Analysis – Strong foot, stronger side? Should players stick to this rule?

STRONG FOOT, STRONGER SIDE by Joe Allysons

Hey guys, hope you’re ok.

So, there’s been a long-standing debate as to if a player should play on the side of the pitch that corresponds with his stronger foot. This is an opinion piece.

From a defensive point of view, it’s really advisable to have a player on the side of the pitch aligning with his stronger foot. This is more so important for a team that intends to pass its way out of the defensive third. You don’t want defenders, who are usually less skilled than their attacking counterparts twisting their bodies to find passing lanes. You actually want your defenders playing the easiest pass possible, and that is usually to the closest fullback, or the closest central midfielder. The fullback’s next pass will usually be to the next closest midfielder, and that will usually be easier if he’s using his stronger foot, which will play a more accurate pass with the right weight. Kolasinac’s blunder against Spurs is major proof of this. For whatever reason, he felt like playing that pass with his weaker foot, and the result is history.

In the middle of the field, I think because the pitch is usually all around them, It doesn’t really matter what the stronger foot is. They’ll often be able to pick a pass anywhere. But like Wenger used to say, the middle of the pitch also has the least space to deal with.

Then comes the attacking third. In attack, I think it depends so much on the purpose of the player. If the player is a creator, they could be better suited aligning with their stronger foot.

It goes without saying that if you want your winger to cross, then you want him to be on his stronger foot. This is a very rare occurrence of late though as most teams deploy their wide players as scorers.

Following with the above theme, you’d ask me why I think every other player on the pitch should be on the side that matches their foot except attacking wide men whose role is to score.

I did mention in passing, that a centre back’s most likely pass out of defence will be to the nearest full back. The nearest fullback is likely to be on the same side as the stronger foot of the centre back. Receiving the ball, a fullback has his stronger leg facing outside the pitch, but right after he turns, he now has it facing inside. This means all passing options right from the centre back who passed him the ball, to every central midfielder on the pitch, to almost all players between the midfield and the centre forward are a naturally easy passing option.

An attacking player however looking to score will be faced with the trouble of having a defender position in the most obvious shooting path.

Let’s take Auba’s goal against Chelsea. When he first receives the, the most obvious shooting path is across the goal with his right foot. Had he been left footed; he’d have had just one option. A near post shot with both Zouma and Caballero to beat. Being right footed created a problem for the Chelsea defence. Will he take the obvious option? Will he shoot with his left? Zouma obviously knew Auba would not generate too much power and accuracy with his left foot. Auba creates the illusion that he’d be taking the easy option, and Zouma buys it, before he goes to his weaker foot with just Caballero to beat.

Thing is, with a player’s body opening towards the goal, the options are limitless. Just think of this. How many angles can a player shoot at with his body on the same side as his stronger foot? One of the most common finishes from elite strikers is the curling shot placed into the far post. Do you think that finish would be possible without players inverting their positions?

When you name the best 50 attackers in the world, I’m sure more than 80% will be playing with a bias to the opposite of their stronger foot. Leo Messi, CR7, Mbappe, Just keep going. You will notice that they tend to lean opposite of their stronger foot.

It’s not even a new phenomenon. Think about all the best dribblers you’ve watched. Robert Pires, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo Nazario Da Lima, Ronaldinho, Iniesta, Thierry. They were all right footed players, but they tended to drift left when receiving the ball and getting into attack.

Do you thinking that’s a coincidence?

Thanks for reading.

Joe

13 Comments

  1. ken1945 says:

    Great article, with good points.

    My view has always been that a defender who has a “stronger foot” should utilise that strength.

    The same goes for midfield – if we analyse the INVINCIBLES, not one player in defence or midfield had a permanent role on his weaker side.

    The attacking side of your article I agree with.
    Again, using the Invincibles as an example, we had goalscorers who would put the ball in the net from any position – it was their predatory instincts that made them world class players, just as Auba shows us today.

    1. Joe Allysons says:

      Except Ljumberg, most attackers in the invincibles banked left because they were right footed

      1. ken1945 says:

        Yes, I agree with that, but Pires was a natural left footed player and that was where he excelled.
        To be a world class forward, one has to be able to use both feet and Henry was one of them, Aubameyang is another – defenders are different and that is why our Invincible defence had square pegs in square holes.

        1. Joe Allysons says:

          Pires was never left footed bro. I’m sure. He was my favorite invincible.

          1. ken1945 says:

            Joe, your correct, I used him to agree with your comments (see my first post) but got myself in a muddle!!!! I am over 70 and it sometimes happens these days.
            As I was lucky enough to see every home game during the Invincible season, I thank you for correcting me in such a friendly way.
            Especially as you have not seen our club live – I bow to your superior knowledge…or my faltering memory!!!

  2. antonioro says:

    “The real”Ronaldo,Ronaldinho,Zidane-all ambidextrous.Great with both feet,hard to say which foot was the “ weak” one.Except Messi and Maradona,all the “ greats” in the history of football are “ ambidextrous”.That’s why they are great.Van Basten,Ruud Gullit,Beckenbauer,Pirlo,Rijkaard,,Forlan,Raul,Maldini,CR7.The only “ ambidextrous” player we had was Santi Carzola-and he was a magician just because that…..

    1. Joe Allysons says:

      Nazario almost never used his left. Ronaldinho to too. Thierry would literally bend over backwards before using his left. Players like Cazorla are extremely rare. Extremely. I can’t even think of many greats who were as comfortable on both feet as him

  3. gooner4life says:

    why are players not encouraged to develop their “weaker foot” then they would be more confident playing anywhere on the pitch they get paid enough so why not spend time practising and strengthening their “weaker foot”.

    1. Joe Allysons says:

      Can you write with both hands?

      1. Rory johnson says:

        Very silly comparison, there is like zero point to learning to write with both hands, but a player getting 100k a week should practice being proficient with both feet

        1. Joe Allysons says:

          Nature is just nature bro. Why spend time practicing weak foot usage if you can spend it making your stronger foot more lethal?

  4. Grandad says:

    Very good well thought out article Joe.As you say balance is important at the back and in the extended wing back roles, yet interestingly enough, Liverpool have won the League with only two left footers, in Robertson and Salah who of course is found almost exclusively on the right wing.At the end of the day you cannot pigeon hole footballers particularly those with great attacking talent.Whilst maintaining shape is vitally important, particularly when it comes to defending, attacking players have to be given a certain freedom to work their skills to produce scoring opportunities.Certain players are only fully effective on one side of the pitch in an attacking sense and I would put young Saka into that category.To me he is a natural left winger who could also operate effectively as a left WB if push came to shove.If he is deployed elsewhere, he will lose his effectiveness and the team will suffer..We should not try to push square pegs through round holes, it rarely works.

  5. Val says:

    for me its all about the player and who you’re coming up against in the attacking third, what you gain and what you lose by playing in the position.

    Take Saka and Pepe, 2 left footed wingers, one prefers to go to the bye line and cross, the other prefers to cut in and shoot but when you switch their positions, both are not as effective as they usually are, why? well its simple, every player is different and have different strengths and weaknesses.
    Most top top strikers always tend to receive the ball on the opposite side to their stronger foot as it opens up countless more goal score options for them.

    Defenders are a little different, the way opponents attack you, if youre a right footed player playing as a LB, your instinct is to go in with your right foot but that means you dont have the right body shape to be able to make the tackle you want effectively.
    also having a naturally balanced back line opens up the pitch and gives you more options.
    Also playing with FB’s that get forward to cross with their natural foot, which you lose by having inverted wingers

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