the pass. The “leading” run of the player stretching the defense. The space that “appears” after the player makes the penetrating run. The limited amount of time and space for the player on the receiving end of the pass. The “timing” between the pass and run.

Both methods that I have discussed require technical and tactical execution of the highest order, which is why mastering the final third is one of the most complex areas in soccer. Day in and day out, the best coaches in the world continue to seek new ways to optimize their play in the final third, and from now until the end of time, coaches will continue to search for new attacking methods in the final third.

The best advice I can offer to you is to constantly analyze the final third play of the best teams in the world because without you realizing it, week in and week out, they provide the answers to all your questions. The final third demands creativity, imagination, timing, and technique. With that said, never stop searching for new ideas because your attack can always improve!

Thanks for reading.

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