Stop Crossing So Much & Attack More Efficiently

I know…

Classically speaking, crossing is the bread and butter of creating chances in soccer.

Everyone and their hamster knows about crossing.  In fact, watch any game and the classic go-to phrase is; “get the cross in!”


But… did you know it’s one of the least efficient methods of attacking in soccer?

Did you though?

Well, according to most recent research done on crossing, the results of crossing are dismal at best.  I’m not going to quote any specific sources (Google it), but the success rate of goals from crosses is brutal low.  Ok ok fine I will.  Go here and here.

But it’s tough not to pull out the old faithful right?  It’s tough not to go for the cross…

What’s more simple than trying to get your team to cross?  At least if you get crosses, it looks like you’re creating decent chanceroos.

And of course, the second that a team scores off a cross, all of a sudden it’s justified as a GREAT strategy…Never-mind it took 9281749 tries to score one goal off a cross.

Why is it usually a low percentage opportunity to try and score off a cross?

  • You almost always have to finish off a one touch finish (with a complete change of direction on that one touch)
  • Often you have to finish with your head (believe it or not most players suck using their heads…And even the best struggle at it because the cross has to be perfectly placed on your head because you don’t have a lot of room to adjust the positioning of your head like you would with your foot)
  • Instead of someone trying to score off of a neat pass from a team-mate, usually the guy/gal crossing is sending a bomb in from a mile out hoping that it hits someone in the box. Hence the phrase: “throw it in the mix!” That phrase alone gives it away: throw it in the mix?  Essentially you’re just tossing the ball nice and high and hoping it hits someone and then hoping that person has the skill to one time it towards the net and score…It’s chaotic, and chaotic is always tough to handle.

But for some reason, crossing is so ingrained in regular soccer (from amateur to the world’s highest levels) that everyone does it…And most teams do it way too often.

So, what are some good alternatives?

Let’s start with the easiest adaptation – learning how to cross in the most efficient ways…Am I contradicting myself?  Well, when I say “crossing,” I mean the classic bomb it in from the far sideline hoping it reaches a team-mate.  The kind I’m about to mention is a bit differente. Yes, there are better ways to cross:

  1. Low / cut back cross. A very good strategy used by many of the top teams around the world.
  2. Curler behind the backline…

But before we detail those, something very important should be noted.  In order to create the most efficient methods to score off of crosses, players who are in crossing positions need to be taught their most valuable options.

As such, the first thing any wide player should do when possible is cut in towards the net as much as possible.  (see the pic)

Notice how the player cut IN towards the by-line?  This does a couple things including: cutting off angle from defender which makes it harder for defender to tackle you, allows you to cross from closer in (giving more accuracy), and gets the crosser in close enough to actually pick out a team-mate instead of just crossing it to the box and hoping for the best.

Therefore, you should ALWAYS teach your players to cut in when possible.  Only dribble vertically down line if defender isn’t giving you anything else.  IF possible, create space to cut in which will give you a way better crossing opportunity such as the cut-back…

The cut-back is an incredibly valuable method of attack.  Use it if you are able to consistently create the space to get close enough to perform a cut back.

See how when the player dribbles inwards, it allows him/her to pick out a team-mate easily?

The other option when not able to cut in close enough, is to perform the curler behind the back-line.  This option is available when you have space between the back-line and the goalie to curl it behind (see pic).  Furthermore, it’s usually only available when the player crossing is not all the way down the line (which gives room to curl it at an angle forwards towards the net as opposed to hitting a cross at a 45 degree angle (the worst type).

Notice how the player crossing is curling the ball at a diagonal angle behind the line?  That’s a better option then going all the way down the line and hitting a 45 degree angle cross.

This option is great because it puts the ball in the most dangerous part of the field.  Furthermore, if you put it behind the defenders, it’s incredibly hard for them to clear it without making a mistake (and worst case scenario they’ll knock it out for a corner), like putting it in their own net.  And finally, it’s an easier finish cause usually attacking players just have to get a foot on it and the ball will find its way to the back of the net.

So there you have it, two ways to attack efficiently from crosses…

So what are other ways to attack other than crossing?

Runs behind the other team’s back line (through balls being the best)

There’s very strong research showing that runs behind the other team’s back-line is one of the most powerful ways to score in soccer.  It’s one of the better stats that correlates strongly with success.  No, I won’t be giving excruciating detail on the best ways to successfully make runs (and get the ball there) behind the other team’s back-line, that’s for you to figure out (or for me to write about in a future blog).

Combination play

Pass and runs, 1-2’s, third man runs, overlaps, under-laps, layoffs etc…  All great ways to unbalance the other team’s defense.  (and also get behind the other team’s back-line).

Shots from outside the box (in front of the other team’s back-line)

To be honest, often another very low percentage chance but still something needed to mix up the options and to force the other team’s back-line to remain honest.

Now, the 3 methods just mentioned for attacking cover most of the ways to attack that don’t involve a cross (there’s a million variations within those methods but you get the point).

But here’s something you must understand, something crucial, and something that (at least with good competition) you’ll need to know in order to create space in different areas of the field.

Here it is:

By playing through the middle you create space out wide, and by playing through the side you create space in the middle.  You can’t just do one or the other (once again, unless you’re playing some crappy team that doesn’t understand how to compress the field etc).  It’s why Guardiola leaves two binding wingers out wide on the other team’s back-line, as he’s trying to force the other team too account for those two players and in the process open up space in the middle.

Make sense?  It’s crucial for teams to understand this.  For example: team’s that are known for playing wide don’t just immediately go wide.  If they did they would be too easy to stop.  They must establish solid center field presence, which opens up space out wide… And it works in the other way too.  In order to create space in the middle, you need to open up the other team by going wide (or at least by using binders).

Comprende?  Just cause I’m hating on crosses, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the width of the field…Using the width is fundamental.

Cool?  Cool…

So in summary, be careful just thinking that crosses are the be all end all.  They aren’t.

But… That doesn’t mean there’s no place for them.  Ideally, you should be looking for “more valuable” crosses such as the curler around the backline and the cut back on the ground.

And always remember the give and take with having access to the middle and the widths of the field.

Over and out,

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