Training runs behind the backline in a two-forward system - 2023 Advent Calendar Series

Celebrate Advent with excerpts from Scott Martin's top articles on Total Football Analysis. Head to or Scott's LinkedIn profile each day through December 24th for the next installment. 

Today's featured excerpt comes from April 2020. It's called, "Coaching: Training runs behind the backline in a two-forward system.”

Runs suiting narrow, more direct attacks

Though it’s worth acknowledging the wide variability of tactics in two forward systems, we’re going to simplify our approach. In this section, we’ll analyze more narrow attacks in a diamond midfield, much like Getafe’s, before moving onto a more wing-dominant system, like Atlético Madrid’s.

To play a narrower, direct style, you can certainly keep it simple and use your team’s version of Usain Bolt to run past opponents. If you don’t have that type of player, you need to find another way to beat the two centerbacks. Remember, they’re typically great athletes, fast enough to run with most opponents and strong enough to fight back, so the odds of Route 1 football working are quite slim at the top levels, even in the youth game.

After studying a number of two forward systems, it was clear that Getafe was among the best, if not the top, in utilizing a direct attack with a 4-4-2 diamond. Despite the age of the squad, low wage bill, and little transfer money in the coffers, José Bordalás’ tactics have this side one place out of UEFA Champions League qualification.

One clever aspect of his attacking tactics is the central-forward overload. You’ll often see Mata and Molina side-by-side, but, as the opposition’s midfield presses higher and leaves a gap between the lines, the far-sided forward will drop in front of the other. Suddenly, they’re 2v1 in the central channel or half-space. The forward on the ball will run at his teammate’s defender while the higher of the two wheels around to correct his body orientation for the run behind the line. With the centerback pinned, the through ball is played.

Perhaps the key concept is that 2v1s are even more advantageous than 2v2s. Among the elite sides playing a two-forward system, most will look to approach it as 2v2s with the hope of creating a 1v1. Think of the Inter Milan images earlier in this analysis. One forward pulled a centerback out of the middle, giving his teammate a 1v1. Given the individual quality on those sides, that approach is understandable.

At Getafe, the tactics often see the side experience more success when they’ve created a 2v1 high up the pitch. That cues the run behind the line and frees the passer to make a run of his own in the central channel. It’s a really clever system and one to utilize in your training sessions.

In an early February La Liga match against Valencia, Getafe was in an open possession against a set Valencia defense. This is a perfect example of coordinated movements in a two-forward system. Mata is pinning Mouctar Diakhaby high up the pitch, opening up a massive gap for Molina to run into. If Diakhaby had stepped forward to pressure, Molina could have played Allan Nyom on the wing, who could have played Mata behind the lines in the space Diakhaby vacated. With Molina receiving between the lines, he had time to pivot on the half-turn and run at the backline. As Molina received, Mata started his run centrally, allowing his teammate to run at the isolated Diakhaby.

Once Diakhaby decided to stand his ground, Molina played a simple through ball onto the run of Mata. Though this is a simple construction, the two forwards did well to keep the 2v1 in their favor and get behind the line.

Mata’s shot was blocked, but right into the path of Molina. In this sequence, we’ve seen the two forwards look to take up positions in the same vertical channel, pin one defender, run behind the lines, and then repeat. The lack of attacking symmetry threw Valencia into a state of chaos. Getafe is a brilliant example of narrow, direct attacks that overload and pin the opposition. Move with the forwards and other parts of the field become vulnerable. Keep your shape and they overwhelm you with their numerical advantage. It’s a brilliant tactical approach, one that sees the low-budget Spanish side in the Round of 16 of the Europa League and fifth in La Liga.

Exercise 1 – 2 Up Top Supported by a Diamond Midfield


  • Field measures 12v24. Give an additional three meters-depth per endzone.

  • Two teams of three with one target player in each endzone.

  • When possible, feature goalkeepers in regulation-sized goals, as seen on the left-sided pitch. If this is not an option, replace the regulation-sized goals with mini-goals.

