Position, timing and direction of runs in behind the defense

More and more top teams use off the ball movements behind the opponent's defense as their primary offensive weapon to create chances and score goals. Current AZ Alkmaar manager Arne Slot is very specific about the way he wants his players to execute these deep runs. A monologue.

Approach run

'Off the ball movements behind the opponent’s defense are a very effective way to create chances. This is especially the case when the quality in terms of the starting point, moment and direction of the deep run is very high.'

'One of the most important conditions for off the ball movements is the approach run. When a player starts at the offside line, he has to accelerate when a teammates plays a through ball.'

'By starting 3-5 meters away from the offside line, a player can start his run before the pass comes in. This way, he develops speed and takes a lead compared to the defenders.'

'The approach run also draws attention to the passer. He can spot the deep run and anticipate on it. A sprinting player is easier to identify than a player standing still, waiting to receive on the defensive line. When the timing of the pass is correct, it is very hard to defend an off the ball movement that includes an approach run.'

Direction and moment

'When a player goes in behind, he can also gain an advantage by doing this outside of the field of view of the defender. If you pass by in front of him, he registers your run earlier and can block the run or close down the space between the defensive line and the goalkeeper.'

'Besides the starting position and the direction of the run, preferably towards the goal, the moment is crucial. You have to estimate the time your teammate needs to pass. Obviously, it is much easier to play a through pass when you are able to see the opponent’s goal. This is something for the players to recognize.'

'Moreover, there are some specific situation in which I always expect off the ball runs. For example, if we play a diagonal pass from the wing to the half-space, there should always be an off the ball run in behind the defense in the half-space on the blind side. Another example is the overlap of the fullback when we switch play and can create a 2v1-situation.'


'Below, you'll find a drill I use to improve the communication, decision making and execution of both the through pass and the deep run. The pass from the blue 8 to the blue 11 and back are obligatory, as well as the defending pressure of the red full back, midfielder and central defender on the right side. After that, the blue 8 picks his pass to the blue 9, 10 or 6 based on the decisions of red in terms of their defensive positioning.'

This interview with Arne Slot was published in the Dutch football coaches magazine De Voetbaltrainer in December 2016. De Voetbaltrainer is the parent company of Drills4Football.

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