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Combination Play

What is Combination Play?

Combination Play is an essential attacking and possession style for teams to use to break down opponent’s defensive shape. Combination Play involves the creation of shapes like triangles and diamonds or synchronized movements and positional interchanges in order to attack with greater fluidity and organization. All of the best professional clubs in the world have some clearly defined method of combination play in the final-third of the pitch. For Borussia Dortmund, they are heavily reliant on one-two-touch play in and around the 18-yard box, looking for through-ball passes into the area at the right moment or creating overloads to spread the ball wide and deliver crosses into the box. For Liverpool, their front-three of Salah, Firmino and Mane orchestrate attacks in the final-third as though it’s a choreographed routine, relying heavily on positional interchange and movement off-the-ball to cause chaos for their opposition. Although our ECFC teams might never be able to achieve the attacking flair of Borussia Dortmund or Liverpool, working hard in practice on Combination Play can still be tremendously helpful in the quest for greater attacking success in tight spaces.

In order to combine and play in tight areas, players must be comfortable on the ball, even when marked tightly. They must also move intelligently off the ball to exploit space, lose their markers or drag them out of position to create space for a team-mate, and they must be able to play accurate passes into feet or space. Collectively, the team must understand the importance of using the whole width of the pitch to stretch the opponent’s defensive block and create gaps in central areas.  Following are some quick coaching points to consider before heading to your next practice.

Coaching Points:
  • First touch in the direction you want to go
  • Quick passes and quick movements. Not a jog in between passes but also doesn’t always have to be a sprint; constant movement is key
  • Maintain triangle shape with teammates
  • Body shape to receive and receiving on the back-foot (foot furthest away from the ball, closest to the place you want to go)
  • Body shape on the half-turn to play either direction
  • Keep head up when receiving the ball to anticipate where their pass should go
  • Play forwards at the right moment, when defending line is flat
  • Quick 1-2 touch play lessens time for defenders to react
The following video is a short example of combination movement of U14 training session to show how to move to create space and options:
Here is another short video of an older team’s training session working on flank passing combinations. Notice how the players move to receive, their body shape as they receive to keep the ball settled, the weight of their passes.
Barcelona Combination Play Clips:

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