FIFA
#World-class skills

Aitana Bonmatí: The art of scanning

FIFA, 09 Jan 2024

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In part four of our world-class skills series, we explore the technical attributes of an outstanding midfielder who excels at scanning her surroundings before receiving and then progressing the ball.

The ability to link possession between a team’s defenders and attackers is a key aspect of effective midfield play and has a number of technical components. In this article, we analyse the exemplary techniques employed by Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí in three key phases: before possession comes her way, when preparing to receive the ball and after receiving it. 

Bonmat
í’s spatial awareness and knowledge of the whereabouts of other players enable her to pre-empt her next action and set herself in order to take her first touch in the direction in which she intends to move. Her consistent scanning of the pitch demonstrates her game intelligence and allows her to make early decisions about how to receive the ball and what to do with it.
 

The Barcelona stars standout performances during the FIFA Womens World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023earned her the adidas Golden Ball and being shortlisted for The Best FIFA Women's Player 2023. The midfield fulcrum was exceptional in her ability to create attacking opportunities for her team with her vision, decision-making and execution. 

The following clips illustrate how Bonmatí constantly scans the pitch, checking over her shoulders to get the lie of the land before receiving possession. We also see how she adjusts her body shape in order to progress the ball. 

Key insights

  • A players ability to scan the pitch by looking over their shoulders prior to receiving the ball is crucial. It allows them to assess the positions of opposition players and their team-mates, as well as to identify potential avenues to play into. 

  • Having this information before receiving possession enables the player to evaluate and make decisions on how and where to progress the ball.

  • Making an early decision empowers the player to adjust their body shape accordingly, considering the desired direction of ball progression and the nearest opponents location. This proactive approach provides the foundation for a quick and effective first touch, minimising the time and opportunities afforded to opponents to intervene. 

Scanning to receive

Bonmatí is constantly aware of her surroundings on the field of play. She works hard to consistently get into space and is always scanning the pitch. She uses her full range of peripheral vision, not just observing the scenario in front of her, but also checking over her shoulders to see as much of the picture as she can. Her commitment to this technique and appetite to find opportunities for her team are relentless.  

The metronomic midfielder is always aware of: 

A) where she is; 

B) where the opposition players are; 

C) where her team-mates are; 

D) where there is space; and 

E) where there could be an opportunity.  

By scanning the pitch before she gets the ball, Bonmatí can make early decisions about what she will do when she receives it. This foresight allows her to adjust her body shape to facilitate an optimal first touch in the direction in which she wants to go, in the process helping her to give opponents the slip. 

In the footage below, we see a classic example of how Bonmatí gets into space and provides a passing option for her team-mate Jenni Hermoso. The quality and accuracy of Hermosos pass are also instrumental in this sequence. Hermoso plays the ball into the space just in front of Bonmatí, allowing the latter to take a positive first touch forwards. By contrast, had the pass been directly to feet, Bonmatí would likely have needed to take an additional touch before progressing the ball. 

Coping with curveballs

The pass that arrives will not always facilitate the receiving players first-choice action. Deflections, underhit passes, inaccurate execution, timing issues and pitch quality factors such as bad bounces can all affect the receivers intended first touch. In these situations, the information gained from scanning the pitch prior to receiving possession can be even more valuable because it can facilitate adaptations that maintain momentum and reduce the risk of losing the ball. 

The screenshots below come from a sequence in the fourth minute of additional time in Spains FIFA Womens World Cupgroup-stage match against Costa Rica in Wellington/Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Despite her team being 3-0 up with just over 90seconds of the game remaining, Bonmatí does not switch off or let her consummate standards drop. 

In this instance, the pass that Bonmatí receives is to her back foot, hindering a first touch forwards. However, her awareness from scanning the pitch allows her to adjust. Knowing where alternative space exists, she swivels and helps rapidly get her team on the attack by curling a perfectly weighted ball into space up the wing. 

Summary

Bonmatí is a shining example of a player with world-class game intelligence, who constantly strives to create opportunities for her team. Rather than settling for what she naturally sees ahead of her; she is committed to maximising her awareness of what is unfolding on the pitch by scanning at every opportunity prior to receiving the ball. 

By continually taking snapshots of her surroundings, Bonmatí is able to make early decisions and adjust her body shape accordingly, allowing her to take her first touch in the direction in which she wants to go. This also means that she has sufficient information at hand to adapt when the pass received does not facilitate her intended first touch. 

Thanks to her supreme vision, Bonmatí is forever one step ahead of her opponents, injecting tempo into her teams play and helping them to progress or retain the ball. This denies the opposition valuable time in their efforts to defend and places them in situations where they are reacting instead of anticipating. 

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