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Developing The Predator

Developing The Predator

Ben Nicholson
March 10, 2021

It all comes down to having a plan

Attacking players who can score goals have always come at a premium within the elite game. Following Burnley’s 0-2 defeat to Man City in February, Sean Dyche was quoted that “Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in the game”. 

How can we develop these goal scorers through playing? Can we develop players that can recognise space to receive around the key goal scoring zones, with a ‘predator’ instinct, attacking players that have a plan to finish using varying techniques? The subjective discussions within football often argue that goal scorers are born. But through the right environment, practice and references these predators can be developed. 

There are multiple key skills for individuals to develop to enable young players to play with skill and individuality. However, for the purpose of developing the predator, we will focus on four key skills that all connect to develop expert finishers.

  1. Recognise space to receive 

As in recognising space away from opponents, either behind, in front or to the side of opposition players to receive a pass/cross from a team-mate. This recognition of space links with the variations to finish, (a plan on how you will find space to receive to enable scoring). Key elements such as scanning and visual awareness of the ball, team-mate, opposition, and space are vital in knowing how many touches you will need to create an opportunity to finish. The position of the goalkeeper or defender are key indicators for the next action and the variation of the finish that may be used. The timing of the movement is also vital to receive in space. Many goals are scored from players receiving or coming on to the ball through movement and not being static. Therefore, understanding the timing of when to arrive in space, created though varying movements such as a blindside run, stepping, and checking off an opponent to receive within a yard or space or half spaces between opponents, are key skills to master. 

2.Receiving shapes

To determine their next football action (looking at the skill of finishing) each player must be able to receive the ball either into space, through space or away from pressure. These receiving shapes, determining where the first touch goes to move into space or the first touch to finish, are all dependant on the position, direction, moment and speed of the ball, team-mate, opposition, and space (BTOS) through visual awareness, and inform the decision-making process. Executing the receiving skill using one of many receiving shape methods, whether that be on the half turn to take the first touch forward between two opponents (often seen from Sergio Aguero), or the little toe closed turn using the body as a barrier against pressure to roll the opposition defender (like Romelu Lukaku) are vital. So are the small disguise movements on the first touch, such as shifting to a ‘pass to yourself’ like we see with Harry Kane, whereby the attacker gives the impression they are receiving the ball on one foot, taking it to the left and moving the defender across, before passing the ball across to the right foot with a feint to create the space for a shot on goal.

Receiving Shapes – (Pass to self) Shifting the position of the ball into space on the first touch

3. Variations to Finish

The different styles of finishing used in the decision-making process are based on the communication being received by the player (e.g., finishing from front or back post crosses, finish from cut back, first time outside the box, volleys or half volleys or taking on the GK). Paolo Di Canio was a master at being 1v1 with the Goalkeeper and using a feint or disguise to take on the goalkeeper to score, whereas Billy Sharp has often been noted for his positioning and reactions to score rebounds. Being in the right place at the right time is not luck, it comes down to having a plan on how to score and positioning themselves in the right areas to score goals. 

The variation to finish is determined by the game insight of the player ready to receive or already in possession and the position of the GK, opposition, ball, or themselves. The direction of the ball is coming in to receive or the direction of the shot. The moment is the moment they make their decision to execute their finish. Finally, the speed at which the ball is coming towards them, whether the opponents are pressing or the speed of the finishing technique to beat the GK, are the four key elements in making good decisions on executing the plan of how to finish using different variations.

Variations to Finish – Paolo Di Canio, taking on the GK in 1v1 situations to finish

4.Techniques to Finish

Once the player has recognised space and decided on their variation to finish, depending on the position, moment direction and speed of the ball, team-mate, opposition and space, the final element is the technique to finish. This is often practiced in isolation, but the need for opposition and realism is vital in this process to understand what technique to use. The top players all have their own MO of finishing techniques. Jamie Vardy often uses a driven technique finishing from the front post, Harry Kane often uses an instep swerve technique from outside the box, Ronaldo often used the toe poke when 1v1 with the goalkeeper, but the key element is they have a wide variety of techniques they can master within different variations to finish to become the predator in front of goal. The technique to finish is simply the execution of the decision on how to finish, using the different kicking variations, heading, or using other body parts in the attempt to score. 

Techniques to Finish – Ronaldo using the toe poke 

SSG to develop the predator finisher 

Highlighted below is a great 6v6 game used within the width of the penalty area and a goal on the goal line with the other 7m outside of the penalty area to develop the predator finisher, working on the four key elements highlighted within this blog.

Developing The Predator

Video Animation of the 6v6 variations to finish game

Ben Nicholson is an Academy Coach for NEFA, a football scholarship and education programme based in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. www.nefa.co.uk

NEFA also runs a free monthly Coaches Corner webinar. The next one is on the 22nd of March and you can register via Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/nefa-coaches-corner-david-and-keith-mayer-tickets-141694657535


Verheijen, R, (2020) Football coaching theory, The original guide to football coaching theory, Football Coach Evolution