The Third Man Run: Football Tactics for Beginners


What is the third man run?

The third man run firstly involves a one two pass between Player 1 and Player 2. The pass into the Player 2’s feet results in him moving slightly deeper in order to receive the pass, which then results in the opposition defender following him. A third player then exploits the space left behind by the opposition defender and he can then be found by Player 1. The aim is to move the ball to a player in behind the defence. In order for the move to be successful, Player 3 has to time his run well and Player 1 needs to pass to him expertly. This can be perfected via training ground drills. The diagram below illustrates the third man run.


How do you carry out the third man run?

In the above diagram, Player 1 has the ball and Player 2 is the one that is highlighted. Player 2 has done a quick scan behind him and in front of him and from that he learns that he is surrounded by opposition players. This limits the time he can spend on the ball as he will be pressured quickly. Player 2’s body orientation is excellent and he is ready to receive the ball. He has an open body shape which will prevent the opposition from stealing the ball from him as he can shield it efficiently. 

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Player 2 has now received the ball from Player 1, and Player 3 (the third man) immediately makes a run into the space vacated behind due to the opposition defender following Player 2. Player 2 then passes the ball back to Player 1. 

Player 1 immediately passes the ball into the space where Player 3 is making a run and his team are now successfully in behind the opposition defence. Player 3 can either run and shoot or lay off the ball to an oncoming striker.

How is the third man run beneficial?

There are many variations of the third man run that can be used in game to exploit space and create goal scoring opportunities. The variation I showed above shows you how to get in behind the opposition defence. Other variations of the third man run include during the build up play, when you can use this concept to find the spare man and successfully play out of high pressure situations. Many great managers like Bielsa and Guardiola are frequent users of this concept and this highlights how good it is at creating and exploiting spaces within an opposition’s defence.

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