What is a Striker in Soccer? 101 Position Guide

Michael Claunch

What is a Striker in Soccer?

The responsibilities of different players on a soccer team depend on their designated positions and place in the formation. In the case of strikers (or forwards, as they are often called), those responsibilities consist mostly of playing deep in the opponent’s territory and attempting to score goals. A talented striker is expected to be the leading goal scorer on the team and to consistently finish the actions created by midfielders or other forwards.

While it’s not difficult to understand what a striker does in soccer, some finer nuances of playing this position may not be so obvious. This analysis is intended to clear up any confusion and illustrate the definition of the striker position with examples of great players who spent their careers in this role.

What does a striker do on a soccer field?

Strikers are strictly offensive players who are positioned ahead of the midfielders, very close to the opponent’s goal. They must move back and forth within the flow of the game to avoid being offside, but they always gravitate toward the goal. Strikers may run all the way back into their own penalty box to defend a free kick but will be among the first players to push back on a counter if their team wins back the ball. Meanwhile, in set-piece situations on offense, a striker might be the one taking the free kick, or among the players jousting for an opportunity to put a deflected ball into the net.

The primary responsibilities of strikers are not limited to direct shots at the goal, and they often pass the ball to a teammate in a better position to score or act as decoys to allow others to gain an advantage. Their main objective is to get the ball behind the defense, either by solo penetration, by receiving a well-timed pass, or by some other action. To do this, they are expected to regularly win duels both on the ground and in the air and to have a presence of mind to avoid offside traps and tackles by the defense. The list of things that a striker does in soccer is not limited to those areas, as they often find creative ways to contribute to team success.

Which skills are essential for a striker?

Compared to midfielders, strikers tend to be taller and more robustly built, effectively trading speed for power. This allows them to better protect the ball on the ground, outrun the defense with longer strides, and leap high in the air to attempt headers. At the same time, strikers must have great ball control and be able to shoot with both feet, as they often need to make a move in order to gain a good angle to launch the ball at the goal. Dribbling and passing skills are less mandatory, but well-rounded strikers tend to be quite good in those areas too.

While top sprinting speed may not be a key trait for players at the striker position, quickness and agility are very desirable. Strength and balance are also essential since striker positioning involves close proximity to the defenders. Consequently, players at this spot have to withstand some physical contact even when they don’t have the ball. Endurance is critical as well since strikers run a lot during a game and need to preserve some juice in case a scoring chance materializes late in the game. This is why strikers are among the most frequently substituted players on the team, and especially older players rarely spend the full 90 minutes in the forward role.

How many strikers play on a soccer team?

5-4-1 soccer formation
5-4-1 Formation / Threner, CC BY-SA 1.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A good definition of what a striker is can be derived from his place in the formation, which is always in the front line. Depending on which formation they prefer, coaches can keep anywhere from one to three strikers on the field at any given time. Formations with more strikers are more offensively minded, so a team playing 4-3-3 is certainly looking to score more vigorously than one that stays in the 5-4-1 formation. Naturally, the exact role of the striker and the area where he plays can change depending on how many other forwards are currently on the field.

It is common for teams that fall behind on the scoreboard to sub in a striker for a defender or midfielder and open up the formation in the hope of equaling the score. In this scenario, a striker comes in with fresh legs and aims to infuse energy into his team, hopefully creating goal chances in the process. The opposite move can also make sense in certain situations, as teams that want to protect a lead will regularly pull a striker and insert a defensive-minded player, sometimes altering the formation as well to fit the personnel on the field.

Who were the best strikers in soccer history?

Compiling the list of best soccer strikers is difficult because there are so many great players that deserve a mention. Pelé is probably the most celebrated striker in history and is considered one of the best soccer players ever, regardless of position. Hungarian legend from the ‘50s, Ferenc Puskás, is another player who provided an early blueprint for what a striker is in modern soccer. Marco van Basten, Gabriel Batistuta, Gerd Müller, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have also had long and extremely productive careers and were regarded as dominant strikers while at the peak of their powers.

Karim Benzema
“Benzema scores Real Madrid’s third goal.” by CDeahr23 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/?ref=openverse.

There are quite a few noteworthy active players who primarily play as strikers. Cristiano Ronaldo is probably the biggest name on the list and is among the most accomplished goal-scorers of all time. Harry Kane, Karim Benzema, Romelu Lukaku, and Robert Lewandowski are all elite strikers who can score seemingly out of nowhere and have the ability to trick even the best defenders. Considering that the level of physical preparation and skill training continues to improve, it will be interesting to see what the next generation of world-class strikers will look like.

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