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If a player always gives the impression of having plenty of time to do what they want on the pitch, they're one of the rare footballers to have mastered the art of positioning. Knowing where to position yourself gives you the upper hand over your opponents, and even allows you to compensate for a lack of speed or explosiveness.
Defenders and forwards play cat and mouse during matches. They engage in fierce duels that can decide the outcome of the match. To gain an advantage over their opponent, a defender needs to be cunning. Risky, yet devastatingly effective when executed well, the offside trap is a must in the defender's toolkit. To master it, you have to constantly keep an eye on your fellow defenders' positions. “Reading” the game is also important. A good defender can sense when the ball is about to be passed, anticipate it, then appear from out of nowhere to take their opposite number out of the picture. Even better is to have a leader in the defensive line who can orchestrate play and guide each person's movements. Take on this role only if you feel you've got broad shoulders!
The ability to anticipate can also help defenders to make goal-saving interceptions. To get yourself in the way of an opponent's pass, you need to position yourself carefully, refraining from sticking too close to your mark. This means leaving a little leeway and knowing when to put on that burst of speed to get there before your opponent. This will also stop them using their body how they'd like. That's because it's easier for a striker to act as pivot when their marker is standing right behind them. All they need to do is use their arm and turn at a slight angle to block you. This is much harder to do when you're coming at them full tilt.
Of everyone on the pitch, the player who has to work hardest on positioning is probably the midfielder. The thinkers of their team, time is valuable for them. The more of it they have, the more easily they'll be able to move their team in the right direction. Sergio Busquets, for example, has a talent for always getting himself and his team-mates into a comfortable position. To do this, he's constantly analysing the movements of his partners and opponents. He keeps his head up so that he can more easily spot gaps or move himself into them to get free. You don't need to run miles to do that. Just standing a few metres back will do the job and gain you a precious few tenths of a second.
For midfielders, adapting to their team-mates is also vital. If you're playing with two or three in midfield, watch what the player(s) either side of you is(are) doing. If another midfielder has moved forward to attack, it's up to you to be smart enough to hang back so you can kill off any counterattacks. This won't stop you having your moment when the opportunity presents itself. And this is where another key aspect of good positioning comes into play: communication. Keep talking to your nearest team-mates so you can adjust your position and make it as effective as possible.
If you're not communicating effectively, your opponent will be only too happy to take advantage of it. Their aim is to exploit the slightest flaw in your defence to score a goal. With football becoming faster and ever more intense, dribbling isn't necessarily the most effective way to create an opening. Positioning yourself intelligently will become key for creating goal-scoring opportunities. For example, Pippo Inzaghi - the famous Milan AC and Juve striker (among others) - never had to dodge many opponents with the ball. But his talent for positioning allowed him to score around 300 goals in his career. According to Alex Ferguson, he was “born offside”.~
Offside. Both the striker's enemy and main ally. Without it, Inzaghi would never “have been able to exist”, as he put it himself. This imaginary line has to be deeply ingrained into players' minds at all times. They also need to anticipate the defender's movements and leave themselves time to react to what they do. If you can do this well, all that remains is to single-handedly take on the goalkeeper. It's hard to find a more satisfying situation for a striker!