A couple of years ago a new rule was introduced, allowing players to receive the ball in their penalty area from a goal kick. Previously this wasn’t allowed, players couldn’t step into the area to receive the ball on a goal kick which forced the goalkeeper to play a long ball forward.
Regularly, a goal kick was used to gain territory, allowing the team to compete for the loose ball. Hopefully, the team would win the ball higher up the pitch, closer to the opposition's goal.
But the new rule change has made things a lot different.
Footballers are so good on the ball now that teams are prepared to play out from the back more, with intricate phases of play, even inside their own box.
But there are times where it can seem that teams can overplay the ball, taking too many touches close to their own goal.
But it’s not just in their own area or defensive third of the pitch where the ball can be overplayed.
Sometimes players are in a situation where they are being pressured and just seem to have nowhere to go. If that’s the case it is important to have an out ball.
And that out ball can be the ball over the top - which at times can be seen as unfashionable.
The emphasis, and quite rightly so, is on keeping the ball, allowing the talented players on show to keep the ball and demonstrate their huge technical ability. But sometimes we just have to move the ball on. In my opinion, good players know just when to do this.
And the option to play the ball over the top, should be there every time.
The danger with always playing the ball to feet is that it can encourage pressure. Now, a lot of teams may want this. If they can encourage pressure they can draw the opposition away from their own goal. If you can play past this pressure, you then have great opportunity to go and attack, but there are times where this isn’t going to work.
The ball over the top can be used when the high press used by the opposition is becoming more effective. If a team presses high, and you can bypass that press with a quick ball over the top, then you’ll start to stop that team from pressing so high. They’ll drop off to prevent the ball in behind, giving you more time to keep possession.
There are great benefits to the ball over the top, but it shouldn’t be a long, hopeful, ball. It needs to be an accurate, purposeful, pass, into the space.
To do that, you need runners in behind.
The high press can sometimes force the team in possession to take unnecessary risks. Players who drop short to the ball regularly invite more pressure.
There is a trend at the moment that players seem to want to be on the ball as frequently as possible, which is great, however it is affecting movement off of it. Look at strikers nowadays; quite often they are dropping deep to receive the ball, almost like a number 10. Quite often you’ll see wide players drop deep too, but the movement in behind is lessening.
If players can have this movement in behind then there will be huge opportunities to get more scoring opportunities, while also providing a safety net.
Teams pressing high can leave space in behind the defence.
Teams can’t always play out from the back and there are times where it seems to be that there are unnecessary risks being taken when in possession. Teams who can keep possession but also have movement in behind are incredibly dangerous.
Do the opposition press high up the pitch, leaving them vulnerable over the top? Or do they drop deep, protecting the space in behind to prevent the more direct pass?
Playing a ball over the top, into the space, will force the opposition to drop deeper to defend that area, giving your team more time and space in possession.
Doing that will give the team in possession more time and space on the ball.
But if you do just one or the other then play can become predictable.
So if you are a player then it is important to realise that. If you feel under pressure and you see no way out, no option to pass short to a teammate, then the ball over the top can actually be something great.
Don’t do it every time you get the ball, try and keep the ball as often as you can, but there will be times where you do need to play over the top of the defence.
When you do need to use it, use it well. Not just a long aimless thump up the pitch.
Play the ball accurately, over the top of the defence and into the path of your on-rushing forward.
The game is changing and it is becoming more and more about possession and technical ability, something that I love. But it is important that as players we don’t become one dimensional. The best players can adapt to all sorts of situations and there will be times where a high press by the opposition is working over and over for them.
How do you as a player help change that?
The ball over the top might be the answer, forcing the opposition to drop off and defend the space instead, giving you all more time on the ball.
Each game of football is different and the best players realise that. Sometimes there is absolutely nothing wrong with going longer and it shouldn’t be something, if used at the right times, that is thought of negatively.