We’ve all been there. A player scores an extraordinary goal on the big stage and we can’t wait to go out and try to replicate it.
It could be a stunning volley, a diving header, a mesmerising solo run or even that spectacular bicycle kick.
But as you mature, an appreciation of the finer aspects of a player’s game manifests and it’s these technical intricacies which can give you an edge as an amateur footballer.
It may be a particular run, clever movement, a specific pass or feint.
Elite players do simple things with elegance and precision. Mastering some uncomplicated yet incredibly effective aspects of the game can take yours to the next level.
And who better to learn from than the absolute best doing the business at the highest level?
Over the course of this series, we’ll put some of the best players under the microscope, identify a key attribute of theirs and learn to incorporate it into our own game.
In this edition of the ‘Learn From’ series, we examine Kevin De Bruyne’s trademark crosses and work out how to replicate them.
In a Manchester City side boasting a plethora of creative forces, De Bruyne’s crosses reign supreme. His deliveries into the box provide more chances than any other avenue to goal. The efficacy of his crosses have been particularly prominent this season as the Belgian boasts an accuracy of 40 per cent and leads the Premier League for key passes with 21 to his name.
One type of cross which has proved hugely effective is executed from a deeper position. De Bruyne arrives in the half-space between midfield and the flank where he is allowed enough time to deliver a quality cross.
It’s also the kind that is played earlier than usual, often first-time, and can catch the defence off guard – especially an amateur one that isn’t well-drilled.
However, there’s also a Plan B in place. If De Bruyne invites pressure in his crossing position and a path presents itself, he can abandon the space and instead drive behind the defensive line before looking to drill a ball across the six-yard box or cut it back to someone on the penalty spot.
In trying to emulate De Bruyne’s most potent weapon, you need to nail down three key aspects of it.
First, getting into the right position is crucial. There is no execution without opportunity. Forging an understanding with the winger as well as the full-back on that side is essential so they can help create the space for you to arrive in at the opportune moment.
This is achieved by one or both of them advancing beyond you and pinning defenders back before setting it up by rolling the ball into your feet [see example A below]. The necessary space can also be engineered by the winger drifting into the middle while the full-back hugs the touchline on the overlap, creating a healthy channel to exploit [see example B below].
Secondly, your decision-making comes into play. Depending on how you receive the ball, you can either take a touch or whip it in first time. The positioning and movement of the forwards also factors into the equation.
If they’re positioned in the box but are rather static, it’s advisable to take a touch, affording them the opportunity to peel away from a marker or make a darting run. However, if they anticipate the ball being played to you in space and are already on the move, an early cross can catch the defence off guard.
The third aspect relates to the nature of the cross. Ideally, you want to send it in early and at pace into the corridor of uncertainty between the last man and the keeper. But if you decide against an early cross, the delivery must have more flight to beat the first man and give the forwards the opportunity to challenge for it in the air. Too much flight though, and it’s easy pickings for the keeper.
Finally, Plan B comes into play when defenders aren’t dragged away enough or you’re immediately pressed. Rather than have your cross blocked or the quality of it compromised, a heavy touch forward and into space can see you break the press and charge towards the byline from where you can assess your options and pick out a team-mate with drilled efforts along the deck.
A) Everton 1-3 Manchester City
Riyad Mahrez advances with the ball and attracts the attention of both Lucas Digne and Fabian Delph. He squares them both up before rolling a pass back to De Bruyne whose first-time cross is impossible to defend. Gabriel Jesus heads home with ease.
Mahrez advances down the right flank.
Mahrez rolls the ball into De Bruyne in space.
De Bruyne’s sumptuous first-time cross sets up an easy header for Gabriel Jesus.
B) Manchester City 8-0 Watford
Mahrez drifts centrally with the ball while Kyle Walker remains wide to stretch the defence. The Algerian plays the ball to De Bruyne who has ample time to whip in a sublime delivery for David Silva to slot away.
Mahrez moves centrally while Walker stays wide.
De Bruyne occupies space created and is found by Mahrez.
De Bruyne takes a touch and whips the cross in.
The ball falls perfectly for David Silva to score.
Delivery – Prepare to put in hours on the training pitch, whipping balls into the corridor of uncertainty from a deeper position until it becomes second nature. Practice crossing the ball first-time by either running on to it or with it played back to you so as to use its momentum to generate more curl on the delivery.
Touch – On occasion, you won’t be able to whip it in first-time. Work on mastering your first touch so you can set yourself up perfectly for the cross or even to go to Plan B and knock it past the defender.
Positioning – It helps to work with your team-mates on patterns of play. Run drills to create different scenarios and practice responding to each other’s movement to create the space required.
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