Explaining Trends and Buzzwords in Football - Half Spaces

DOMINIC CASCIATO continues his column, 'Explaining Trends and Buzzwords in Football', this time covering the commonly used phrase 'half spaces'. Dominic also shares his knowledge of how to apply this to the training field. Enjoy. 

If you’ve heard the term 'half-spaces' mentioned recently, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the area on top of the box, between defensive and midfield lines. That area on top of the box is more commonly referred to as 'Zone 14' now, which we will address in one of the upcoming articles.

Half spaces refer to two vertical lanes on the pitch – not quite central, and not quite on the wings. Some coaches have them painted onto their training pitches to help players with positional understanding. The clever folks at Globall Coach have also come up with a pitch that shows the half spaces, which we will use throughout this article.

Note: Image 2 - - if you don’t have the luxury of putting extra lines on your training pitch, I’d recommend using flat markers to identify the lanes and visualising the spaces using software such as Globall Coach. 

Many coaches are of the belief that getting your best players on the ball in the half spaces is more dangerous than on the wings. One reason behind this is that from the half space, you can play inside or outside.

If you’re on the wing, you become a little bit easier to defend as you’re going to eventually try to bring the ball inside – either by crossing, dribbling or passing.

Another reason why some coaches prefer getting their best players on the ball in the half spaces rather than the wide channel is that nowadays you’re very often facing a 2v1 when wide, with the defensive midfielder coming to help the full-back defend the winger.

Add that to the fact that when in the wide channel you’re also restricted by the touchline (as in, if you try to go outside, there is a very obvious limit on how far outside you can go), then the half spaces seem to be a more advantageous option to get your best players operating in.

One of the biggest reasons why the half spaces have become such a feature in recent years is that as teams become more organized defensively, it inevitably becomes harder and harder to get players on the ball centrally in and around the box. The half space offers a welcome “halfway house” – a less congested area to get your technicians on the ball. By getting your best players on the ball in the half space, you are able pull defensive players away from the middle, opening up that much coveted space on top of the box.

Winger moving into the half space frees up space for the #10 on top of box. Watch here as the red team condenses the central area on top of the box with 5 players – 3 CBs and 2 CMs. This prevents the ACM or CF from getting on the ball. The right winger decides to move into the half space to receive the ball from the centre midfielder. As he does this, his right back moves into the space he vacates, meaning that the left back must stay to mark him. Now the right winger is able to receive the ball. As he does, the left centre midfielder for the red team is drawn towards him. This opens up space on top of the box for the ACM, who is able to turn and face the center of the goal.

The key to freeing up the right winger in the half space is his teammate at right back. If he doesn’t get forward to occupy the space the right winger vacates, the problem is much easier to solve for the defensive team. The left-back simply tracks the right winger, as there’s no threat to get into the space he leaves.

However, in the animation below, the right back forces the left back to make decisions. The first one is obvious – go with the right winger or stay to look after the right-back? If he goes then the right-back is completely free and can get in behind him on the wing.

The best decision for the left back is to stay in position to look after the right back who’s coming forward.

This is where the confusion happens. His next choice is to decide whether it’s best for the left-sided centre-back or the left-sided centre-midfielder to pick up the right winger who’s moving into the half space. The more players involved in a defensive decision, the higher the chance of a communication breakdown – think Chinese whispers for football. If that decision doesn’t happen instantaneously, your man in the half space has the time and room he needs to hurt the opposition.

Show players involved in decision of who picks up the RW. Here we see the three players involved in the decision of who to pick up the right winger.

If he decides it’s the left-sided centre-back, there is a space in behind that the CF can exploit.

If it’s the LCM, then the man on the ball can carry it towards goal until space opens up for a pass or shot.

This is a two part topic, with suggestions from Dominic Casciato on how to train it. Part 2 is available here.

Ciaran Skinner