Learn the Moves that Leave Defenders Shaking in Their Cleats (Written by a Center Back)
My old soccer coach managed our team around the ethos that if you don’t concede goals, you can’t lose. He focused on creating a strong defensive line before working on offensive tactics.
It wasn’t long before we had the best defense in the league, a brick wall, a locked door — the stuff of striker’s nightmares. But I’m going to hand you the key!
Consider this article a comprehensive guide to the best soccer moves in the book, each with the ability to tie defenders in knots and make space for you to play in.
A player with the ability to face another one-on-one, pull off some silky footwork, and continue upfield is a much sought-after asset, and this is a first-hand insight into what works best.
These are without a doubt the moves my fellow defenders and I struggled with the most when we came up against particularly skillful players. Are you ready, twinkle toes? Let’s get to it.
1. The Cruyff Turn – Simple Genius
Developed by John Cruyff, Dutch soccer extraordinaire, the eponymous Cruyff Turn is an absolute classic, yet if executed with precision, is just as effective today as it was in the 1974 World Cup.
This move works best if you’re facing your own goal, with a defender breathing down your neck. Here’s how it’s done…
- Fake a Large Strike – Pretend that you’re about to hoof the ball across the pitch. It’s a beautiful bit of misdirection that draws them where you want them. This stage of the move also allows you to position yourself with a low center of gravity, so you can turn quickly without losing balance.
- Roll or Strike the Ball Behind Your Other Leg – Instead of going through with the beefy cross that you’ve acted out thus far, bring your foot around the ball and tuck it behind your static leg.
- Make a Break for It – With the defender still tracking your bluff, you’re free to bolt in the opposite direction with the ball.
You can break the Cruyff Turn down into these steps while learning and practicing it, but do bear in mind that you’ll need to have down to a fluid movement before trying it in a game.
The quicker you can pull it off, the more confusion it will cause, and the more time you’ll have to unload the ball.
2. The Roulette – Flashy and Effective
The Roulette is the quintessential bit of dazzling footwork. Everyone from David Beckham to Zinedine Zidane has used it to miraculous effect when players are bearing down on them.
You may have also heard it called the 360 as you need to pull off a full 360° turn to complete the move. The Roulette can be instrumental in getting past defenders or giving yourself some space to work in.
Best used when approaching players head-on, wait until they dedicate to the tackle, then…
- Roll the Ball Back and Start to Spin – Using the foot on the opposite side of the way you wish to turn, roll the ball away from the reach of the defender’s foot as you begin to turn your body. This blocks access to, and visuals of, the ball as you continue the trick.
- Use Your Back Foot to Roll the Ball Behind You – Once you’ve spun roughly 180°, the ball should arrive at your back foot. Running your cleat over it heel first, you’ll roll it behind you (past the defender).
- Complete the Spin – As you complete the 360, you should find the ball ahead of you and the defender behind you or at least to your side.
It’s not just called The Roulette because your spinning mimics a roulette wheel, it’s also a bit of a gamble. As such, it should be used sparingly, and only when you’re certain it will be effective.
3. The Elastico – Sleight of…Foot
This move was a favorite of Ronaldinho, and it can be used to tear multiple defenders to shreds in one fell swoop. The Elastico is pretty tricky to nail as it requires immense speed.
Best used when facing a player head-on, you’ll draw them in, then hit them with one of these…
- Using the outside of Your Foot, Knock the Ball in One Direction – It’s just a gentle touch. In fact, your foot may never fully leave the ball. The idea is that you’re tricking the defender into thinking you’re heading that way.
- Using the Inside of Your Foot, Flick the Ball Back in the Opposite Direction – This has to be done in the blink of an eye, and you must strike the ball just right. Too hard and it will get away from you. Too soft and it won’t come with you.
There are plenty of variations of the Elastico, so feel free to diversify this skill once you’ve got the basic format down.
4. The Hocus Pocus – Pure Witchcraft
This is a really tough trick to pull off, especially at speed; however, if you manage to avoid tangling your own legs into a pretzel, that defender won’t know what hit ‘em!
- Put Your Weight on Your Front Foot Without the Ball – As your back foot moves forward, use the inside of your cleat to sweep the ball behind your anchored front foot.
- Let Your Sweeping Foot Follow the Ball Behind Your Front Foot – This prepares you to alter the course of the ball.
- Use Your Sweeping Foot to Knock the Ball In Front of Your Weighted Foot from the Outside.
This move is a momentum killer, so it’s best done when stationary or slow-moving. If you can get it just right, it should look like an advanced, behind the ankle version of The Elastico. You can play with the angle of your final touch to give you even more defender-punishing potential.
