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Tactical theory: Access

What is access?

Access is a tactical term that has different meanings depending on whether we’re talking about the attacking or the defensive phase of play. In attack, access essentially depicts whether the team in possession can or can not find the man in space through a certain channel on the pitch. This means that they may or may not have the access to reach their desired target with the ball.

On the other hand, we can also talk about access for the defending team as well. In their case, access represents whether or not they can reach the opposition player they want or need to mark. In that scenario, once again, they may or may not have the access to reach their desired target, albeit in a somewhat different way than was the case for the squad that’s on the ball.

Some of the other tactical terms that we usually connect with access are channels, through ball, progressive passes, attacking phase and defensive phase.

Examples of access in football

As is the case with most of the more general tactical terms and tactics in football, access is not something we necessarily connect with a specific coach or philosophy. That being said, there are teams who are better at gaining access to their primary targets, similarly as some may be more efficient at denying it. So we can say that the highly attacking and deadly teams like Bayern Munich or Liverpool are good at the former while defensive giants like Atlético Madrid excel at the latter.

A general example of gaining access would be the attacking team finding their dropping forward with a through ball down the middle of the pitch. This means that they have access to their desired primary target. Similarly, if a team denies access well, they can block the channel that leads into that player, e.g. the dropping forward, by man-marking him or cutting off the passing lane.

For the team off the ball, not having access would mean not having the means to cover the said forward since the backline may be occupied with other attackers, thus preventing them from following the player to deeper areas.

Why use access?

Access is primarily used to find high priority targets in advantageous zones on the pitch. It’s not something you choose not to do as that would seriously hamper your team’s chances at winning the game. However, executing it properly and manipulating the opposition in order to gain access is something some teams are better at than the others and so to them, it can lead to advantageous positions throughout the game.