Football is a simple game that can be overcomplicated, but these three areas, and the description of their primary roles, made things a lot clearer for me and provide players with the basis and foundation to go out there and positively influence the game.
Sometimes we can have different formations, tactics, and roles to play, which can lead to confusion for a lot of players, especially at younger age groups but the three areas of the pitch, and their primary function are clear and simple for the player to follow. If they can think of these areas when they are playing they will build a good, strong foundation of how to play the game.
Potentially giving them more success.
Splitting the pitch into three thirds gives a defensive third, midfield third and an attacking third.
So let’s take a look at the defensive third first of all.
In today’s modern game, every single player on the pitch has become more technical, comfortable in being able to step out of the back four and play the ball forwards. Goalkeepers are now passing the ball out from the back and attacks are formed from these deep areas, giving defenders the responsibility of receiving the ball under pressure from the opponent’s attackers.
But, playing in the defensive third has one key role, and that is preventing the other team from scoring. So first of all we want to make sure that if players are in any doubt and concerned about the opposition’s pressure then we have to make sure that we go by the safety first thought. Now there will be some players who are more comfortable on the ball, able to bring it down and play it out to a midfielder, however, if the defender is under pressure, or having to stretch to clear the ball, then we have to think about safety first.
If need be, clear the ball out of play, allowing your team to get back into a position to defend once again, from a more organised, defensive, formation.
Now we definitely don’t want players just clearing the ball at every opportunity, hitting it long and getting rid of possession. But, if there is no other option, then think of safety first when you are in the defensive third of the pitch.
The second area is the midfield third and the primary focus here, when in possession, is to keep it. When the ball comes into this area we want to make sure that we can keep it, keeping it until the option to play forward in to an attacker becomes available. Therefore, in this area, we need to make sure that as players we are calm, composed and aware of what is happening around us. Movement off the ball is vital so that we can create angles and opportunities for our teammates to pass the ball.
If we can keep possession and move our opponents out of position we then look for that forward pass, but we must make sure that this area is practised, giving you a better chance of executing that potential opportunity.
Then, in the final third, the attacking third, players should express themselves. In the final third of the pitch players who take risks will inevitably give the ball away, however the risks that they take can also bring lots of goals, or goalscoring opportunities.
Just look at Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United. He actually gives the ball away quite a lot, especially in that final third of the pitch, however he is given the freedom to try things. At times it may not work out, but when it does he creates or finishes opportunities that others may not have done.
As attacking players you want to make sure that you have the freedom to express yourself, giving you enjoyment and excitement when you are in that final third. Play with freedom and go and attack players, dribbling with skills to beat an opponent, or play a one two and run in behind.
Playing as an attacking player is a difficult area of the pitch, but if there is too much instruction then some of these attacking players can feel that they are nullified or too robotic in their play. Attacking players, play with freedom, take risks and go out and express yourselves.
Eventually, you’ll be more effective because of that.
I’ve always remembered these three areas because to me it is so simple. It gives players clear guidance on what to do in certain areas of the pitch and can help to eliminate doubt in their decision making. But what we must remember is that these are the foundations of the game; players’ performance and more technical/tactical information can be provided in addition to this.
So, players, make sure you realise where you are on the pitch and if you are in doubt as to what to do then have a think about these three areas.
Safety first in the defensive third of the pitch and don’t take any unnecessary risks. Be confident on the ball but if there are no opportunities to play out from the back then there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the safe option.
In the middle third of the pitch we aim to keep possession and find the right opportunity to play a positive pass forward in to the attackers.
And then finally, the attacking third of the pitch should be all about having fun, being creative and expressing yourself. Get in this area and go and attack, enjoy being a player that takes the game to the opposition.
Three simple areas, but it can give you a great basis to play the game from.
Use it when you’re playing and it will help with your decision making in those pressurised situations.