5. The Nutmeg (Megs) – Utter Humiliation
The Nutmeg is the oldest trick in the book. It’s so simple we don’t even need to break it down into steps. A Nutmeg is simply the act of kicking the ball between a player’s legs, then running past them to regain possession.
It can be tricky to accomplish on its own, but if you start the offense with a few of these other moves, it will lead a defender to widen their base in order to prepare for your next magic trick. Now’s the time to strike with a devastating shot through their legs.
Having been the victim of the odd megs, I can tell you firsthand how demoralizing it is.
6. The Okacha – Fanciest of Footwork
Jay Jay Okacha was renowned for his creative approach to one-on-one soccer scenarios, and the move he chose as his namesake is nothing short of breathtaking for defenders and observers alike.
- Use the Inside of Your Foot to Roll the Ball Towards the Other – You’re selling the defender the idea that you’ll use your second foot to strike the ball.
- Step Over the Ball with your Second Foot – Let the ball run under your legs.
- Choose One of 3 Options – You can either end the trick there and follow the ball, use your stepping foot to drag the ball back for a snappy change in direction, or use your first foot to loop around the stepping foot and go for a jaw-dropping Nutmeg. The choice is yours.
7. The Rabona – A Risky Gambit
Thought of more as a cocky bit of showboating than as a practical skill, many deem The Rabona unfit for use in competitive soccer, but it’s not an entirely redundant move.
The ability to control and pass the ball like this allows you to operate within oppressively narrow angles, something that often isn’t possible with regular passing and crossing.
The idea is that you…
- Set the Ball up on the Outside of Your Foot.
- Bring Your Opposite Foot Around the Back of Your Ball-Handling Foot.
- Strike the Ball with The Toes of Your Opposite Foot – Developing enough power is the key concern here. Leaning back slightly can help give the ball more lift.
If you throw a promising offensive away by experimenting with The Rabona, you’ll earn the ire of your teammates, coach, and crowd, so make sure it pays off.
8. The Rivelino – Meat and Potatoes Playing
This little nugget of a move is often the first bit of toe trickery you’ll learn as a layer, but holy heck is it effective.
It’s another simple one, so I won’t break it down. It’s essentially just a tactical dummy — nothing fancy.
Just act like you’re about to hoof the ball in one direction, then once the defender is well and truly fleeced, abort the big boot, allowing your striking leg to loop over the ball. Then use the outside of that foot to knock the ball in the opposite direction.
9. The Fake Pull Back – Planting Seeds of Hesitation
This cheeky little move won’t get that defender completely off your back, but it will certainly cause a small amount of confusion, slowing them down. It may only free up a second or two, but on many occasions, that’s all you need.
A Pull Back is where you place your cleat on top of the ball and roll it backwards.
The Fake Pull Back involves dribbling at pace, lifting your foot above the ball as if you’re about to do a Pull Back, then at the last second, before you make any contact with the ball, you continue dribbling full speed ahead.
It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trick that uses a defender’s quick reactions against them.
A variation of The Fake Pull Back includes making contact with the ball, partially rolling it back, aborting the move partway through, then continuing as normal.
10. The Cut – Simple Misdirection
One of the easier tricks on my list of defender destroyers, The Cut employs simple dribbling skills to dupe a defender into thinking you’re going one way or another.
- Dribble Hard to One Side of the Defender.
- Dummy a Pass – The trick is to deceive the defender into thinking you’re unloading the ball in the direction you’re running.
- Cut the Ball with the Inside of Your Foot – With the defender dedicated to the dummy direction, tap the ball across them, and zoom off to victory.
You can double up on this trick if you need to by faking one way and then the other before continuing.
11. The Matthews Cut – Utilitarian and U-Loving It
Invented by Sir Stanley Matthews between the 30s and 60s, this move has been making defenders sweat for getting on a century now.
You can think of it as a simplified Elastico in reverse. Rather than drawing the ball out, then in, you draw the ball in with your big two, then out with your smaller toes in the other direction. If done fast enough, it’s all you’ll need to leave a defender eating your dust.
12. The Ronaldo Chop – We Have Lift-Off
Cristiano Ronaldo got his name on a trick by reinventing The Cruyff Turn we discussed at the beginning of the list.
The Ronaldo Chop follows the same basic principles as The Cruyff Turn, but both feet come off the ground in order to complete the trick. It’s used when running down the wing with a defender giving chase on the inside, and it goes a little something like this…
- Pick up Momentum – You need the defender to be going full pelt alongside you.
