Attacking Skills — The Cornerstone of the Modern Game

This article is an excerpt from “Play the 1 v 1 Way: Soccer Tips From and Emerging Talent Centre.” This book is aimed at parents, coaches and players, and details both McClurg’s philosophy on development, as well as practical tips for building young male and female players looking to take their game to the next level.  

You can also get this full article in the February Issue of Amplified Soccer Athlete magazine. Our digital magazine is available in both the Apple App and Google Play stores. Our January issue focuses on helping players win the mental game on the field and provides numerous resources to help with off-season fitness and technical training. 

By Ian McClurg, Founder of 1 v 1 Soccer, UEFA “A” licensed coach and former Toronto FC Academy staff coach. Find out more about 1 v 1 Soccer at

At the end of 2012, one weekend in the English Premier League produced the second highest number of goals in the league’s 20-year history. Arsenal defeated Newcastle United 7-3, and Manchester City defeated Norwich City 4-3 with 10 men. This followed Chelsea’s 8-0 defeat of Aston Villa and Manchester United’s 4-3 defeat of Newcastle United during previous weeks.

What is significant is that the top teams in the EPL are placing an increased emphasis on their team attacking options rather than playing with defensive caution. Manchester United quite easily won the 2012/2013 English Premiership League and at the end of 2012 were the leading goal scorers in the league —both at home and away. However, at that time, there were 9 other teams with better defensive records during home games, and 2 other teams with better defensive records during away games. Before the season had even started, Manchester United had signaled their intent to outscore other teams in the league in order to regain their Premiership title by purchasing Robin Van Persie from Arsenal for 24 million pounds, instead of investing in the weaker midfield and defensive areas of their squad.

But it is important to remember that it is not only strikers who play a significant role in a team’s attacking play. The majority of teams in the English Premiership typically play with only 1 striker. Therefore, midfield players and full-backs have important roles to play in the attacking phases of play. Brazil has long used attacking full-backs arriving late in wide positions to overload defenders, to generate crosses or create dribbling opportunities into the box for goal-scoring opportunities. In Arsenal’s 7-3 win over Newcastle, striker/winger Theo Walcott scored three goals, and French forward Olivier Giroud potted two goals, yet the Gunners’ right fullback Bacary Sagna was involved the most in their attacking play over 90 minutes. Similarly, in Chelsea’s 8-0 win over Aston Vila it was the Blues’ right full-back, the Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta, who had the most influence in their attacking play.

It is generally acknowledged that at the top levels of the game, the team with the most possession controls play and as a result typically wins the game. However, statistics confirm that it is the quality of a team’s attacking play in the attacking third (rather than quantity of the play) that has a greater influence on results. For example, during Newcastle United’s 7-3 defeat to Arsenal they had a greater amount of possession (59 percent v 44 percent), attempted a higher number of passes (462 v 340) and achieved a higher pass completion rate (89 per cent v 83 per cent). The difference was that Arsenal completed a greater number of their passes (100 v 68) in the attacking third. The pace and trickery of players such as Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the quality of their finishing (10 out of 16 shots on target) proved the difference.

Continued....Get the rest of this article and more in the February Issue of Amplified Soccer Athlete or in "Play the 1 v 1 Way: Soccer Tips From and Emerging Talent Centre".