The Overlap in Soccer



The objective of the overlap in soccer is to send an unmarked player from the back into the attack.  In a traditional overlap attacking run, the wing fullback sprints into the attack, along the nearest sideline, going past and beyond (overlapping) the midfielder ahead.  If the overlapping player is picked up, then the defender is likely to have left their position marking another attacker, thereby leaving that attacker free.

As a tactical matter, once an overlap has been performed, it is up to the rest of the attackers to take advantage of the resulting unmarked player and to get them the ball.  It should be noted that an overlapping run is not a “vertical offensive switch*,” whereby the attacking players exchange positions, because the midfielder stays in the attack.

Because the overlap generally requires a certain amount of space to be performed effectively, it is usually conducted nearer to the sideline.  This facilitates the need for the overlapping player to have both a clear vertical lane to make the run forward and the width necessary to get past the midfielder, who may have the ball.

The wing fullback initiates the action for the overlap.  This can be a straight run with the midfielder already in possession of the ball or, if the fullback has the ball, this may begin with an initial pass on the part of the overlapping player, similar to a simple give-and-go.

Soccer Overlap

Soccer Overlap

The usual result of an overlap is that the overlapping player receives the ball and heads toward the end-line to perform a cross.  If the player becomes covered, a pass is likely to be made to the midfielder.

An overlapping run can actually be performed anywhere in the attacking end, including in the middle of the field.  However, this is relatively infrequent because the middle of the field is generally congested, which further reduces the amount of time and space needed to make the overlap work.

A corollary to the overlap is the “underlap.”  To perform an underlap, the fullback sprints to the inside of the midfielder, closer to the middle of the field.

Soccer Underlap

Soccer Underlap

The usual result of an underlap is that a free inside player receives the ball and takes a shot on goal.  If the player becomes covered, a pass is likely to be made to the midfielder.

Ultimately with both the overlap and the underlap, once the attacking play is altered, the back defender returns to their original position.


*In a “vertical” offensive switch, two attacking players exchange positions from back-to-front or front-to-back in the direction of opposite end-lines (goal lines) during the normal course of play.  See:  Offensive Switches in Soccer.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • Also see: “Introduction to Attacking Runs” and “Intermediate Attacking Runs in Soccer
  • Vary the runs between overlap and underlap to keep the defense guessing, unless one works consistently over the other then just keep using it.
  • Coach Story: “I’d like to relate my experience introducing the overlap to a college team.  By way of background, I already had an aggressive, attack-minded group that was scoring plenty of goals.  I was also using both a formation and a system of play that sent numerous players forward.  So, I provided the instruction, and how and when I wanted overlapping to be performed.  Then I proceeded to full-sides, match-conditions implementation.  And… it turned into a mess!  By sending another body into the attack, players were literally getting in each other’s way and there was not enough space to properly execute the existing attack.  So, I scrapped the overlap.  Coaches, just because an option is available to you, it doesn’t mean that you have to use it.”
  • Oral Communication:Overlap” – (1) Make an overlapping run; tells a defender or midfielder that the situation is acceptable for them to go beyond the midfielder or attacker, respectively, in front of them without a switch. (2) Tells teammates that an overlap is occurring (situational – can be used by offense or defense, as appropriate).
  • A “back heel” can also be used in an overlap situation. If the player in possession is facing toward the defensive goal, a forward pass to a teammate on an overlap can be made with a back heel.  See:  Back Heel.

© Copyright, John C. Harves