44 Passes and 9 Minutes

Altan Ramadan Toffa Leave a Comment

Two outstanding footballing performances occurred in the weekend.

One was delivered by Manchester United, the other by marque striker Robert Lewandowski.  Both represented all that is great about the game of football – collective and individual brilliance.

Manchester United scored one of the classic team goals in it’s 3-2 win over Southampton.

The 67-minute strike by Juan Mata was the culmination of a 44 pass orchestra arranged by all ten of the Red Devils’ outfield players.

The goal was a reminder of the value of teamwork, patience and technical excellence.

Watching the buildup to the goal is mesmerizing.


Even the commentators don’t really appear to be following what is happening in front of them until the ball is passed into the Saints’ penalty area for Memphis Depay to find space and unleash a shot against the left hand upright.  Mata efficiently deposits the ricochet into the back of the net.

Beyond the 44 passes (and 1 pass/shot courtesy of Depay) the most astonishing aspect of the goal is that during the movement only one pass was made into the penalty area.

Watching the Opta Sports animation of the goal, the patience of the attackers is evident.


The ball is switched from side to side with wide players hugging the touchline.  When pressured, the ball is moved back deep into  Manchester United’s own half before the pattern begins again.  The display is that of a chess grandmaster waiting for an opening and space before launching an incisive attack.

The support play is impressive.  Players not in possession create space and provide options for the ball carrier.

Ball speed is also evident.

Of the 44 passes made 6 were 1-touch, 21 2-touch and 17 3-touch or more (including a small number of dribbling movements).  With over half of the build-up passes being two touch or less, Southampton’s defenders were reduced to chasing shadows.

Manchester United players, when being pressed, quickly opened up their bodies to ensure the next pass could be made easily, all the while cleverly shielding the ball from opponents.

Each of these elements – support, ball speed and body position are core to becoming a competent player and are therefore emphasized by the Top Flight coaching curriculum.

Watching the top players in the world demonstrate these skills helps young players better understand the relevance of what they are learning.

Robert Lewandowski, the star Polish striker of German champions Bayern Munich provided a finishing master class in the 5-1 Bundesliga victory over Wolfsburg.

Make no mistake, Wolfsburg are no mugs defensively and had beaten Bayern in the Super Cup earlier in the season.  In this match Wolfsburg was leading at the half-time break before the introduction of Lewandowski into the fray as a substitute.

His five goals in nine minutes (8.59 to be precise) demonstrated wonderful composure and technique.  The final goal is simply spectacular.


The lesson for young players watching Lewandowski is that each of the goals is taken calmly.  Lewandowski never loses his poise and remains unhurried despite operating against a very good defense.

Both Manchester United and Lewandowski wove different types of football magic on the weekend.

Both examples demonstrate what can be achieved when the team and individual components of the game are mastered.

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