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Overlapping Runs: Creating Width and Overloading Defenses

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Overlapping Runs: Creating Width and Overloading Defenses

In the modern game of football, the tactical deployment of overlapping runs is critical in breaking down stubborn defenses. Fullbacks and wingers executing these runs can stretch the opposition's defensive setup, creating space and goal-scoring opportunities. This post delves deep into why overlapping runs are a game-changer and highlights examples from elite teams.

The Importance of Overlapping Runs

Overlapping runs involve a player, usually a fullback, moving past a teammate (typically a winger) to create an option for a pass and to stretch the defense. This move disrupts the opponent's defensive lines and can lead to several advantages:

  • Creating Width: By pushing wide, fullbacks pull defenders out of position, creating gaps in central areas.
  • Overloading Sides: When the winger and fullback combine on one flank, they can outnumber the defense.
  • Providing Delivery Options: Well-timed overlaps lead to better crossing angles and attacking plays.

How Overlapping Runs Stretch Defenses

1. Widening the Play

By pushing higher up the pitch, fullbacks force the opposition's wingers and midfielders to track back, isolating the defensive line. This widening of the play opens up channels in the center for attacking midfielders to exploit.

2. Drawing Defenders

An overlapping run draws one or more defenders towards the ball, freeing up teammates for a pass or shot. This movement is instrumental in unbalancing zonal defensive systems, creating a ripple effect in the defensive alignment.

3. Creating 2v1 Situations

When the overlapping fullback and the winger overpopulate a single flank, they force a response from the defense. A well-coordinated combination can lead to frequent 2v1 situations, often making it easier to penetrate the final third.

Examples from Top Teams

Liverpool FC

Liverpool's fullbacks, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, are excellent exponents of overlapping runs. Their understanding with wingers like Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané creates numerous chances, as seen in their 2019-2020 Premier League-winning season.

Trent Alexander-ArnoldRight BackKey assists and width creation
Andrew RobertsonLeft BackOverlaps and defensive stretching
Mohamed SalahRight WingGoal scoring from central channels
Sadio ManéLeft WingDecoy runs and cutting inside

Manchester City

Pep Guardiola's tactical mastery utilizes overlapping runs effectively. City’s fullbacks, often Kyle Walker and João Cancelo, provide width and attacking options, often leading to intricate passing plays culminating in goals.

Kyle WalkerRight BackDefensive solidity and attacking options
João CanceloLeft/Right BackVersatility in overlapping runs
Raheem SterlingLeft WingMovement and drawing defenders
Riyad MahrezRight WingDribbling excellence and assists

Coaching Tips for Effective Overlapping Runs

  • Timing: Ensure fullbacks time their runs to coincide with the winger’s play, otherwise known as "third-man runs."
  • Communication: Both verbal and non-verbal cues between players are essential to avoid miscommunication.
  • Positional Awareness: Fullbacks should be aware of their starting position to ensure they can recover defensively.
  • Stamina and Speed: Fullbacks require immense physical fitness to repeatedly overlap and then track back.


Overlapping runs are an integral part of modern football tactics, providing strategic benefits in creating width and overloading defenses. By analyzing the play of top teams like Liverpool and Manchester City, it's clear these runs contribute significantly to their attacking prowess.

Implementing well-coordinated overlapping runs can elevate a Teams offensive game and dismantle the toughest defenses. For coaches and players, mastering this tactical nuance is a step towards footballing excellence.