Strikers in soccer

Strikers in Soccer – The Ultimate Guide

What is a Striker in soccer?

  • In soccer, a striker is known as a centre forward or number 9. Strikers in soccer are the most advanced players in the centre of the pitch. They normally play closest to the opposition’s goal and up against the opposing team’s central defenders. There are sometimes two strikers in a soccer team, or a striker can play upfront by themselves with high wingers either side on the left and right.

What is the role of a striker in soccer? 

  • The main role of the number 9 (or striker) is to score goals and create goal-scoring opportunities. They are up against the opposition central defenders and, at times, can be out-numbered so must bring other players into the game, such as supporting midfielders. 
  • They are expected to receive the ball with their back to goal and shield the ball from the defenders to allow the midfield players to get more advanced and support them in attack.  
  • They should make runs in behind the opposition defence, where there is space to do so, being aware of timing their run so they’re not caught offside. 
  • The striker should try to get into the opposition penalty area when the ball is out wide, to get on the end of crosses to score with their head or foot, depending on the type cross. 

Defensive responsibilities of a striker

  • The striker is the first line of defence and, although their primary role is to attack and score goals, they can also have a major part in helping their team defend, especially in winning the ball back high up the pitch from opposition defenders or the goalkeeper.
  • They should also mark the central defender(s) from goal kicks and close them down when they receive the ball. When closing them down, if they can keep them on one half of the pitch, for and stopping them from switching the ball to the other side, it allows their teammates behind to know where the ball is going and close down that space. This makes it easier for their team to win the ball back.
Striker in soccer - defensive role
  • Pressing the opposition defenders to win the ball in a dangerous area high up the field is another defensive responsibility strikers have. The high press is becoming an integral part of the game, especially with the new rules on defenders receiving the ball inside their own penalty area. This provides strikers the opportunity to close the ball down in dangerous areas where winning the ball can lead directly to goal-scoring opportunities. The striker is often the trigger (first person to close the ball/defender down) and team-mates behind also apply pressure to players and close down the space.
  • Marking opposition defenders from corners. Quite often, a striker is tall and good at heading the ball, so is called back to help defend set-pieces and mark opposition players. Often they will mark the opposing centre back, although sometimes they are left as the highest player up the pitch to sprig a counter-attack.
  • Intercepting passes from the defenders trying to pass into midfielders. If they can stop the opposition playing a ball forward into the midfield, it can prevent attacks and keep the ball high up the pitch and away from their own goal.
  • They also must try to stop the full backs from switching play, as this limits the space for them to attack. This makes it easier for midfielders and defenders behind them to stay compact and win the ball back. 