- Jump over the Ball – You don’t want to clear the ball, just to hover above it.
- Use the Inside of Your Outside Foot to Hit the Ball Behind Your Other Leg – You’re off in another direction, and the defender can’t slow down quick enough to go with you — perfect!
This move requires a large amount of space, so it’s best used to cut in from the wing.
13. The Rainbow – Is the Treasure at the End a Goal?
You’ll have seen The Rainbow in action at some point, even if you didn’t realize. It’s a difficult trick involving trapping the ball between your front and back legs and flicking it over both your and your opponent’s heads.
If you’re willing to give this bad boy a go, follow these steps…
- Trap the Ball Between your Front and Back Legs.
- Using the Side of your Back Foot, Roll the Ball up the Ankle of Your Front Leg – Here, you’re priming the ball to be vaulted by your front foot.
- Flick Your Front Foot up Behind You – The ball should now be airborne, following the arc of a rainbow over your heads.
The Rainbow is rarely attempted in competitive gameplay, but therein lies its beauty — no one is expecting it. Unfortunately, though, if it goes wrong, it’s sort of a Rabona situation. Your teammates will accuse you of being overconfident and selfish.
14. The Inside Hook – A Directional Staple
Often used to slow down and change the direction of play, The Inside Hook is a deceptively hard trick to get down. Requiring a gentle touch and exquisite dribbling skills, it’s an essential technique that every player should practice.
The general concept is simple enough. When you’re moving at pace, all you need to do is hook the ball back with the inside of your foot, bringing it to a stop, with your body between the ball and the defender. Then you’ve got time to breathe, lift your head, and evaluate your options.
15. The Pull Back V – Shifting Focus
It’s not overly elegant, but The Pull Back V is one of the safest, most commonly used directional techniques in the game.
When mastered, you can avoid multiple players using The Pull Back V alone. It’s a great way to coax in multiple defenders, creating space for your teammates to run into.
Sounds pretty good, right? The general method is easy too…
- From a Stationary Position, Place Your Foot on top of the Ball and Swiftly Roll it Back Towards You – Bringing the ball close to your body is a great way to reduce the risk of losing possession.
- Pivot on Your Back Foot – A quick turn opens up your vision and prepares you for proceeding in a new direction.
- As Quickly as You Can, Strike the Ball In Your New Direction, Clear of Your Opponent’s Reach – The fluid motion of the whole move should form a V with the ball.
The Pull Back V is more of a midfield staple, but it can be used to devastating effect up front too.
16. The Step Over – Poetry in Motion
Chaining multiple, seamless Step Overs together is one of the best ways to boggle a defender’s mind. The constant uncertainty of the direction you’ll eventually choose is enough to drive even the most Stoic full back round the bend.
There are multiple ways to approach this move, but the most effective is also known as The Scissors, and it goes like this…
- Don’t Step Over, Step Around – Swing your foot around the ball from the inside out. It can be stationary or in motion. You’ll need to drop your shoulder to make the dummy believable.
- Rinse and Repeat with Your Other Foot – The more dummies you can fit into the sequence, the more confusion you’ll cause.
- Choose Your Exit Path and Explode into Action – This move is no good if you don’t make an incendiary getaway, so be on your toes.
Cristiano Ronaldo is a surgeon when it comes to The Step Over, so I recommend studying some of his performances.
17. The Lunge – Throwing your Weight
The Lunge is a super easy dummy to get down. It involves making a dramatic lunge to one side of the ball when approaching your opponent at speed.
It’s important you don’t make contact with the ball, just signal that you’re about to by dropping your shoulder and head. Then, when your opponent least expects it, strike the ball with the outside of your foot and charge in the opposite direction.
18. The Double Lunge – Double or Nothin’
This one’s self-explanatory. The Double Lunge is a straightforward double up of The Single Lunge. Instead of faking once, you fake twice, eventually striking the ball with the outside of your foot in the direction of the first lunge.
The key to an effective double lunge is to keep the first lunge quite sharp, fast, and subtle, then really selling the second one with a longer, more drawn-out movement. It’s a double bluff, and it’s doubly effective.
You can use any one of these moves to run defenders in circles. Even if you only master a couple of the easier tricks, it’ll take your performance to the next level, making you a valuable asset to the team.
I’ve seen my fellow defenders outfoxed by every single one of these moves in the past. As long as you execute them with tenacity and precision, they’ll help you boost your goal rate, open doors to countless assists, and ensure that you stand out in the crowd.
If you want to get practicing right away, I’d recommend investing in something like this Pro Disc Cones Set, using them to simulate a defender, and working on your footwork. Best of luck!