The main principles of attacking play are penetration, width and depth. The creation of space is a fundamental attacking principle in soccer. Effective team shape will make full use of the width and length of the field. There are many formations and attacking strategies but width and depth provides the foundation for all, as it is the way we create the space to be able to attack effectively.
The Importance of Width and Depth in Soccer
There are three ways to get past your opponents defensive structure.
Maintaining good attacking shape and having width and depth in attack should mean that at least one of these options is possible at any given time.
Spread out across the field: Full backs and wingers should move out towards their touchlines and the gaps between central players should increase. This ensures your team is maximizing the space available and opening up space in the middle. Defending teams like to remain compact and close together, but this becomes a problem when the attacking team is spread across the whole field as they cannot remain compact and mark all attackers at once. If they want to provide cover and balance then defending teams must leave other players open.
Isolate Defenders: By spreading out the creation of isolated 1-on-1 situations can occur. This means that players can receive the ball up against defenders who have less supporting cover than they would if the team wasn't spread out. Defensive teams then have to work harder to create good defensive cover around the ball. In wide areas isolating defenders can mean great attacking opportunities and the creation of overloads to exploit the lack of support.
Create Space Between Defenders: Spreading out creates gaps between individual defenders and the opportunity to play through defensive lines. If the shape is too narrow then the gaps between defenders do not exist which removes the possibility of playing through the opposition. This plays into the defending team's hands as it limits the options for attack, making play predictable.