How Do You Attack 1 v 1 In Soccer?

1 v 1 situations occur all over the soccer field. These 1 vs 1 duels are happening at every level of the game from youth games to professional games. Players who possess the skills to dominate and win these one v one soccer duels often become valuable assets to the teams they play for.

How do you dominate 1 v 1 duels in soccer?

You must practice them from a variety of angles, the front, the sides, behind and the players must practice receiving the ball at a variety of heights such as along the floor, in the air, or from throw-ins, etc.

Players with enhanced physical qualities can dominate the 1 vs 1 duel using assets such as their speed, strength, reactions, or changes of direction to come out on top.

The technique can help players win the 1 vs 1 duel players can use skills such as feints, stop-starts, turns to gain an edge.

How Do You Attack 1 v 1 In Soccer?

Some elite coaches believe that dominating 1 v 1 situations is a key performance indicator when looking to develop elite players.  An old statistic from over 30 years ago is maybe just as relevant now as it was then and that is, the team which wins more 1 v 1 situations will win the match 75% of the time.

Even if this is not the case in the modern game, dominating the 1 v 1 is a great tool to equip any young player with.  Every attacking 1 v 1 situation is different because there are always factors that make them different such as the position of the ball carrier or if there is support available to the ball carrier. 

Imagine a clock face but instead of numbers there are players (defenders) and in the middle of the clock face is one attacker with a ball.  To gain an understanding of the different types of 1 v 1 it is helpful to consider this visual. 

As a coach as it will give you the incentive to think about where the pressure comes from, it could come from in front, behind, the side (both left and right).  Coaches have a responsibility to stimulate these types of situations when designing 1 v 1 practices. 

It may be of some use to vary the service into the receiving players in a 1 v 1 situation so rather than always passing along the floor think about passes into the body, in the air, bounced passes to recreate various game moments.

Common Types of 1 v 1 Situations

Defender is in front of the attacker:

1 v 1 faced up with the ball on the ground – This is in my opinion is one of the most commonly coached 1 v 1 practices.  It can be applied to various positions on the pitch.  Examples include a wide player being given time and space to attack the opponent full-back or a striker being put through on goal against the goalkeeper.  The technical attributes required to perform this type of 1 vs 1 are, close control, a good range of tricks, skills, dummies to deceive the defender

Coaching Points to look for:

  • Attacker approaches the opponent with their head up using a controlled approach then utilizes a change of pace at the right moment (just out of reach of the defender) to beat them
  • Watch that the attacker does not take too many touches to cover the space needed to beat the defender (i.e. taking 10 touches when the skill and movement could have bene executed in 5 touches)
  • Attacker should think about using one quick but intense trick and also consider attacking the front foot of the defender and moving the ball down the sides of the defender. 
  • End product – Consider adding an action post 1 vs 1 such as hitting a target player, scoring a goal, running into an end zone as these actions will stimulate real game situations. 

Defender is behind the attacker:

This type of 1 v 1 is probably one of the most common 1 vs 1 situations which occurs during games for most positions on the pitch, but generally, it is under practiced.  This type of 1 vs 1 occurs for central midfield players receiving off defenders, wide players receiving off fullbacks, strikers receiving off midfielders. 

The use of perception to know where the pressure is and application of physical attributes are also useful to players looking to dominate this type of 1 v 1.  Players must be good at controlling the ball and also good at protecting the ball whilst trying to get free from pressure.

Coaching points to look for:

  • Attacker does their homework (scanning), where is the pressure, space, opponent, team mate, goal etc. depending on set up of the drill
  • Attacker deals with the man/women (holds them off, gets body in the way, shields the ball) then controls the ball
  • Attacker has a couple of choices if no pass is available, try to roll the defending player by keeping their body between the defender and the ball or try to draw the defender in with a touch out of their feet then use a quick turn or change of pace to get free or travel into the space/gap, goal etc. with the ball. 
  • End product- Consider adding an action post 1 v 1 such as hitting a target player, scoring a goal, running into an end zone as these actions will stimulate real game situations.  Could also think about a time limit for the attacker as simple as protecting the ball for a set period of time before making a pass to a team mate  

Defender is on the side:

This type of attacking 1 v 1 is generally position-specific but could apply to all players and thus deserves some practice.  Examples of this would be a wide player attempting to get a cross in whilst being closely marked by a full-back or a striker being put through on goal with a central defender running alongside them. 

