Jake Askham is back to explore a tactical concept with us. Previously, he dealt with Low Blocks. This time, he talks about half spaces.
The term half spaces sounds like jargon used by people within football to make themselves sound smarter and more tactically aware than your typical fan. But the concept of the half spaces is really simple if you understand that in the attacking phase teams are looking to exploit spaces, then you’ve got a basic understanding of the half space. Half spaces are areas on the pitch which teams may look to exploit due to the advantages that arise when getting the ball in these areas, they’re found between the wide areas and central areas of the pitch.
What are half spaces?
The first we thing we need to understand before we go into detail about half-spaces is splitting the pitch into zones. The most common way to split the pitch is into 18 zones. Once we split the pitch into these 18 zones we can then go into more detail when dividing the pitch.
The half spaces are created in the areas shown below. These spaces are usually occupied by creative attacking midfielders such as David Silva, Phillipe Coutinho, Mesut Ozil and Eden Hazard.
One reason these areas are so difficult to mark is the defenders aren’t sure who should be marking him, take the image below as an example.
If the ball was with the left attacking midfielder for the red team, he has 3 blue defenders in close proximity. But to give attacking midfielders any sort of space can be extremely costly especially at the top level of the game, this means one of the 3 surrounding defenders must then go press him which brings them out of position. There are 3 possible scenarios if the left attacking midfielder receives the ball in a half space.
In the scenario below, the green sections represent the half spaces with the blue team defending and the read team attacking. The red team are playing a standard 4231 formation with inverted wingers who are occupying the half space whilst the width is provided by the two full backs. If we look at the two inverted wingers who are within the half space, we can see they’re in the middle of a square which has been created by 4 defenders. By positioning himself in these spaces he creates a number of scenarios for his team mates.
The oppositions left back moves inside and marks the right-attacking midfield tightly. This then creates space in behind the left back position and it gives the opportunity for the right-back of the attacking team to go and exploit it.
Another potential situation is that the opposition’s central defensive midfield goes to mark the player in the half space tight. This then creates a space in the central area of the pitch and in particular, zone 14, which is a key area of the pitch to exploit.
Finally, the opposition’s right attacking midfield drops back and man marks the left-attacking midfielder. The issue here arises because an attack minded player is defending against another attack minded player, this causes issues because attacking players are prone to switch off and not track runners. It also creates space for the attacking full-back to have a 1 v 1 duel with the opposition full-back.
You can see in all three of the above scenarios, no matter which player comes to mark the player in the half space, there will always be a space created for the attacking team to exploit. A team has to set up situations in which they can exploit the half space by positioning their players in relation to the ball and the opposition’s players. We’ll discuss this concept in more detail now.
Half spaces are only effective if they’re empty. That’s why the understanding between the striker and attacking midfielders is so vital; if a striker’s movement is into the half space then it means the space is no longer available for the attacker to utilise. The most effective strikers are the ones who create space for their team mates with selfish runs off the ball.
What classes as a half space?
Many people will have different opinions as to what classes as a half space. Some will argue a half space goes from one end of the pitch to the other. Others will argue that a half space only begins mid-way into the half and ends on the by-line. However, I believe the half space to be a dynamic area of the pitch that moves dependent onto where the defensive line is positioned. I believe the most effective half space to be around 5 yards further up the pitch than the deepest center back and then also around 5 yards from the full-back on that side of the pitch.
Some people will argue that the half space begins in the area close to the penalty box. The argument here is that a half space is an attacking principle and therefore only applies in the attacking area of the pitch. In the diagram to the right, the half spaces are shown in the rectangles that extend out from the penalty area.
Others will argue that the half space is that whole area across the length of the pitch. The argument here would be that it still provides an attacking advantage despite the distance to the goal. This is shown in the diagram to the right with the green area that extends the length of the pitch.
However, I’d argue that the half space is a dynamic area of the pitch that changes dependent on where the defensive line is for the opposition. This is due to the half space being created in an area created between the full backs, centre backs and defensive midfielders and therefore changes based on their positioning. This can be seen in the video shown below with the 2 examples of the half space being used.
Watch Coutinho exploit the half space against a deep defensive line.
Watch Eden Hazard exploit the half space against a high defensive line.
The half spaces are a very interesting area of the pitch and when a team understands how to exploit them it can give them great success in the attacking sense. It all comes down to players’ understanding of spaces and how they move in and around these areas and the impact it has. If players don’t understand the space around the half space, then they become almost useless and prevent dangerous attacks from forming.