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Explained: Overload or overloading

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In today’s time and date, the normal fan is exposed to so much football content. They are also getting exposed to more and more technical jargon.  Fans are getting interested in analytics and tactics more than ever. We have already covered terms like PPDA, BDP, xOVA, half-spaces and transitions. Now we bring you one of the most basic technical terms in modern football, overload or overloading.

The best modern managers use overloads in defence, in attack and often to isolate opposition players. An overload is the best way to crack open deep defences, defending in a low block, and drag out opposition players playing in a rigid system.


An Overload in football

An overload in football refers to having more than the normal number of players in a certain area of the pitch i.e. numerical superiority in that zone. More technically, it is described as when more players than usual penetrate a zone.

Flanks are especially the area or zones where we most often see overloads in the game. The use of tactical variations by managers often try to get more players around the ball, thus in the congested centre of the park, it is a rare occurrence.

Attacking overloads are as common an occurrence as defending overloads. Defenders often look to get more players back to defend to compress space in between the lines but that cannot happen without an overload.

What is an attacking overload?

Attacking overloads can take place in the penalty box or on the flanks. It happens when the centre midfielders of the attacking team, functioning as ‘Mezzalas‘ drift into wide spaces to support the wingers and fullbacks. It also leaves in space for players to run from deeper positions with or without the ball.

This creates a 3-on-2 situation on the wings, resulting in players getting pulled out of position to track and support. This usually means the defence is disorganised as they leave spaces in behind, or towards the centre. Even if either of the midfielder, winger or fullback moves into the half-space an overload is beginning to take place.

Players like De Bruyne and Trent Alexander- Arnold often drift into the wide half spaces to cause overloads. If defenders hold their position and do not get pulled to the ball, players like KDB and TAA get the time and space to put in a perfect pass/cross. It has always been one of the cornerstones of Pep’s tiki-taka.

What is a defensive overload?

Defensive overloads also occur while defending when more players flood a certain zone to compress space and shut down passing lanes. It strangles the opposition for time and space.

Defensive overloads are not only used for defending in modern football. For example, even goalkeepers these days offer themselves as passing options while building from the back. If the keeper is confident in his own skill he can become the ‘starter’ of play or an attacking sequence.

Aaron Ramsdale and Ederson are probably the best examples of these types of keepers. They are capable of offering themselves up as passing options during the build-up. Both of them possess the passing range to start play.

Overloading to isolate

It is also used to target a certain zone or player the attacking team might think is the defending team’s weak link.

Overloading to isolate is a tactical concept used by the best managers. The basis of the concept is that the attacking side overloads one side of the pitch. In turn, this pulls the defending side towards the ball. This thereby opens up space on the opposite side of the pitch. It gives the attacking winger an opportunity to take the defending team’s player 1 on 1 more often than not.

Counter-attacking teams use this tactical concept very well. Teams like Liverpool, Real Madrid and Tottenham heavily rely on this tactical concept. They are blessed with rapid wingers who are a nightmare to go up against 1 on 1. This plays to their strengths. No wonder their wingers have such high dribble stats.

So the next time you see Van Dijk switch the play with a long diagonal pass to any of the Red’s wingers. You can figure out what is happening.


*This article is sponsored by Xebia, a pioneering Software Engineering and IT consultancy company, started in Netherlands. Xebia in Netherlands proudly supports the Dutch national football team.

Vidur Arora
A Swansea City fan, who fell in love with the game watching Joe Allen play. Usually found in the wild with headphones in his ears and bobbing his head. Love his art too.

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