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Through Ball: Fundamental Offensive Strategy

What Is a Through Ball?

At heart, it's simply a pass that is made into space, rather than at a team mate.

It's name comes from the fact that the pass is typically made through a gap defenders may leave between themselves to a forward that is making a run into the open space.

Why use it?

Like the long ball, a foot race is created between striker and defender.  Winning this race as a striker will usually mean a clear path to the goal.  Keep in mind that the defender will be breathing down your back very quickly, so don’t delay, be aware of your surroundings, and take your shot at goal as soon as you can!

On the other hand, even if the defender wins this race he will usually be facing his goalie when he reaches the ball, which places him in an uncomfortable situation.  Well timed pressure could win the ball, or at the very least force the defender to concede a corner kick or throw-in.

How is it done?

Through Ball 1

As the playmaker setting up the through ball, it’s important that you look for seams large enough to thread the ball to your striker.  If you notice the defence is playing too high and is too spread apart, take this as your cue to start playing the ball into the space behind the defence.

Through balls are most effective when an angular run is made behind the defender.  This confuses the defender as it forces him to turn and play the ball with the attacker coming from the other side. 

The figure on the left shows a typical angular run with a through ball played to the open space behind the defence. Player 1 is going to make a run behind the defender from one side, while player 2 is going to serve the ball into the space behind the defender from the other side.

Through Ball 2

Timing is important here. Player 2 must begin his run only once the pass is made to avoid being called offside.

Timed properly, the figure at right shows the player obtaining the ball in an onside position with the defender behind him and a clear path to goal.

It’s also important to pay attention to your striker and try to get an idea of where he wants the ball.  A quick pass will leave the defence little chance to react, so don't be too worried about telegraphing the play. In most cases, the defence will be so fixated on playing the offside trap, they will be too slow to react anyways.

When is it most effective?

The through ball is a fantastic tool for beating the offside trap. Because all the defenders are standing in a straight line in an attempt to catch your forwards offside, there is no depth in defence and lots of open space behind the back line. To be truly devastating though, the striker running after the ball has the speed necessary to beat the defender to the loose ball.

Some Final Tips

  • Pay attention when the defence is playing too high, and look for gaps in-between the defenders.
  • It’s okay to have the striker point to where he wants the ball, as long as it’s played quickly. 
  • As a striker, pay attention to the player with the ball.  Make eye contact when possible and give direction as to where you want the ball played. 
  • This strategy is ideal for beating teams to push their defence high and attempt to play the offside trap
  • If you notice a slower defender on the opposing team, and your team posesses a striker with good pace, use this strategy to exploit the mismatch!

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