Everything You Need to Know About Third Man Passing in Soccer

Vince Massara

Third man passing is a critical component of a well-executed soccer game. This tactic involves two players exchanging passes and a third player making an off-the-ball run into space, enabling the team in possession of the ball to bypass their opponents’ defense. This maneuver is crucial for advancing the ball and finding that elusive breakthrough in the hopes of creating scoring opportunities. Implementing third man passing requires exceptional teamwork, communication, and precise timing to achieve success on the field.

Teams that excel in third man passing often showcase a high level of versatility and adaptability, embracing various strategies and formations. Mastering these techniques helps players maintain possession, break through opponents’ defenses, and generate more scoring opportunities. To effectively incorporate third man passing into their play, players must develop a solid understanding of the fundamentals, practice specific drills, and learn to adapt these skills to real-game situations.

Key Takeaways

  • Third man passing enhances teamwork and breaks through opponent defenses.
  • Players must develop a strong grasp of the fundamentals, techniques, and tactical awareness to execute third man passes.
  • Incorporating third man passing in training and game situations can boost a team’s offensive capabilities and create more scoring opportunities.

Fundamentals of Third Man Passing

Soccer Basics

Soccer is a dynamic game with various passing techniques crucial to a team’s success on the field. At the heart of any passing sequence is the ability to understand and execute precise movement and timing. The third man passing is one such technique that involves intricate movement, with players making off-the-ball runs and exchanges to create scoring opportunities.

Role of Mid-fielder

In soccer, the mid-fielder plays a crucial role in the overall success of the team. Mid-fielders are responsible for connecting the defense with the attack. Their primary objective is to maintain possession, distribute the ball efficiently, and make decisive plays to create scoring opportunities. To accomplish this, they need to master various skills, including dribbling, short and long-range passing, and most importantly, third man passing.

Understanding Third Man Concept

The Third Man Concept is an essential part of positional play in soccer. It involves a combination of passes and off-the-ball movements by players seeking to exploit spaces and create numerical superiority over the opposition. To make the most of this concept, a third player positions themselves in an unmarked, open space, ready to receive the ball.

Here’s how third man passing generally works:

  1. The first player (A) passes the ball to the second player (B)
  2. Second player (B) draws the defender towards them
  3. Third player (C) makes an off-the-ball run into open space
  4. Second player (B) quickly executes a pass to the third player (C)
APasses the ball to Player BStarts the play
BDraws the defender & passesServes as the link and distributor
CMakes off-the-ball run & receivesExploits space and gains possession

The Third Man Concept is vital as it allows teams to create numerical advantages and break down tight defenses. By drawing defenders out of position, the third man passing creates gaps to exploit, giving players open avenues to move towards the opposing goal. Mastering this concept is essential for mid-fielders and forwards seeking to enhance their team’s attacking prowess.

Techniques for Third Man Passing

Using Angles and Space

One key aspect of executing efficient third man passing in soccer is learning to use angles and space effectively. Proper positioning and movement off the ball can create conditions for successful third man runs. Players should establish triangles on the field to ensure they have multiple passing options, as seen in this Triangle Passing drill. By exploiting space and forming triangular setups, teams can ensure proper support for the player on the ball.

Mastering Quick One-Touch Passing

To successfully execute third man passing, quick and accurate one-touch passes are essential. This technical passing practice can help players improve their one-touch passing skills. Short, sharp passes are crucial for maintaining possession and bypassing defenders during a third man run. The objective is to move the ball swiftly between players while anticipating the movement of the third man, who should make a well-timed run behind the opposition defense.

Vision and Awareness Skills

Third man passing heavily relies on a player’s vision and awareness on the field. Players need to be able to identify space, anticipate teammate movements, and recognize potential opportunities for a third man run. This 3 Man Triangle Passing drill can help players develop their vision and spatial awareness. To excel in third man passing, players should practice scanning the field, anticipating movements, and being conscious of their positioning and passing options at all times.

Implementing Third Man Passing in Game Situation

Effective Communication

Implementing third man passing in a game situation starts with effective communication between players. This includes verbal and non-verbal signals, which makes players aware of their teammates’ intentions. For instance, players can use body language, hand gestures, or specific phrases to signify when they are about to initiate a third man run. Being able to efficiently communicate with teammates allows for more seamless execution of third man passing, ultimately catching the opposing defense off-guard.

Competitive Scenarios

Incorporating third man passing during competitive scenarios requires consistent practice and team coordination. One way to improve this skill is to utilize specific soccer drills focused on triangle passing, third man runs, and moving off the ball. During these drills, players should focus on performing timed runs, accurate passing, and creating space for the third man. Repeated exposure to such drills can help players grasp the concept more effectively and apply it to real game situations.

