The modern day game requires the coach to have a knowledge and understanding of many aspects and be able to coach his players the different tactics required to win a match. Whilst there are many different aspects that go into producing a performance, in simplistic terms you either have the ball and are therefore attacking or the opposition have it and you are thus defending.
The top coaches in the World today focus on 5 issues surrounding the game which I have called the 5 Pillars. There are 2 pillars concerned with offensive play, 2 with defensive and then Set Pieces make the 5th. Offensive play is broken down into two categories, (1) In Possession with the opposition unset and (2) In possession with the opposition set and similarly defensively (3) out of possession and team unset and (4) out of possession and team set.
1. IN POSSESSION WITH THE OPPOSTION UNSET
This situation arises at the moment when the team wins the ball back from the opposition and lasts for circa 6 seconds against a well organised team. This time span is the optimum amount when a goal can be scored, taking advantage of the likely spread out nature of the opposition who have been in attacking mode. They are likely to have an offensive mind as a unit and will undoubtedly be searching to get back into a defensive shape, but the time it takes to do this leaves them vulnerable to the counter attack, with defenders exposed individually and not being afforded any cover. This is an area the coach must spend time with his players on, devising strategies to take advantage of the turnover of the ball. To be successful in the game today, a team must defend in a manner to counter attack, i.e.; stop the opposition from scoring at the same time as understanding that the ball will be lost and for a brief period on winning it there is the maximum opportunity to punish them. Many of the World’s top teams have Transition players playing for them, players that take up ½ & ½ positions when defending, ready to fill holes and aid the defensive strategy if needed but also in positions to be able to effect the counter attack if the ball is won. AC Milan are one of the best teams to do this, with Kaka & Shevchenko always in positions when the rest of the team is defending where they can help out if needed but can receive the ball when it is won. In the game today this phase is the most important one in open play and is statistically responsible for over 1/3rd of all goals scored. Whilst it cannot be overestimated how important this phase is, it is equally important to recognise when the counter attack possibility is over and possession of the ball is the correct phase.
2. IN POSSESSION WITH THE OPPOSITION SET
Fig 2. This is an area which needs to be addressed, as a counter attack opportunity can quickly fizzle out due to a foul, a misplaced pass or a well organised team which negates the counter attack by keeping/getting many players behind the ball. It is important in this phase to circulate the ball, provide options backwards, forwards and square for the man on the ball and to create space through movement and rotation to try to open the defensive block up so that it can be exploited. Too much risk in this area can lead to being counter attacked so covering your attacks must also be a focus when rehearsing your offensive moves.
3. OUT OF POSSESSION AND THE TEAM UNSET
The importance of covering the attack cannot be stressed enough. Pushing too many players forward in search of a goal can be very risky as there is vulnerability about your shape immediately you lose the ball. It is vital that players are aware of where a counter attack is likely to initiate from and fill that area as quickly as possible. In the main, regardless of where the ball is lost a counter attack will be most successful if it is allowed to emanate from the central area in front of your defense. The first 6 seconds after losing the ball are the most dangerous for your team and the importance of gaining your compact defensive shape behind the ball as quickly as possible is paramount. Steps should be taken to identify the fulcrums of the counter attack and mark them tightly even when you are attacking, and also have a focus on slowing the game down immediately on losing the ball. Actions such as filling the central area in front of the defense with at least 2 players will encourage the opposition play wide to the flanks which you will then find easier to slow down the attack, have the nearest man to the ball press aggressively immediately the ball is lost to force the ball backwards, again slowing it down and also if this aggressive press leads to a foul then again the game is slowed down for the restart enabling you to get back to your compact defensive shape as a unit.
4. OUT OF POSSESSION AND THE TEAM SET
Whatever your defensive principles this is the situation when you should be at your most resolute and difficult to break down. Forcing the opposition to play in a way that you want them to play should be addressed and having your transition players in ½ & ½ positions ready to counter when you win it…..
5. SET PIECES
Quite simply set pieces are responsible for over 1/3rd of all goals scored. Set Pieces need to be worked on religiously during training in order to be successful with them. The 2 key areas of offensive set pieces are delivery and attitude to be on the end of the delivery. Whatever the practiced set piece is, the delivery must be constant into the target area and the players must be well drilled to attack that area and do so with conviction and belief. Defending set pieces requires organisation and a commitment to get the first touch on the ball coming in as this is a fundamental objective in reducing the amount of goals conceded.
When devising the way you want your team to play, using the 5 pillars as the foundation of what you are trying to achieve will help a great deal in making your team a successful one. The complexity of all the different aspects and tactics involved within those pillars is for you to determine and organise but a constant reference to them is essential.
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