A range of stop-start techniques and turns would be really useful to players looking to execute this type of situation.

Coaching points to consider:

  • Attacker tries to gain an advantage by getting across the front foot of the defender (cutting inside) or using speed/ strength to get in front of the defender.
  • Attacker uses arms to hold off the opponents then thinks about skill application (use of stop starts to slow down then speed up or the use of turning to deceive the defending player)
  • If players are using turns get them to think about turning but trying to keep their body between the defender and the ball, this may mean using their weaker foot and is a common fault of young players, turning into defenders because they wish to shoot, pass or cross with their dominant foot
  • End Product: Consider, crossing into goals, getting over end lines, limited time to score or get the shot away to stimulate the attacking third of the pitch.
Common Types of 1 v 1 Situations

Physically Fit Players have more Chance of Success

If you have a player who has a good understanding of the game and acts quickly under pressure from opponents but also has speed and strength, then they will be at an advantage during 1 v 1 situations. 

The components of fitness that help influence the outcome of 1 v 1 situations are reaction time, acceleration, strength, power, endurance, and speed.  Therefore when designing 1 v 1 practices for the players you work with try to consider challenging some of these physical attributes through practice design or conditions of the practice. 

Some game conditions to help develop each of the physical components mentioned is highlighted below.

Reaction time: A condition like a defender cannot move until the attacker has taken their first touch will get the defender to lift their head and react to the attacker’s first touch

Acceleration: Stagger the start positions in favor of the attackers which means the defender has to accelerate to catch up with the attacker

Strength/Power: Have players hold a player off or protect the ball for a set period before trying to turn and score

Endurance: Repeat the drills for sets and reps and try to keep the lines of players to no more than 3/4 players and the actual 1 v 1 practice to less than 10 seconds.  This ensures that the players have to work hard to keep going.

Speed: Increase the distance of the 1 v 1 situation up to 20 – 30 meters and have the player’s race or recover before they can deal with the ball

Risk vs. Reward of 1 v 1 Soccer Drills

Something to consider when coaching any 1 v 1 attacking soccer drill is the risk-reward.  To think about this, it’s important to consider the spaces on the field of play.  The closer a player is to their own goal the higher the risk of being caught in possession, which may lead to changes for the opponent. 

The closer a player is to the opponent’s goal, there is higher the reward for a successful dribble such as an opportunity to score, shoot, cross or pass.  This is something to discuss with players regarding their development and success in 1 v 1 situations. Some players who have high levels of confidence will thrive in any 1 v 1 situation and will be willing to keep trying to execute successfully. 

Less confident players may lose confidence if they are not successful in 1 v 1 situations and therefore have a higher perceived risk-reward in any given situation.  As a coach, it’s important to question the players about the risk-reward process of their actions, especially during game situations.

Manage Expectation

Coaches need to manage their expectations in terms of the success rates for 1 v 1 situations.  If a player is achieving a 50% success rate then they are doing a good job.  Therefore from a coach’s perspective, they should keep this in mind when coaching this element of performance.

The coach could be proactive and provide videos of top players performing 1 v 1 duels as this motivates, enriches, and encourages young players to copy or learn from mistakes they have noticed. Player’s expectations should also be managed in the context of what they should expect.  A lack of success may lead to players becoming demotivated.

The coach explaining to players how difficult this element of the game is can help the players stay committed to keep trying to improve this element of the game.  Even the best dribblers of the ball are not successful 100% of the time.  Some players are more skilled at 1 v 1 than others therefore these players may demonstrate higher than normal success rates.   

Some young players may be able to impose themselves physically on less physical players which can lead to short term success but in the long term these players can rely too much on their physical attributes and when other players catch up physically they can become less successful which leads to frustration and errors because there is no plan B once the physical stops working for them. 

Therefore from a coaching perspective, it’s important to look out for this and encourage those physical players to develop a toolbox of skills that equip them to have a plan B when the physical plan A is not working.  Another expectation to manage is that the 1 v 1 dribble is not always the best option and that players should be encouraged to play with their eyes up when dribbling to pick the quickest option which gets them to goal.

Manage Expectation

Should you include 1 v 1 into every session?