Positioning for Advantage

Positional play in soccer plays a vital role in the success of third man passing. Players should strive to create triangles, diamonds, or rhombus shapes to increase passing options and generate space for their teammates. Positonal play allows the attacking team to draw opponents toward the ball, freeing up a teammate to make a third man run. By mastering positioning and maintaining awareness of the field, players can gain a significant advantage and increase their chances of scoring. Stick to neutral, clear, concise language and keep the content brief but informative.

Training Drills for Third Man Passing

Individual Drills

The Triangle Passing Drill focuses on improving the player’s passing and movement off the ball. It requires three players to form a triangle. Each player passes the ball to a teammate, and the passer then moves around the triangle to swap positions with the receiver. This drill helps players develop their ability to anticipate their teammates’ moves and find open spaces on the field. You can watch a video demonstration to get a better understanding of the Triangle Passing Drill.

The following steps explain the triangle passing drill:

  1. Arrange three cones in a triangle shape, approximately 10 yards apart.
  2. Assign one player per cone, creating a triangle formation.
  3. The starting player passes the ball to the player on their left.
  4. Once the pass is initiated, the starting player moves rapidly to swap positions with the receiving player.
  5. The receiving player then passes the ball to the next player and mirrors the movement to swap positions.
  6. Continue this process, maintaining quick and accurate passes while exchanging positions.

Team Drills

Diamond Passing Combination Drill is an effective team drill that helps players with third man runs and finishing abilities. This drill requires a group of players and involves moving off the ball, creating space, making third man runs, and shooting at the goal. You can watch a video demonstration to get a better understanding of the Diamond Passing Combination Drill.

The following steps explain the diamond passing combination drill:

  1. Set up four cones in a diamond shape, with each cone 10-15 yards apart.
  2. Assign one player per cone, with additional players positioned as attackers and defenders.
  3. The starting player at the bottom of the diamond (player 1) passes the ball up to the player at the top (player 2).
  4. Player 2 then passes the ball to the player on the right side of the diamond (player 3), while making a third man run around the outside.
  5. Player 3 plays a through-pass to player 2, who has continued their run.
  6. Player 2 receives the pass and takes a shot at the goal.
  7. Rotate player positions and repeat the drill, ensuring equal practice for all participants.

By incorporating these Individual and Team Drills into training sessions, players can develop their third man passing skills, improve off-the-ball movement, and enhance their overall performance on the field.

Case Studies

Historical Instances

One of the most well-documented historical instances of third man passing in soccer can be found in the famous Dutch team Ajax’s tactical play in the 1970s, under the guidance of their coach Rinus Michels and the star player Johan Cruyff. They implemented a style known as “Total Football,” which was characterized by fluid positional play and rapid off-the-ball movement. This was facilitated by third man runs, which enabled players to exploit the space created by their teammates’ movement and combinations by making well-timed runs into advantageous positions.1

During that era, the third man concept was also a key ingredient in the famous Hungarian Golden Team’s tactical approach. Their deep-lying playmaker, Nándor Hidegkuti, played a pivotal role in orchestrating the third man passing by dropping into midfield and opening up spaces for his teammates to make those crucial runs. The effectiveness of this approach was clearly evident in Hungary’s 6-3 victory over England at Wembley Stadium in 1953, which upended the traditional notions of tactics and ushered in a new era of dynamic attacking football.2

Modern Solutions

In modern soccer, third man passing has evolved and taken on new forms. Premier League powerhouse Manchester City, led by their coach Pep Guardiola, exemplifies the successful integration of the third man concept in their tactical approach. One notable example is midfielder Kevin De Bruyne’s third-man runs to exploit spaces behind the defense and create goal-scoring opportunities.

In the Italian Serie A, yet another case study is found in Atalanta, coached by Gian Piero Gasperini. His implementation of the third man concept focuses on creating superiorities behind each line of pressure through well-coordinated off-the-ball movements that break down opposition defenses. Fluid positional play, quick passing combinations, and third man runs have transformed Atalanta into a formidable attacking force in the league.

Contemporary coaches have devised numerous strategies to teach third man passing, such as employing structured training exercises that simulate real-game scenarios.

In summary, the integration of third man passing into various styles and tactics throughout soccer history has been instrumental in revolutionizing the game and continues to be a crucial element in modern soccer strategies.


  1. Total Football: The Dutch Way
  2. The Story of Hungarian Football’s Golden Team

Challenges and Solutions

Common Mistakes

In third man passing in soccer, several common mistakes can hinder efficiency and effectiveness. Some of these include:

  1. Poor timing: Third man runners often make their run too early or too late, resulting in offsides or a missed opportunity.
  2. Lack of vision from the passer: The player making the initial pass may struggle to identify the third man run, leading to a lost chance.
  3. Inadequate support: Fellow attackers might not provide enough support or options to the third man runner.
  4. Weak communication: Teammates might have difficulty signaling their intention for creating a third man run.

Tips to Overcome Challenges

To improve third man passing performance, consider implementing the following tips:

  1. Enhance technical skills: Focus on developing precise passing and accurate timing through drills in practice.
  2. Increase field awareness: Encourage players to constantly scan the pitch, observing gaps and spaces that a third man run could exploit.
  3. Provide multiple options: When attacking, ensure that several players are making third man runs, swamping the opposition with options for the passer.
  4. Develop non-verbal communication: Use body language and positioning to convey intentions and coordinate movements. A simple eye contact or sharp gesture can indicate the intended run.
  5. Study game patterns: Tactical analysis can help players recognize situations where third man runs are most effective. Observing top teams and coaches’ strategies assists in incorporating these tactics into your game.

Current Trends and Future Perspectives

Technology in Training

With the advancements in technology, clubs and coaches are now using data and video analysis to identify the effectiveness of Third Man Passing in soccer. For instance, StatsBomb is an important soccer data company that has been providing Tactical & Video Analyst services to help understand and improve this technique.

One significant trend in utilizing technology is the increased use of wearable devices and software for tracking player movements and passes during training sessions. These tools can help coaches analyze patterns, assess player performance in practicing Third Man Passing concepts, and make necessary adjustments in their strategies.

Moreover, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices are becoming popular in training soccer players. By simulating specific game scenarios that involve Third Man Passing, teams can improve their execution of this concept without the need for physical exertion.

Evolving Soccer Tactics

The evolution of soccer tactics has led to an increased focus on possession-based play through the effective usage of Third Man Passing. This passing concept involves creating positional superiority by utilizing a third, unmarked player to receive the ball, as explained in the Third Man Concept.

In modern soccer, pressing tactics are becoming more prevalent, which makes Third Man Passing even more critical as a counter-strategy. By moving the ball quickly and accurately between players, teams can effectively bypass high pressing opponents and gain the upper hand in attacking situations.

Additionally, the double pivot system, which features two central midfielders operating in tandem, has become a popular formation for many coaches. This setup can benefit from mastering third-man combinations in the midfield to break through compact defensive lines and open up goal-scoring opportunities.

In summary, the ongoing trends of technology advancements in training and the evolution of soccer tactics are shaping the present and future of Third Man Passing in soccer. The increased focus on data-driven insights, innovative devices, and adaptive strategies will continue to influence how teams implement this crucial concept on the field.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of third man passing in soccer?

The purpose of third man passing in soccer is to create space and disorganize the opposition’s defense. It involves a sequence of passes between players, with the third player (the “third man”) making a timed run behind the defense to receive the final pass and create a goal-scoring opportunity.

How can a team effectively execute third man passing?

To effectively execute third man passing, players must communicate and coordinate their movements. The first two players should exchange quick, accurate passes, drawing the defenders in. The third player should time their run to avoid being offside, while also positioning themselves to receive the pass behind the defensive line. Proper spacing, timing, and precision in passing are essential for a successful third man run.

What are the benefits of using third man runs in the final third?

Using third man runs in the final third can create numerical advantages and open up space for goal-scoring opportunities. By involving a third player in the passing sequence, it becomes more challenging for defenders to anticipate and intercept the final pass. Third man runs can lead to more clear-cut chances, increasing a team’s likelihood of scoring.

How does Barcelona utilize third man passing in their play?

Barcelona is well known for its tiki-taka style of play, which heavily relies on short passes, precise movement, and high levels of possession. Third man passing is a key component of this style, allowing Barcelona to break down stubborn defenses and maintain control of the game. Quick one-two passes and off-the-ball runs from midfielders and attackers combine to create third man passing opportunities which often lead to goals.

What drills can help improve third man passing and running?

To improve third man passing and running, coaches can implement drills like the Triangle Passing Drills and Technical Passing Practice. These exercises emphasize proper spacing, timing, and accurate passing between players while also giving the third player opportunities to practice their off-the-ball movement.

How is the diamond passing drill related to third man passing?

The diamond passing drill is an exercise that develops players’ passing, movement, and decision-making abilities, which are crucial components of third man passing. In the drill, players form a diamond shape, with the objective being to complete a sequence of passes through each point of the diamond. This encourages quick, precise passing and movements, similar to the coordination and communication required in third man passing.

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