Execution is the key.

Here we go.

Based on the assumption you will deploy 2 holding midfielders and a lone attacking midfielder what will be required of the outside backs in a 4-2-3-1 is largely predicated on what you ask of your outside midfielders.

Movement without the ball

1) Shared responsibility for the element of width between outside backs and outside midfielders.
2) Outside backs key their forward movement on the movements of their outside midfielder.
3) If the outside midfielder remains in the outside channel the outside back is in a support role.
4) The exception to #3 is if the overlapping run is available to the outside back.

Cues for the Overlap Combination Pass
a) The ball carrier can face the opponents goal
b) There is space between the ball carrier and the nearest defender.
c) There is space behind the defender to overlap into.

How to execute the Overlap Combination Pass
a) The outside back initiates the sequence by passing the ball to be played across his outside midfielders body while calling out "Hold!"
b) The outside midfielder engages the defender by taking touches on the ball in toward the center of the pitch.
c) The outside back bends his run to the outside and calls "NOW!" when he wants the ball passed to him.
d) The outside midfielder delivers the ball into near space for the outside midfielder to run on to.

This return pass is played either via a back foot push pass or using the outside surface of the lead foot and is delivered just forward of square and down the line.

5) If the outside midfielder makes a central diagonal run, the outside back then makes the outside flank run to maintain the element of width in the attack. This run may be instant or delayed and can lead the outside back all the way into the final third of the field for a cross or shot.

The outside backs on my teams assist on a lot of goals and score a lot of goals themselves.

Other Considerations

The outside backs must read two other cues to determine their movements forward.

6) The positioning of the opposing forwards

a) If the opposing forward withdraws with the forward run of the outside back there are no worries.
b) If the opposing forward remains high, do we have enough defenders back to deal with the threat of a quick counter attack against us?

7) What is the positioning of the opponents center midfielders?

Dependent on these reads we might push both outside backs forward.

If there are opposing forwards remaining high to contend with, we will push one forward with the other holding with the center backs.

Or we may release one outside back with the other moving into the hole centrally dependent on the opponents center midfielders.

Dependent on when the ball is played to the outside back he will have a few options for play to consider.

A) If the outside back wins possession of the ball or is the recipient of the SAFE PASS he should look to play to the feet of the target player checking back to the ball.

If the target is not available, then the safest diagonally forward pass should be made.
          a) Can this be a diagonally forward pass through the midfield to initiate a change of field?

Another option is to initiate a change of fields through the back line or as a last result through his Goalkeeper.

B)  If the outside back receives the ball in the middle third of the field can he drive a diagonal ball toward the opposite side of the field.

If this ball is on the ground it should be made to a second runner cutting diagonally from the opposite side of the pitch.  This player may well be the weak side outside mid or it could be a central midfielder.

If this ball is flighted it will be to the teams opposite outside midfielder OR if that player has made an inside diagonal run it will likely be to the teams other outside back making the flank run referenced above.

We do not want to make this last option a standard of play but it is good to use as a change up.  Remember the diagonal ball played across the field?  It is the first runner who we bypassed that makes a line or flag run out in front of the outside back / ball carrier.  Playing the ball line or dumping it forward into the channel is an option for play.

C) If the outside back receives the ball in the final third of the field he has a variety of options based on how he came to be in this situation.

The first option in the final third is always to shoot the ball.
The next option is to advance the ball to an area from where the shot can be taken
The third option is to pass the ball to a teammate who is open and can take a shot
          This may well be in the form of a cross, but doesn't have to be in the conventional sense.

If he has followed the outside midfielder (or another attacking player) forward in a support role he makes himself available for a drop pass and then makes the reads listed directly above to determine his course of action.

If he is arriving as the weak side width element he positions himself so he can make a run on goal going from the corner of the 18 through the corner of the 6 to the back post.  Corner, Corner, Post.

If he arrives in the final third as a weak side player in support of the weak side outside midfielder the back may need to make the inside diagonal run to the face of goal.


The back may be asked to remain slightly withdrawn from the final third to sweep up the garbage. Both his own central midfielders and the opposing central midfielders are the read for this action.

Okay, I shared the basic information.  I hope it somehow finds its way into the proper hands / minds. 

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