Ever since Sky Sports commissioned Opta to track Premier League team and player data ahead of the 1996/97 season, fans and pundits have been more tactically aware and more likely to use relatively technical terms.

These include “passing through the lines”, which broadly describes a tactic that can be used to break down well organised defensive blocks and find attacking players in space in the final third.

But what are the ‘lines’ in this case, and why is ‘passing through them’ a purposeful attacking tactic? Let’s find out!

Exploring Lines and Defensive Blocks in Football

Every team plays with its own formation, which will adopt different shapes during offensive and defensive phases. During the defensive phase, a team’s formation usually compresses to become a compact block, which has three distinct lines that the opposition must play through.

If your side adopts a 4-4-2 shape when out of possession, for example, there will be a front line of two attackers and four midfielders stationed in front of a back four.

For teams that deploy a more flexible 4-2-3-1 shape, this will most likely to become a compact 4-5-1 when out of possession. This creates a secondary midfield line that features five players, which is typically much harder to play through centrally.

Passing, Receiving and Arriving Between the Lines

Recently, defensive blocks of this type have become increasingly compact, whether they’re deployed as part of a high press or adopt a much deeper back line. This minimises the space between each of the three lines, reducing space for opposition attackers and making it difficult to pass through the middle of the pitch.

Still, the remaining space in between the lines can be targeted by attacking teams, in order to both construct effective attacks and potentially draw opposing players out of position.

This is why coaches instruct their players to pass between the lines, in a bid to find attacking players in space and often on the half-turn. They can then isolate defenders and commit them, continue the attack with another pass or take a shot at goal if they’re able to.

Of course, this tactic initially requires players to take up spaces in between the lines, particularly the final third between the midfield and defence. For example, a forward may drop slightly deeper into a half space in the attacking third, so that he can receive the ball while escaping the attentions of a defender (and creating space elsewhere).

Offensive players may also ‘arrive’ in between the lines, such as an attacking midfielder who makes a well-timed break into space and runs onto a forward pass. This may create a shooting opportunity, or create an attacking overload that frees up another forward player.

The Last Word

Passing, receiving and arriving between the lines are all key attacking principles, especially when sides are looking to break down compact defensive blocks.

This applies regardless of the height of the block in question too, as playing through the lines can both beat an aggressive, front-foot press and create strategic overloads that disorientate and open up deep defensive lines.

Make no mistake; playing through the lines is a key concept for coaches at all levels to understand, especially in an age where defensive blocks are more organised and compact than ever before.

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