How to Play the Offside Trap

Despite not being as popular a tactic as it once was, playing the offside trap can still be hugely effective against the right opponent.

When looking at the offside trap, it is initially important to fully understand the offside rule. In simplistic terms, an attacking player is ruled to be offside if they are closer to the opponent’s goal than both the ball and the deepest lining defender. However, players can only be deemed offside if they are in this position when the ball is played into them, with a free-kick being awarded to the defending team at this point. As well as this, players cannot be called offside if they receive the ball in their own half of the pitch, or from a throw-in.


What is the Offside Trap?


The offside trap is the tactic of a team’s defensive line stepping higher up the pitch in a synchronised fashion, thus leaving attacking players in an offside position before a member of the opposition plays the ball into them. When executed effectively, the offside trap means that the defending team will win back possession of the ball without having to even make a tackle.


How to Use the Offside Trap?


Executing the offside trap is easier said than done, especially given the confusion that still surrounds the offside rule in general. However, the first step of the process is to ensure that the backline, whether it be made up of three, four of five players, stay in a straight line across the pitch. In doing so, the defence will remain in a parallel line, moving forwards and backwards together whilst the opposition team is in possession of the ball.


Upon the opposition playing the ball forward, the defensive leader will need to make a decision whether to maintain their position, step up or drop back. This is likely to be effected by the position of attacking players, along with their knowledge of their style of play. Issues will arise when defences struggle to move forwards and backwards in unison, while the timing of trying to play players offside is also hugely important.


When to Use the Offside Trap?


Many major European names have taken advantage of the offside trap in the history of the game, and while it is not as common nowadays, it is still a strategy worth considering. Opponents who play a lot of long balls forward are likely to be easy to read, with the offside trap frustrating such teams due to it breaking up their rhythm and often meaning that they have to adopt a different technique when going forward. Meanwhile, the offside trap is likely to be riskier against teams who play in a more tiki-taka style, with the slightest error leading to a potential threat on goal. Defenders will most likely find it more difficult to stay in a line when the ball and attacking players are constantly moving, while strikers with pace also make the offside trap difficult to utilise against.



Factors to Consider When Looking to Play the Offside Trap


  • Defences need to ensure that they are constantly aware of where their teammates are, where opposition attackers are and the position of the ball at all times. As a result, the offside trap is likely to be carried out best by defences who have experience playing together and a good understanding of the game.
  • Defensive units must also be in constant communication, with one player, normally a centre-back, taking charge of when they should move forwards or drop deeper. This is due to the fact that the slightest error can be hugely costly.
  • It is difficult to play the offside trap for 90 minutes, meaning that teams should recognise the best times to utilise it, which will depend on the attacking style of the opposition.


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