Attacking responsibilities of a striker

  • Scoring goals! A striker is often judged on their ability to score goals. Finishing and shooting is fundamental to this. When presented with an opportunity to shoot or get one-on-one with the goalkeeper and finish, it is important that they’re able to take the chance presented to them. Finishing is more about placement of the ball (rather than power) from inside the penalty area. Strong finishing is needed when receiving the ball in the area close to the goalkeeper, when reacting to a lose ball the penalty area or from attacking a cross. 
  • Shooting is normally a skill used from longer range – 18 yards or further. Shots involve more power and can be driven low or hit higher into top corners to give the goalkeeper less chance of saving it. Strikers are often seen as selfish because they shoot more than other players on the team. A good striker can manage to get a shot on goal even when put under pressure by the defender or when they find themselves with very little space. 
  • Movement is important as a striker. It allows them to find space and receive the ball and can also be used to move defenders to create space for other players to exploit. They can move towards the ball when their midfielders or defenders have the ball so that the opposition defenders go with them and create space in behind the defensive line or they can receive the ball in space and turn to run at the defenders. They must also look to break the offside trap and make a curved run across the line before moving forward in order to be on the move ahead of the defender without going to early and being offside. When in the penalty area and the ball is out wide movement is important to the near post to get in front of the defender, to move backwards or stand still as everyone advances to find space to receive the ball or to try and move the defender out of the way so you have space to receive the ball and shoot.
Strikers in soccer attacking and movement
  • Link up play involves receiving the ball from another player and passing it again to create an opportunity to cross or shoot. This link up is normally with the midfielders or wingers. A midfielder can pass the ball into a striker’s feet and continue their run forward to receive it back from the striker. A winger can do similar from a wide position. When in possession in the opponent’s final third, there is often less space to run in behind the defensive line, so quick passing can be difficult to defend against and can create chances to shoot or cross.
  • Playing with their back to goal is something that becomes more important for a striker when building up possession or when there isn’t much space behind the defensive line. A striker can offer an outlet for a full back or centre back to play long into their chest and hold the ball up and shield in from defenders to allow teammates to move forward and join them. A long ball can also be flicked on for a strike partner or midfield runner. Another time that a striker will play with their back to goal is when pinning or holding off a defender and receiving a pass into their feet. They can then control it and pass it back to a midfielder to shoot or play a through ball to the other striker or winger (who should be making a run in behind the defenders).
Soccer striker with back to goal
  • A soccer striker making a run, and receiving the ball, behind the defensive line provides opportunities to score goals. It can be particularly successful if the striker is quick and can become a race to goal between strikers and central defenders. Running in behind will often lead to the defenders dropping deep and, in this way, can also end up creating space for the midfielders to receive the ball and play forward.

What formations include strikers?

  • Every formation includes at least one Striker! A lot of formations used to include 2 out and out strikers that would work together in a partnership to occupy the centre backs and both score goals. These partnerships often found one striker who would be good in the air or able to deal with high balls or battle to keep possession against the defenders and a smaller faster striker who would make runs in behind from flick ons or receive through balls in the space left behind. They would often work together so one came short and drop in like a number 10 or centre attacking midfielder  and one would go long to stretch the defence. When playing two strikers the ball is often played more direct and forward quicker as there are two players to receive it or in teams that get in lots of crosses so there are always two strikers in the penalty area to increase the chances of scoring.

Formations that have two strikers include:

  • 4-4-2
  • 3-5-2
  • 5-3-2
  • 3-4-1-2

The formations that have one striker normally also have two high wingers or simply have a lone striker with an attacking player just behind, who is expected to get forward when possible. These formations include:

  • 4-3-3
  • 3-4-3
  • 4-4-1-1
  • 4-5-1

On rare occasions teams have played a false 9, where they don’t play with an out-and-out striker at all; instead they overload the midfield with runners from deep. This tactic is for teams who want possession. They can attempt to draw out the centre backs who have no-one to mark, or keep the ball with more players in midfield and create an overload on the wings to get in behind teams.

How is a striker different from a forward or number 10?

A striker is different from a number 10 in that they play up against the last defender and higher up the pitch. Their role is less of a playmaker and more as someone who holds the ball up or runs in behind the defenders. A number 10 is often a very creative player who picks up the ball between the lines of the opposition defense and midfield so is hard to mark and can find space to turn and play through balls, or run at the defenders from a central position.

Who are the best strikers in soccer?

Strikers tend to make the most headlines for their goal-scoring prowess. Young players often want to be strikers and love scoring goals. There are so many great strikers to watch and learn from but below are a few of those that are worth a mention.

Robert Lewandowski is the captain of Poland and has scored over 60 goals for his country and has been named personality of the year. He’s one of the best players to have ever played in the Bundesliga, playing for both Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. He’s won the league title every year since joining Bayern, having previously won it with Dortmund. He has been league top goal scorer and awarded best player most seasons. He’s won the Champions League twice and is the fourth highest goal scorer in the history of the competition. He is also famous for his record of scoring 5 goals in 9 minutes against Wolfsburg in 2015.

