And the list goes on and on.
It’s no different for forwards, with so many different roles and ways of playing. Some forwards prefer to drop deep, almost like a number 10. Others, like Liverpool’s Firmino, don’t score much but prefer to create chances for others, and then there are the forwards who just live to score goals, taking every opportunity to get their shot away, like Harry Kane.
It’s very interesting to watch because each player adapts their game and positioning to their technical abilities. For instance, Harry Kane likes to drop deep and receive the ball, hopefully getting in a position to face the goal and get his shot away. He rarely runs in behind the defence as he doesn’t have the speed to look for the ball over the top.
So, as players, it is important that you realise what your technical and physical capabilities are and try to play to your strengths.
Quite regularly in football at the moment each team are playing with one striker up-front. This allows an extra midfielder and gives a better chance of keeping the ball from the opposition. Hopefully, by keeping the ball, it will allow your team to progress higher up the pitch, getting the striker closer to the goal and potentially give them more opportunities to score.
And playing with one striker happens in the vast majority of teams, especially in the Premier League. Formations tend to be 4-3-2-1, 4-5-1, or 4-3-3 with one central attacker and two wide players.
So, with playing one striker being so common, we’re going to take a look at what you can do to make the biggest impact on the game and analyse what the most important aspects, or technical requirements, of playing up top are.
Playing as the lone striker can almost feel like an unfair fight at times. Typically, you have two central defenders marking you and, if the team isn’t getting on the ball much, then it is a quiet game for the striker to be involved in.
It is difficult but it’s an incredibly important role within the team.
Firstly, it’s important that the striker keeps hold of the ball. When the ball is played in to the striker, the team needs that ball to be held up. If the striker loses possession of the ball regularly, then there is no outlet and the pressure from the other team just keeps on coming. So, it’s important that the player up-front on their own has a good first touch and manages to keep their body in between the ball, and the defender. Doing this and holding up the play will allow the midfield to step forward and give the team a chance to start an attack or maintain possession.
Harry Kane, fantastic at holding the ball up.
Having this ability to hold up play is key and it also allows the striker to begin to link play with the midfielders. Quick little one twos, lay offs, or passes out wide, all vary the style of the attack and provide options for the team as they are breaking forward.
I watched Haaland play for Borussia Dortmund against Manchester City on Tuesday and he is excellent for this. The ball comes into feet, he sets it, playing the way he’s facing, which creates a quick counter attack numerous times. Haaland brought the midfield into the game with his good control and first touch, therefore meaning that he wasn’t playing on his own all game.
These two areas are vitally important, just as important as this next one, and that is movement.
If you’re playing alone up front, then movement is vital and will really cause problems for the opposition’s defence.
With one attacker against the two centre backs, it is important the lone striker keeps them occupied with their movement off the ball.
A forward that always drops deep for the ball will invite pressure on to the rest of the team. The opposition’s defence will squeeze higher up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that there aren’t runs in behind them. This then causes the midfield to be pressurised more and makes it much harder to maintain possession and break out of their own half of the pitch.
Dropping short too often will invite the defenders up the pitch.
Forwards should come short to get involved with the play and link the midfield and attack, but doing it every time is predictable and causes those problems for the team. So, it’s really important that the lone striker makes runs in behind the defence, looking for the ball over the top. Jamie Vardy and Erling Haaland are brilliant at this.
These runs cause panic in the defence and defenders hate running back to their own goal. Because of this, defenders might drop off and sit deeper. If they do this too often it’s giving space for the midfield to push up the pitch, therefore they won’t do this all the time.
A good striker will make these runs behind the defence and look for one on one opportunities with the goalkeeper, or just make runs into the channels of the pitch to turn the defence and provide an outlet for the team. Make these runs and your team has far more opportunity on the ball, but you can’t do them every time, so mix up your play.
Running behind the defence will force the defence back, giving more space for the rest of the team.
Drop short like Harry Kane to help your team keep possession and then make runs in behind like Haaland and Vardy, causing problems for the defence while also creating opportunities for you and your team.
It’s a hard job playing up front on your own but your play is vital to the team. When you do get the ball, keep it.
When you don’t have the ball, put the work in to disorganise the defence and create potential opportunities for you. The top players out there are incredibly dangerous off the ball, giving defenders a real headache with their movement. So make sure that you aren’t static, waiting for the ball most of the game. Make runs that give your midfielders the opportunity to play the ball forward, in behind the defence.
Do this and you’ll find that the job of being a lone striker isn’t as lonely as you may think.