Intercepting a pass is a skill you can quickly and easily learn. When you watch it happen in a game it often looks as though the opposition team as misplaced the pass, but when you know this simple technique you’ll be able to force your opposition into making this ‘mistake’.
I picked this skill up from playing and watching basketball. It adapts nicely to football and can be applied to every position. I actually learnt this skill from watching an excellent basketball player, Allen Iverson.
I noticed it while watching Iverson during a recorded college game. He made 10 steals (interceptions) in one game, that’s unheard of! The average for a player in his position is only about 2 or 3… 5 would be excellent!
So I watched the game again, but this time I watched what he did and I noticed something clever.
It had to do with two things; positioning and anticipation.
When the player next to the one he was marking had the ball, he positioned himself slightly to the side (toward the ball) of the player he was marking and a step back. He was positioned perfectly to cover for his team-mate if the opposing player with the ball got past him and far enough away to make his player appear open.
Most importantly he was anticipating a pass to his player. Since the guy with the ball had two people to beat and his team-mate was ‘open’.
By leaving his player ‘open’ and covering his team-mate, he forced the other player to make a pass. Being aware that it looked like an option to the other team, Iverson could react to the pass before the ball left the other players hands, and Iverson jumped in to intercept.
Usually that pass would make it because in these situations the defenders tend to react rather than anticipate.
Translate this to football…
When I started to play football, I watched players who didn’t have the ball and looked to learn from them. I’m a Tottenham fan and at the time many Spurs fans berated Michael Carrick for not ‘doing’ anything defensively. What they meant was, “he never puts in a tackle.”
So I watched him closely when he didn’t have the ball. What I saw was that the Tottenham fans were right. Carrick didn’t tackle much at all, because he was either completely cutting off the pass to his man or leaving him open just enough and anticipating the pass so he could intercept.
He was doing the same thing Iverson had done. It’s far more effective than tackling, where the ball can go anywhere and there’s a high chance of missing, or fouling the player. Cutting the pass of entirely or intercepting is far more effective.
The funny thing is this goes unnoticed as being a great skill because it looks like a bad pass by the attacking team player. But of course a tackle is far more obvious (you just better get it right).
Needless to say he was later snapped up by one of the best managers in world football, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Intercepting is also great because it often sets off a counter attack where you have taken one or two players out of the game.
Here’s a couple of pictures help show how it looks on field. (The Yellow dot is the football)
In the pictures above, Red 6 is the player about to intercept the pass.
Be aware during your next game and you’ll spot opportunities to use this skill. Reading the other player’s body language and getting the timing right may take you a few attempts so keep practising.
The difference is only a split second and anticipating allows you to gain that split second.