10 seconds of pro soccer action broken down into important fundamentals we teach

Earlier this week Atletico Madrid beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in a UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg. The only goal of the game – and now the difference that Bayern has to surmount in their return leg in Munich – came early in the 1st half after a surging dribble through the heart of Bayern’s defense.

Atletico’s Saul Ñiguez received the ball in the midfield and beat several Bayern defenders to enter Bayern’s box, and then slotted the ball past Bayern’s goalkeeper, off of the post and into the goal. Both Saul’s individual brilliance and a total lack of individual defensive discipline were responsible for this goal. These 10 seconds demonstrate the importance of coaches constantly and consistently reminding the players about the fundamentals of soccer. Let’s break down what fundamentals were employed by Saul and what fundamentals the Bayern defenders forgot in those 10 seconds.

Saul’s Brilliance

The following things that Saul did right should be taught to very young players in pretty much every dribbling and shooting drill:

  • Kept the ball close to him as he dribbled
  • After making a move to beat a defender, Saul kept up his speed to get away from the players he beat
    • He never slows down
  • Kept his head up so he can see
    • where he is dribbling the ball to
    • where the defenders are positioned and what spaces they are closing down
    • where the goalie is positioned before taking a shot
  • Used the Outside-In move to evade two of the defenders
  • Used the Stepover move to freeze the last defender
  • Used the inside of his foot to shoot the ball, going for accuracy rather than power

All of our practice sessions cover most of these fundamentals, and some of them (including this one) cover all of the fundamentals Saul displays in these 10 seconds.

Lack of Defensive Discipline

The following things that Bayern defenders did break the fundamentals of defending that should be taught from an early age:

  • For the first 4 seconds after Saul receives the ball in the midfield, a Bayern midfielder defends him from the wrong side
    • Rather than trying to take the ball away while facing his own goal, the midfielder should have first worked really hard to get into a “goalside” position, between Saul and the goal he is defending
  • In the following 2 seconds, Saul beats two Bayern players – a defender stepping up to defend him and a midfielder coming from his left side
    • The defender steps up into the right position, but he is flat on his feet, so when Saul makes a simple move to a side, the defender is unable to adjust his positioning and continue to move with Saul
    • The midfielder “dives in” (tries to slide tackle the ball), which is only ever supposed to be done in two cases
      • You are absolutely 100% sure you will win the ball – obviously not the case since he didn’t win the ball
      • You are making a last-ditch effort to prevent a shot on goal – not the case since there were still defenders positioned around him that could prevent Saul from scoring
  • In the final 4 seconds, the defender puts himself between the ball and the goal, is on his toes, but he doesn’t close down Saul’s favored left foot
    • In those entire 10 seconds Saul touches the ball only once with his right foot, and an experienced defender should know by then to overplay Saul’s left side and steer him to his less dominant right foot

These defensive fundamentals are often overlooked in practices, or are barely touched upon as a byproduct of offensive drills. We discussed these fundamentals in this post, along with providing some ideas for drills to work on those fundamentals.

It’s Not the Goalie’s Fault

The finishing piece to the goal is the perfectly placed shot that leaves the goalkeeper helpless. There was not much he could do, which is also a lesson for our young players: it is almost never the goalkeeper’s fault the goal was scored, because there are so many defenders that get beat before a shot is ever even taken.

See if you can spot some fundamentals in popular soccer games and share them in the comments section!

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