  • Optional: For a progression, add a midfield line to keep track of offsides. You can emphasize the long pass to the high target or a through ball to a field player, who then plays his target player before the two can attack the goal. Field measures 12v24. Give an additional three meters depth per endzone.


Before a team can go to goal, they must first play their target player. He has the option of setting back and then running onto goal or playing his teammate behind the defense. On the left side of the image, we see the target player laying the ball off for a teammate who’s behind his defender. On the right, the target player’s set allows the attacking team to play the third runner behind the lines. Look for and praise these patterns. If the ball goes out of play, restart play from the keeper. This is an ideal warm-up, lasting approximately 15 minutes.

Coaching points

  • Correct body orientation to connect actions

  • Field players anticipating passes into the target and making runs in behind

  • Play long to target when possible. If it’s not on, play short and keep possession.

  • Watch for the proper technical execution of the set

  • If a field player is the third attacker and his teammates have the option to play directly to the target, drift behind your defender to gain a few extra meters

Exercise 2 - 4-Goal Game


  • the pitch, minus the corners. Those diagonal lines start approximately 24 meters from the endline.

  • 8v7+GK

  • Blue team features two outside-backs, four midfielders (diamond or flat to fit your tactics), and two strikers. For teams that play 3-5-2 or some variation of that formation (like Atalanta’s 3-4-1-2), feel free to change the blue team’s formation to a 1-5-2. You can also change the red team’s shape to fit an upcoming opponent’s tactics.

  • Blue plays to full-sized goal, red to three mini-goals


Progressing from the first exercise, the blue team starts play from midfield and looks to play runners behind the backline. As a progression, if the defense is dropping too deep, have an offside line that the attacking team must pass over (no dribbling). Run this exercise for approximately 25 minutes, giving a one-minute rest after each five-minute round.

Coaching points

  • All coaching points from the first exercise (look for continuity in the session)

  • If you play a diamond midfield, emphasize the vertical run of one forward and corresponding diagonal drop as illustrated. This is still a coaching point for teams fielding a flat midfield, but the forwards in this system are more likely to activate the wingers than take a direct approach.

  • Play between the lines to help create and drag defenders out of their lines

  • Two central forwards occupying the centerbacks and manipulating their positioning

  • For diamond midfields, the willingness of the #10 and two box-to-box midfielders to run behind the lines in the central channel and half spaces

  • For a flat midfield, you want to see your wingers drawing the opposing outside-back higher up the pitch, disconnecting him from his help. That allows the attacking team’s wingers to run behind the backline. Further, if blue gets behind red in the wings, can they run towards goal, pinning the nearer of the two centerbacks to free a blue center-forward to run behind the line.

  • Watch for situations where the attacking team could have better utilized the third runner

For the full article, which offers far more insight into why and how to train runs behind the backline in a two-forward system, head to Total Football Analysis.

Here's the link to the article.

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Come back tomorrow, either on or my LinkedIn profile for the next installment of the Advent calendar.

Day 1 - Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite attackers

Day 2 - Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite midfielders

Day 3 - Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite defenders

Day 4 - Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite goalkeeper

Day 5 - Superiorities-based training for possession dominant teams

Day 6 – Cues for progressive actions

Day 7 - Data Analysis: The art of overachieving

Day 8 - Data Analysis: The art of underachieving

Day 9 - The re-emergence of man-marking in a high press

Day 10 - The Regista: How to control a football match

Day 11 - Identifying the best moments to engage opponents

Day 12 - Exploring innovative throw-in routines and principles from Europe’s best

Day 13 - Ideologues vs Tacticians: The battle for domestic and continental titles

Day 14 - Resurrecting football's 2-3-5 pyramid

Day 15 - Timeless lessons in defending from Paolo Maldini

Day 16 - A comprehensive guide to direct possession

Day 17 - Do Golden Generations live up to the hype?

Day 18 - Training runs behind the backline in a three-forward system

Day 19 - Training runs behind the backline in a two-forward system