There are many different skills and tricks that you can use to get past your opponent in soccer.
As long as you practice your abilities, you can treat soccer as a game of chess. Who’s going to make the first move?
What move will they make? The possibilities are endless. Follow our guide on how to perform a nutmeg and how to prevent one.
We’ve got you covered in both attack and defense!
Table of Contents
What Is A Nutmeg?
The nutmeg is a piece of skill used by lots of soccer players in the modern game. A fairly simple piece of skill, this trick has been seen from attackers all the way back to goalkeepers and defenders alike.
With regards to the amount of effort you’re putting in, the nutmeg has a huge potential reward. If you can pull it off, then you may find yourself bearing down on the goal. However, if you fail, then you can find yourself facing a counter-attack, left looking silly.
Many players in the modern game rely on tricks, flair, and speed to beat their opponents. Skillful wingers like Neymar Jr. and Lionel Messi have performed this skill for years, embarrassing defenders all over the world.
By knocking the ball through an opponent’s legs, you’re not just taking the ball past them, you’re also forcing them to turn around when you’re already running past them.
On top of the nutmeg being a skill move, it’s also a useful way of scoring a goal. Many strikers, when faced one-on-one with a goalkeeper, will try to place the ball around the man in the net.
However, the goalkeeper can make this incredibly hard by making themselves as big as possible and spreading their body as wide as they can.
Because their legs are sometimes spread wide, attackers can try to take advantage and place the ball through their legs. This also makes ‘keepers second-guess next time they spread themselves out.
A lot of goals conceded through nutmegs also come without the ball being laced through the goalkeeper’s legs.
When faced with several defenders in front of them, a lot of players will snap at the chance of having a shot on goal. As many strikers will know, it can be frustrating not getting a shot towards the goal when you’re losing.
A lot of the time, the ball will inadvertently find its way through a defender’s legs, throwing the goalkeeper off and making them unaware of the shot placement. Effective!
How To Nutmeg An Opponent
The nutmeg is a relatively simple skill move to perform, it’s all about the timings and waiting for the right moment. For example, if a defender is expecting a different skill move, you may be able to catch them off-guard and move past them with relative ease.
The best thing to do is to have the ball under your control.
By having the ball at your feet, you’re not just finding yourself in an easier position, but you’re also keeping the defender on their toes. They can be expecting any sort of skill, so use this to your advantage.
Slowly move the ball to a distance in front of the defender where they can see you want to attack at them. If you’re feeling confident, you can always continue to move towards them, making them back away from you.
However, if the defender doesn’t sense a threat from you then it’s likely they won’t back away and will actually lunge in to tackle you.
It’s very unlikely that any soccer player will stand there with their legs firmly shut, so use this to your advantage. Wait for them to spray their legs wide, or make a move and knock the ball through their legs.
Some players will have a lot longer to think about this because of how much time and room they have to work with, but it’s likely that you’ll have a couple of seconds.
Depending on how much space there is behind the defender for you to move toward, you can knock the ball as hard as you want.
Usually, it’s best to assess how close the next defender is, because if you hit the ball too hard, then the next defender will come and collect the ball or tackle you. If you hit the ball too softly, then you’re likely to get caught by your marking opponent.
How To Defend Against A Nutmeg
Defending against a nutmeg can be really hard when faced against a skillful opponent. They can mask the nutmeg with other tricks like stepovers and close ball control to mask their true intentions.
The best thing to do is to stay calm. By keeping your eyes firmly on the ball, you give yourself the biggest chance possible at winning the ball without committing a foul or getting skilled.
Stand tall and present the wing to the defender. As most full-backs and wing-backs will tell you, pushing your opponent wide increases the chances of forcing them into a corner and limiting their chances of getting toward the goal.
To prevent a nutmeg you need to shut your legs at the precise time that the ball is about to find its way under you. The timing is important so you need to keep your eye on the ball and try not to dive into making a challenge.
Experienced Barcelona and Spain defender, Gerard Pique, once pulled off the perfect nutmeg reversal.
The center-back saw himself facing his opponent and the attacker put the ball through the Spaniard’s legs. Looking beaten, the rest of the Barca defense prepared to defend the oncoming attack, however, Pique had other ideas.
After the ball went through his legs, the defender turned and stuck a leg back as quickly as he could, trapping the ball under his boot. He then dragged the ball back forwards and ran forward with the ball, up the pitch.
The attacker had run around Pique, assuming the ball would be loose to chase onto, however, the defender used his positioning and experience to outwit his opponent and keep the ball from getting past him. A true legend of the game!
Other Variations Of Nutmegs
The nutmeg isn’t just limited to a one-touch knock-and-run through the defender’s legs, any sort of skill can be combined with the nutmeg to come away with the same outcome.
For example, legendary Brazilian soccer player, Ronaldinho, perfected the ‘flip-flap’ skill move, also known as the elastico. This is where you stroke the ball with the inside and outside of your foot in quick succession, to move the ball in two different directions.
First, you knock the ball to the outside direction to where you’re facing, before wrapping your foot around the ball and diverting its direction back inside.
This is a great skill move for those looking for something a bit more challenging. Conducting this trick through an opponent’s legs can make the simplest of skills look absolutely seamless!
The Panna ‘scoop’ turn is also a great way of placing the ball between your opponent’s legs by disguising it as something else.
By using a scoop turn, you can start the move as if you’re about to pass the ball to a teammate and turn the ball through the defender’s legs. You leave them completely unaware of the way you’re about to get past them and leave them too confused to react.
Famous Danish midfielder, Christian Eriksen, famously completed one of these for his former side Ajax, before his transfers to Tottenham and Inter Milan.
The Danish international had the ball by the opposition’s corner flag and was facing towards his own half.
Eriksen acted as if he was going to play the ball back to his teammate and instead scooped the ball through the defender’s legs. Eriksen was then able to run into the penalty box unchallenged.
There are lots of compilations on YouTube all about Panna competitions.
These are where two players will stand in a small arena-like pitch with small walls. The two players will then battle over one ball, with the aim of placing the ball through their opponent’s legs.
Watching these clips can give you some great ideas for how to misdirect the defender, and even sometimes embarrass them!
Nutmegs are a great skill to possess as an attacking player and can be a great way of starting to learn other skill moves. By using close ball control and learning the confidence of how to take on a player, the nutmeg can teach you to play to the best of your ability.
If you’re able to pull off this move then you’re more than likely going to be able to beat a range of players. What are you waiting for? Hit the training field and start your road to becoming the next Neymar!