This may not be a bad idea for really young players as it allows each player to express themselves through imagination and creativity which then allows players to do the unexpected and take risks at the correct time.  The key if using 1 v 1 every session is ensuring that the situations are challenging and mirror real match situations. 

Coaches should ensure that the players are exposed to many different 1 v 1 situations.  This will then help the players to recognize when, where, and why they should get involved in a 1 v 1 situation.  It is also the job of the coach to help the players understand when to avoid 1 v 1 duels and to just wait for support from a teammate.

As players hit 10 years old plus the pitch size increases the number of options on the pitch increases and players generally get fewer touches of the ball throughout a full game. Therefore the coach may now wish to consider ensuring players are better at retaining the ball.

Sometimes this will be a 1 v 1 but it is more likely to be quicker and safer to use short passes and several players to move the ball closer to the goal than to just dribble with it. 

A player will find it difficult to run the full length of a full size 7 v 7 or 9 v 9 pitch and get a shot away or score a goal. 

In 4 v 4 or 5 v 5 soccer games, this can be a regular occurrence.  Due to the increase in player numbers, it, therefore, becomes necessary to introduce topics such as effective possession and coach the players to recognize what this means, allow players to make decisions to dribble or pass and ensure that there is a good balance between 1 v 1 up to 7 v 7 practices which have more game specific themes.

3 Practices to Develop 1 v 1 Ability

1 v 1 Defender is in front of the Attacker

Should you include 1 v 1 into every session?
Set-Up for 1 v 1 facing an opponent drill
How it works:

The three players with the football are the defenders and the three players without a football are the attackers.  Place two small escape goals to the left and right side of the attacker (red gates). Place two blue gates to the left and right side of the defender. 

The practice aims to escape through either of the red cone gates if you are the attacker by dribbling the ball through the gate or regain the ball and escape through either blue gate if you are the defender.

Practice starts with the player (A) passing the ball (1) to player (B) then closing the attacker down (2).  The attacker (B) tries to beat the opponent (A) and dribble through either red cone gate.  The defender (A) must try to regain the ball and dribble through either blue cone gate.

1 v 1 Defender is Behind the Attacker

1 v 1 Defender is Behind the Attacker
Set-Up for 1 v 1 when a defender is behind the attacker
How it works?

Player (C) starts the practice and plays a pass into the player (A) in the central square.  Player (A) must protect the ball for 3 to 5 seconds from player (B).  Player (B) must try to regain the ball off the player (A) and pass back to the player (C). After 3 – 5 seconds have passed. Player (A) can then link up with player (C) and try to get turned (2) and pass (3) the ball into the player (D) in the opposite square. 

Once this occurs the roles of the central players are reversed and the practice continues, so player (B) would be the new attacker and player (A) would be the new defender.  If the defender wins the ball at any point and passes it back to the target player who initially started the practice, then the roles of the middle players are reversed, and the practice continues.

1 v 1 Defender is at the Sides of the Attacker

1 v 1 Defender is at the Sides of the Attacker
Set-Up for 1 v 1 when a defender is at the side of the attacker
How it works:

The practice starts in front of one of the red gates for the attacker (A) and the defender (B) places them self-2 steps behind the attacker.  The practice starts as soon as the attacker (A) touches the ball.  Player (A) must dribble the ball over the halfway line (Y) before they are allowed to score in any of the 2 small goals (X) or (Z). 

The attacker has two ways of scoring, either create a yard of space and whip the ball into one of the small goals once they have passed the halfway line (Y) (for one point) or pass the halfway line (Y) beat the defender with a dribble, get into the end zone and score in any of the small goals (for two points).  If the defender (B) regains the ball they try to escape using a dribble through any of the two red gates.

Related Questions

How much time should I spend on 1 v 1’s in a single session?

I would recommend coaches spend about 15 to 20 minutes on a giving 1 v 1 drill then I would suggest they move onto an activity that will challenge the players to spot the opportunity of when to use their 1 v 1 skill or when to pass the ball.

At what age should I stop doing 1 v 1 drills?

I would suggest that they remain a part of any coaches session planning through the youth development phase the coach just needs to work on a player’s decisions and choices in these moments and encourage them to achieve an end product such as cross, pass, or shots as a result of their 1 v 1 action.

Related Articles

Some useful articles on this website can be found here: