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Man Utd’s Pick and Roll Play


Did everyone spot Nemanja Vidic’s contribution to Manchester United’s third goal against Chelsea on Sunday?  The tactic, reminiscent of basketball’s pick-and-roll, has been creeping into Premier League play over the course of this season.  Sunday’s example was the most blatant to date – and it still wasn’t picked up by the referee.

As you can see from the video of the goal, the cross comes from a free-kick in the vicinity of the corner flag.  Berbatov is being man-marked by Ballack and Terry is covering Vidic.


As the kick is taken, Vidic is not looking at the ball (which is directly behind him) but instead is concentrating on impeding Ballack’s ability to cover Berbatov.


Here you see the pick in full effect.  Vidic steps into the path of Ballack after Berbatov makes his run to the near post.


Now unmarked, Berbatov has the simple task of converting from five yards out.


Allowing this sort of play by the attacking team makes scoring goals too easy.  That’s why it is against the laws of the game, and why referees must become more alert to the activity.

Manchester United were unfortunate to get pulled back by the officials for their chicanery (legal, this time) during that corner routine in the first half, so I suppose there was some sort of karma in effect here.

Incidently, while the pick-and-roll is within the rules of basketball, it requires the player making the pick (i.e. Vidic) to keep his feet still, which he doesn’t.  It also would not be allowed in the NFL, which has a sensible rule that assumes that if a player isn’t actually looking at the ball in flight, they’re probably committing a foul.

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  1. Auslander

    January 15, 2009 at 6:14 am

    That wasn't a pick and roll. It was just a pick. If it was a pick and roll it would have required the man setting the pick (Vidic) to get the ball.

  2. Alex Z

    January 14, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Basketball is my favorite sport (even more than soccer), so this is an interesting development.

    My question is: what's wrong with the pick and roll in soccer? If executed properly and legally (it clearly wasn't in this case, mainly because Vidic held the defender, whom I think was Ballack in this case) it is a genius play: it creates massive separation without incurring an offside penalty. If the second player sets the screen properly (as they would in basketball: by standing in one spot with their hands folded), then there is nothing illegal about the move, and it is a perfectly legitimate way to score a goal.

  3. Phil McThomas

    January 14, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    That United got away with this was all the more suprising given the couple of occasions that Ronaldo knocked the ball past a defender and immediately ran into him. It seemed that the defender hardly moved at all, and than it was Ronaldo who initiated the contact.

    To draw another analogy to basketball, it was like the defender “taking the charge” and picking up a foul. But in football, the decision always seems to go in the attacker's favor.

    So in one situation (the free-kick, above), the attacker steps in front of the defender and doesn't get penalized. In another situation (Ronaldo), the attacker runs into a static defender and picks up a foul.

    What's a poor defender to do?

  4. taus

    January 14, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    oh as for di santo marking berba
    its common knowledge by now. Scholari likes Zonal marking..which noone can pull off except liverpool.. he;s supposedly changing it.

  5. taus

    January 14, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    chill…this isnt pointing fingers and saying united DID wrong. its a common play in EPL among smaller teams…heard of Bolton?..they do it against less physical teams..a lot of times. as for the terry carvalho underhanded things, everyone does it, esp the two special cbs of united themselves. while its a skill to do it subtlely, which vidic masters, ferdinand fails horribly since he cant even hold his drink, let alone his temper on field
    its just that it was such a huge stage, and it was so clearly pre someone above pointed out.
    and i think the trick to spotting this is if the offense player is NOT looking at the ball..usually if anyone does not look at the ball, its the defense player. of course, its used so rarely, noone notices.
    PS: The corner trick which was disallowed was rooney's fault. the main idea of the trick is to let the referee know that you've taken the corner, once you touch the D and roll out the ball. its rarely used trick, but check every video of the time the corner trick has worked, the first takers tells the ref.

  6. berbarian

    January 14, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    yes, the man was di santo..not ballack..young kid was blocked by brutal+talented vidic..pity
    glory2 manutd

  7. kkfla737

    January 14, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Great analysis Phil. It never occurred to me but it is the pick and roll!

  8. Arjun

    January 14, 2009 at 11:41 am

    It was also karma for the disallowed offside goal to Ronaldo, as well as a possible penalty by Carvalho for tugging on Ronaldo's jersey.

  9. tyduffy

    January 14, 2009 at 9:11 am

    I think the referee and the linesman were too busy making up rules about how you have to alert the linesman on a quick free kick to notice this.

  10. Dennis

    January 14, 2009 at 8:59 am

    To my oppinion maybe the referee thought tha vidich was making a preparing to make a run which in soccer a run can be made on the blank side to distract attention from the marking defenders to create space for the potential goal scorer for which in this point was berbatov

  11. DaveMo

    January 14, 2009 at 8:51 am

    Nice analysis, and good frame-by-frame pics. If you watch the replay, you see Vidic whispering in Berba's ear just before they set up – in case there's any doubt it was preconceived.

    Small quibble – it was not Ballack that Vidic blocked. It was Di Santo. You can see Ballack in your pics, but he's lower left (probably not marking anybody, based on his level of commitment Sunday).

  12. David

    January 14, 2009 at 8:47 am

    I'm pretty sure that Chelsea got away with a blatant tug on Ronaldo from Carvalho in the first half, too. Plus, Terry and Carvalho have been up to this business (on the defensive side of things) for many seasons and its been a hell of a lot more blatant than Sunday's showing.

    Also, I think that was di Santo marking Berbatov – which begs the question, why did Chelsea put a young, slight, inexperienced striker on Berbatov to defend the free kick?

  13. Renato

    January 14, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Great analysis. Thanks!

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