At any level, staying onside while making runs in behind the defence is a difficult skill to master.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the former Netherlands, Manchester United and Real Madrid forward, was exceptional in this area. He wasn’t blessed with great pace but often ran through on goal on his own. He says positioning is the key.
“Stand offside until the moment the ball is played – that’s crucial. If you’re offside, the defender is always checking where you are, which makes them drop deeper.
The three good positions to take up are in between the two centre-halves, between the right-back and the right centre-half or the left-back and the left centre-half. You then move from there.”
Here’s an activity that uses a half pitch with a goalkeeper, two defenders on the keeper’s team and two forwards attacking the goal. There is a midfielder, also looking to attack.
The player in possession of the ball is static, while the two forwards are looking to move to into space so they can receive the ball and create a scoring opportunity. The thing to emphasise here is that if the forwards look to run in behind all of the time, they will be regularly running into an offside position.
So, instead of having two players running away from the ball consider other options. The near forward might come towards the ball (drawing that defender with him) and the far forward makes a diagonal run into that space to receive the ball early.
Another option is for the far forward to make the diagonal run and the near forward to make an overlapping run to switch areas.
Van Nistelrooy offers great insight on this skill:
“Tailor your run for the person on the ball – if a defender has the ball and he’s likely to play a 60-yard pass into the channel, make a run to suit that pass. If someone like Paul Scholes has the ball, who can play a through-ball, adjust your run accordingly.
As he pulls his leg back to pull the trigger, bend your run to come back onside and then run in behind to chase the pass.”
So, a successful practice session will enable forwards to get used to making runs to keep themselves in an onside position and for the midfielders to learn how to use these runs effectively.