#In possession

Switch of play

FIFA, 08 Nov 2021


It was Pep Guardiola who famously said that the best way to win football matches was to 'move your opponent, not the ball'. The thinking behind the Manchester City head coach's philosophy is that by getting the opposition to move, you open up spaces on the pitch that can be exploited.

One way a team can achieve this is by switching the play. Like many top coaches, Guardiola has always encouraged his teams to use the full width of the pitch to allow his best attackers to receive the ball in dangerous positions. But, as the Catalan knows all too well, to do this effectively, you need to create the space first. 'You have the ball on one side, to finish on the other,' said the two-time UEFA Champions League-winning coach.


The key objective of the 'switch in play' is to try and get a numerical advantage on the side you move the ball to, forcing the opposition into a 2v1 or 1v1 situation.  

There are many different ways to switch play but for a team to implement it effectively, there are three fundamental elements:

  • Space and time need to be created for the player who will make the pass so they can accurately switch the play without being put under pressure.
  • The player, or multiple players, giving options to receive the pass on the other side of the pitch should also create space for themselves before they receive the ball. They will often do this by using the full width of the pitch on both the near as well as the far side to ensure the switch of play is not entirely predictable.
  • Any supporting attacking players need to be aware that the switch is about to be made so they can make the supporting run to help progress the attack and create an overload.

Before implementing this tactic, it is important to understand how the opposition team are set up.

Against a well-organised team

If they are well organised and play a narrow formation, the switch is often an excellent option because the attacking full-back or winger can take up a wide position to receive the ball. The player receiving the ball should be supported by his wide player or full-back, who will:

  • offer an option by rotating inside to put the opponents under pressure.
  • force the opponents to make a decision on whether to go out and defend 1v1 or leave the space for the player to receive.
  • offer a deep run so the player receiving the ball can progress the play.

The player receiving the ball can then attack the advanced spaces, either behind the full-back or by cutting inside to progress the play again.

Against a less-organised team

When the opposition are less well organised, the switch is an excellent option to create an overload and penetrate the opposition defence. Switching the play will allow the attacking team to move the ball quickly into open spaces and immediately put the opposition on to the back foot.

Summary of switching the play

The attacking team employ a deep player with a good passing range to change the focal point and the intensity of their attack with one accurate crossfield ball. This allows the attacking team to expose spaces left by narrow, if organised, defences and leaves the defending team with two options:

  • to have their full-back drawn out into a 1v1, and leave gaps in the defensive unit,
  • or to allow the attacking team more space in a dangerous part of the pitch.

Both options give the attacking team the chance to progress play and create a goal-scoring opportunity, thus emphasising the importance of how effective switching the play can be.

...move your opponent, not the ball

Pep Guardiola

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