Door 20: Dynamic space occupation and third man runs

The topic of dynamic space occupation is one which really rose to fame in the ‘tactics world’ during Tim Walter’s time at Holstein Kiel, but as with many seemingly new tactics, the basic idea is based upon a simple premise. For this topic, the simple premise is something which coaches have been shouted repetitively for years: “Pass and move!”, with the move being the key aspect.

This basic message underpins the idea of dynamic space occupation, with the aim being to occupy and move between multiple spaces within a play and to arrive into space to receive the ball. A common example of this is the “one-two”, but even this is not too common within football matches in general. To build on the idea of a one-two, the third man concept can be used, where player 1 can play into player 2 to access player 3.  This third player often moves dynamically to receive the ball with forward body orientation from the second player, with this player often inaccessible from the first pass. A one-two uses this same idea, just with less players, with player 1 also having to become player three.

 Most teams don’t use dynamic space occupation to their advantage, mainly because of the perceived riskiness or threats it has to defensive structure, however it is an extremely useful tool in the build-up phase, be that in deeper or higher areas. This article will look to demonstrate why and how teams use dynamic space occupation, as well as showing some practices I’ve used to coach this topic.

I should note that Eduard Schmidt published an excellent piece in the 2018 calendar on this topic, and you should check that out. I have also learnt a lot from clips and discussions with Christian Dobrick, who has implemented this concept well in Holstein Kiel’s youth setup.

Use of the pivot zone

An area that Holstein Kiel commonly occupied dynamically was the pivot zone, and this practice looks at replicating this. Two teams are matched up in the same formation, with a 3v2 overload given to the possession team in their goalkeeper zone and the middle zone is matched up 3v3. The pivot zones are marked clearly on the pitch, and initially a constraint is given that players can only arrive onto passes in the pivot zone, and so they cannot wait to receive. Players also can’t dribble out of the goalkeeper zone. Midfielders are initially not allowed to press forward into the pivot zone, and so midfielders and forwards The rest of the game is as normal, but the coach can manipulate things such as restarts to increase the number of repetitions. For example, if the ball goes out the coach can restart play by playing into a build up player. If the coach restarts play from different angles frequently, this will increase not only repetitions but the variance within the repetitions- which is vital.

The numbers of players in each zone can be changed by the coach, and this is a key affordance within the practice no matter how it is balanced. The 3v2 in the goalkeeper zone forces the use of the goalkeeper in order to overcome pressure. The 3v3 in the middle zone ensures that numerical superiority cannot be achieved without another player moving into this zone, and so dynamic space occupation from defenders is even more incentivised. The goalkeeper zone could be moved to a 3v3, with this equality forcing players to pass the ball and then create an option to support by dismarking their opponent. Ideally in this, you want a theoretical 4v3 to be created, with one build up player basically acting as two due to their movement. Underloading would greatly increase the difficulty and massively emphasise support play, but teams don’t often build up while underloaded in football, so coaches should be careful using this.

Later in the practice, you can allow the opposition midfielders to press forward to cover the pivot zone, which then emphasises the need for pinning actions from midfielders in order to vacate the pivot zone, or to receive the ball freely.

Other constraints could also be introduced to create new affordances which the players interact with, with a simple one being that the pressing team gets two points if they win the ball in the opposition’s goalkeeper zone. This encourages the pressing team to be aggressive and fast in their pressing, and so the concept of counter dynamics can be practiced more, with players looking to use the oppositions momentum against them in a pressing situation. 

Third man runs

This practice is one I have used for focusing on playing to the furthest man, however the idea transfers into third man runs when manipulated effectively. Play starts with the red team always, who act as the main focus of the practice. They are engaged in a 3v3 in the middle zone, while a target player higher up (in the target zone) is 1v2 against a defender and goalkeeper. The reds score points by scoring into the goal, however the ball cannot be dribbled into the target zone and must be passed. The blue team defend and look to counter, and score goals by stopping the ball in the yellow end zone at the bottom of the pitch.

The target player is constrained to one or two touches at the maximum, and so this emphasises the need for support play. Because of the 3v3 in the middle zone, it won’t be a case of simply playing to the target player and into an unmarked player. Instead, an attacker will have to use space dynamically and try to dismark their opponent in order to receive the ball. The target zone is funnelled in order to train diagonal support runs. A one-touch finish rule could be added later if teams find it too easy, as this will force the timing of these support runs to be optimal.

The practice can also be developed to incorporate wide support runs, with two players in wide zones introduced as well as another defending player. . Defenders can enter this wide zone once the ball enters, and so there is an initial free pass into the wide zone allowed. This use of wide players in this way is one which I think I first saw in a Moritz Kossman tweet.

This adaptation decreases the difficulty of the practice as the red team now have an overload, but it helps to change the focus of the attacking team. Constraints can be added such as wide players get two points for scoring, so that central players can look to access the target player while wide players make well timed support runs for the target player.

I’ve attached a video below showing Huddersfield’s use of third man runs in the build-up under Carlos Corberán, as well as a scene from an Atalanta match where the concept is seen but not executed. I have a mega analysis coming out on Huddersfield shortly, so if that interests you please keep an eye out on my Twitter (@cam_meighan).

Ideas for higher up the pitch

Dynamic space occupation can be very useful higher up the pitch too in order to create overloads and play penetrative passes. The main benefit to the use of dynamic space occupation in higher areas is that less players are required to create overloads, and so within one positional play sequence, one player can occupy two or more roles. The main benefit all over the pitch is that players moving into space have improved body orientation. 

I’ve attached a few clips here looking at teams use of dynamic space occupation higher. A great example is seen between Lewandowksi and Müller against Dortmund, where both players deliberately drop deeper in order to create space to arrive into in the half-space. 

Examples such as Curtis Jones’ one-two, as well as Huddersfield’s wing-back (Harry Toffolo) run show how one player can occupy more than one role within the play.

So how can a coach try to facilitate that play in training and matches. Simple game based practice designs can be used, but useful constraints around rewarding dynamic space occupation can be used. One potential rule could be: If you receive a diagonal pass, you can have unlimited touches, but if you receive a straight/sideways pass you have one touch. Another could be if you receive facing forward or arrive onto a pass, you have unlimited touches, but if you receive facing back you are restricted to one touch. This would lead to player’s attempting to find ways to receive with forward body orientation and avoid having to only play with one touch. Some of these examples could be difficult to police though.

A more focussed example could be to look at the half-space particularly, with this body orientation rule only being enforced in the half-space. Certain passes could also be prioritised, for example passes from the wide zone to the half-space can be focused on and prioritised over passes from the centre to the half-space. Players could be given more touches for passes from wide to half-space in order to incentivise these passes, or they could be given less touches in order to increase difficulty and force players to try to arrive onto the ball to take utilise their limited touches.  

Pitch shape could also be altered, with a pitch shape to encourage diagonals in the half-space helping to encourage dynamic space occupation where players arrive onto diagonal passes. These are just a few ideas which could be applied across multiple sessions.

 This article has looked to showcase a few ideas around training dynamic space occupation and third man runs. The strategy is a brave one in deeper build-up, and the concept itself is rather simple, but the use of it as a concept is still a fairly rare one. When positional play is all about creating a free player, having a player occupy move between space and occupy  at least two players in one play is a useful tool, which is one of the many reasons why dynamic space occupation can be so effective. 

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