Luis Suarez is a controversial Uruguay international but is recognized as one of the best strikers in world football. He’s scored almost 500 career goals for club and country playing for Ajax, Liverpool and Barcelona. He has won 18 trophies including 6 league titles, the Champions League and Copa America. Individually, he has won 2 European Golden Shoes, the Eresivsie Golden Boot and the Premier League Golden Boot.

Sergio Aguero made his debut at 15 yrs old and has scored goals wherever he’s been. Having moved from Argentina to Spain to play for Athletico Madrid, he scored over 100 goals and won the Europa League and Super Cup. Having moved to the Premiership to play for Manchester City, he made history with his late goal to help them win the league for the first time. Since then, he has gone on to become their all-time record goal scorer, Golden Boot winner and in the team of the year on numerous occasions. He has scored 12 hat-tricks in the league, the most ever by any player. At international level, he’s played in world cups, scored over 40 goals and is proud owner of an Olympic gold medal.

How has the striker role changed over time?

The striker role has developed over time as football itself has changed. To begin with, partnerships tend to be a thing of the past and the old big man-small man combinations or two quick players with excellent movement playing up-front in a 4-4-2 formation is now rare. As previously mentioned, with 4-3-3 or 4-5-1, players such as Didier Drogba showed that a lone striker and wingers or an extra midfielder was better suited to modern football.

A lone striker therefore needs both pace and strength as well as shooting ability and better control and physical presence. This has meant that smaller poacher type players are less frequent and more devalued. Ultimately, if a striker scores goals they will be valued but, with the ever-changing role of this specialist position, it is important to adapt in order to fit into that position as the focal point of the attack and be a lot more involved in the build up play, as well as being in the box to finish off chances.

What skills and qualities should a striker have?

To be a top striker, there are some key components you must have in your game and continue to work on and develop, some of the most important include:

Finishing

A striker is often judged on the number of goals they score. The more difficult the opposition and the higher level you play, the more important finishing becomes. Finishing involves being able to put the ball in the back of the net from various heights, angles and distances. A striker must recognise and judge where they are on the pitch, the position of the keeper and the distance and angle from goal in order to successfully score. This can be from a header, a ball rebounding back from a goalkeeper making a save, a cross fizzed in along the 6 yard box or running through on goal. Strikers must practice all types of finishing so when that chance presents itself, they are able to make the most of it.

Shooting/Shot accuracy

It’s often said in soccer: if you don’t shoot you don’t score. Strikers normally have more shots than any other player, which gives them a better chance of scoring. Likewise, you can’t score if you don’t hit the target, so the more accurate your shooting is the greater chance of scoring. Shooting is an important skill of a striker and, when presented with an opportunity – normally within or just outside the penalty area – strikers take the chance to test the goalkeeper. The more power and accurate the shot is the more chance of scoring. This is an area of the game a striker must work on in every training session.

Timing of runs/movement

In order to create scoring opportunities, a striker needs to make runs to move the defenders out of position or to get behind the defence to exploit space and create opportunities. With the offside rule playing a key part in the starting position and movement made, a striker needs to time their run so they get a head start on the defender, but do not move into an offside position before the pass or through ball is made. Movement is also extremely important to find space or half a yard to shoot before the defender blocks the ball or makes a tackle. Movement in the penalty area and feinting to go one way and then moving another is required to create space and provide a chance to receive the ball and shoot. Both heading and tackling are predominantly skills of timing.

Confidence

Being confident in your ability without being overly arrogant is particularly important for a striker. Scoring goals whether in training or matches helps to improve a striker’s confidence and belief and this positive mindset helps when they get opportunities to shoot. A striker who is confident will visualize themselves scoring goals and take the chance when presented with it. Someone lacking confidence will not shoot as much, will pass and also not play with as much conviction. Strikers thrive on confidence and, when feeling good, the goals keep flowing and they can be unstoppable.

Top tips for playing as a striker in soccer

Test the goalkeeper

If a striker can get an early shot in a game, it helps them to feel more confident and also gives them an idea of how good the goalkeeper is. Sometimes, goalkeepers can have obvious weaknesses and the only way to find this out is to test them. If you can identify weaknesses (like struggling to get down to shots or often spilling or parrying shots) you can use this to help with your choice of shot or movement in and around the box for rebounds or loose balls.

Get into the penalty area as much as you can

The vast majority of goals are scored inside the penalty area, so the longer and more times you can get in the box the more chance you have of scoring. As a striker, if you drop deep too much or find yourself out wide you are dramatically reducing your chance to score and also expelling more energy in parts of the pitch that will affect your ability to be sharp and ready when chances do come. Also, once in the penalty area, you can commit defenders to make a tackle and possibly win a penalty or make defenders more anxious about tackling, which gives you more time and chance to shoot.

Watch and learn

It’s highly recommended and beneficial to watch professionals in order to help learn and mimic what they do. For a striker, this is more important than any position. In particular, look at the movement, how and when they shoot. You can look at videos of all different types of finishing, how to create space to shoot and to move defenders. You’ll see lots of goals scored that go through the keeper’s or defender’s legs, which is often deliberate, as they try to move to block the ball and step one way, leaving space for you to shoot between the legs instead of getting it blocked.

Anticipation and reactions

All great strikers are in the right place at the right time. Some say it’s natural instinct and others believe it comes with experience. But it is important to always be ready to shoot if the ball comes your way. Having lightening quick reactions to get in front of a defender and be on the front foot gives that split second advantage, which can lead to a goal. split-second decision-making helps them to anticipate where the ball will end up, so they can get there first and be ready for a tap in or to finish off a cross.

Following up shots, strikers must react quickly to any rebounds and tuck them away when presented with the chance. A top class striker will score by being first to react.

Be a physical presence

Even if you don’t have the stature or size of other players or the defenders, it’s important to make sure the defenders know they’re in a game. This can be through speed and making them run back towards their own goal, or having to chase you as you run in behind. It can also be by holding the ball up and making it stick, to allow player to join you and not allow the defender to get the ball easily. Alongside this, being clever with movement and difficult to mark makes the centre backs think and worry about you all game.

Tips for coaching a striker in soccer

As a coach, you want your striker to be full of confidence and to get good supply and service in order to create them chances. The more of the ball they get and the more touches they have high up the field, the better they feel and will remain engaged and in a positive mindset.

Encouragement and showing trust in your striker is also really important. All strikers will miss chances but being in the right place at the right time and being ready when that next chance comes is important. A striker should be disappointed if they miss but have to be ready for the next one and not let missing an opportunity effect them the next time. As a coach, you can let them know you trust them to finish the next chance they get and praise the good movement, control, or run they made to gain that chance.

Their movement is important and there may be times when they don’t receive the ball, however it’s important to notice this and reinforce the movement and how it has moved the opposition or helped create space for others so that they will continue to repeat it even when not getting much possession.

As a coach, you can provide them with cues such as ‘gets across the front’ so they always make a run in front of the defender. ‘Make it stick’ is another key phrase to remind the striker of the importance of keeping close control of the ball when receiving it with their back to goal and not to let the defender get past them to intercept the ball.

Common errors a striker could make

The most common mistake from a striker is often trying too hard. That can mean forcing shots that aren’t really on or making bad decisions about when and where to shoot instead of passing. This can frustrate team-mates and also add more pressure on them at the next opportunity.

Although scoring goals is hugely important, gaining assists and making the correct decision is more important for the team. Trying too hard can also mean working doing unnecessary running either in the channels or chasing down defenders. Although they have a defensive job to do, and movement is also important, they must spend more time high up the pitch and make sure they have the energy and alertness to react first when a goal-scoring chance presents itself.

See our article on the top drills for strikers in soccer to understand some of the best shooting drills you can use to improve your finishing as a striker.