Association football tactics and skills
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There are various individual skills and team tactics needed to play effective association football. Football is in theory a very simple game, as illustrated by Kevin Keegan's famous assertion that his tactics for winning a match were to "score more goals than the opposition". However, well-organised and well-prepared teams are often seen beating teams with supposedly more skillful players, even over time. Coaching manuals and books generally cover not only individual skills but tactics as well. Some of the tactics include using a 4-4-2 formation (signifying 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 strikers) which is often regarded as the standard formation, a formation of 5-4-1 which is more defensive and a 4-3-3 formation which allows for more attacking play.
- Width in attack: The attacker tries to divide the defence by spreading strike points across a broad front, rather than attempting to force advances through narrow channels. This may involve play from the wings, or rapidly shifting into open lanes/open space when approaching the goal. Mainly using wingers, often gaps are made between defenders using the width. These gaps can be used to feed the ball to strikers.
- Width in defence: The defender counters, trying to contract and deny width. Attackers are "shepherded" or channeled into narrower or more crowded avenues of approach
- Depth in attack: The attacker uses depth by moving men up from the rear, but may use a constant "target striker" or front man to always be present deep in the defence.
- Depth in defence: The defender also uses depth by marking supporting players in the opposing team, and holding back a man as cover for more advanced players, sometimes in a "sweeper" or "libero" role. Therefore, the attacking player with the ball won't have anyone open for a pass. Alternatively, defenders may abandon depth temporarily to set an offside trap.
- Balance in defence: The defence attempts balanced coverage of vulnerable space. Defenders do not simply cluster on the right side for example, just because the ball is there at that time.
- Pass and move: This is the most basic team tactic — as soon as the ball has come into possession of the player, they need to be quick to decide whether to pass it or not. If they don't pass it immediately, they need to move with it; if they do pass it, they again need to move along, following the general ball movement.
This can also be used to mean that once a player has passed the ball he does not remain stationary but moves into a position where he can receive the ball again and give more options to the player in possession.
- Give and go (or combination passing): This is a basic tactic which is essentially the same as 'pass and move', and is an essential part of the 'target man' style of play (see below). The player in possession of the ball plays a pass to a teammate and then immediately seeks to move into space. If the player who passed the ball can 'lose' his defensive marker (either through pace, movement, superior fitness or a lack of awareness on the part of the defender) he could then be free to receive a return pass and advance towards and possibly threaten the goal. When the ball is played by the receiving player immediately back to the first player this is known as a 'One-Two' (in British parlance)
- Switching the attack: Using a 'square' or 'cross' pass across the whole width of the pitch to a player in plenty of space is a very effective way of both relieving pressure and building a fresh attack. The defending team will be required to adjust its positions and this usually creates spaces which can be exploited. In this example, the player numbered 1 has moved out of position, allowing more space for the opposing player. By playing the ball to the other side (the curved line represents an aerial pass), the recipient of the pass finds themselves in space which can be exploited.
- The through ball (slide rule pass): Using the space behind the opponent's defensive line: Passes into this area have a number of pros: If an attacking player reaches the pass, taking care to avoid offside, he may get a 1-on-1 challenge with the goalkeeper, or be in an excellent position for a flank attack. Even if a defender reaches the pass first, the outcome could still be good for the attacking team. The defender will face his own goal, which could prompt him to give away a corner kick or a throw-in, make a risky pass to his team's goalkeeper, or being put under heavy pressure near the corner flag. Typically, teams with faster attackers than the opponent's defenders will try challenging this space, while the defending team in these cases will want to keep their defenders low when defending in order to give away as little space as possible between the defenders and the goalkeeper.
- The long through ball: This is a long, and usually high, pass from a teams' own half, over the heads of the other team's defence. It is intended for the attacking players to chase and it is important that they remain in an onside position until the ball is kicked. The tactic works best with strong and fast forwards who will have a good chance of winning back the ball, taking control over it, and eventually getting a shot on goal. In the diagram, the ball (red line) is played in front of the furthermost forward, the dotted blue line showing their run. In this example, a through-ball pass along the ground would be picked up by one of the defenders (black team) because the gap between the two central defenders is too small.
- Using the space between the opponent's defensive line and midfielder line ('the hole'): A common build-up of attacks is to pass the ball into the space between the opponent's defenders and midfielders. Normally, an attacker with his back to the goal will receive the pass. He will seek to turn with the ball, or distribute it to a player facing the goal, who optimally also is in front of the opponent's midfielders - or even on the move into the space behind the opponent's defenders.
- Triangular movement: This is a movement tactic that allows a safe and quick shifting of the offensive flanks while maintaining control of the ball. In a triangular play the ball is passed between three players to form a triangle. The triangle is then shifted to a different position when a new player is added. Many triangles can be created with various combinations of players with the intention of slowly moving the ball forward and never really compromising possession. This tactic works well when trying to gain control in the midfield. However, it can also be used for pure attacking purposes. The effectiveness of this tactic lies in the fact that defenders are unable to quickly 'adapt' to the other attacker's style of play.
- Swapping of the wing men: Sometimes, a team with two flexible (position wise) wide men will allow them to interchange as the game progresses. The aim of this is to confuse the defenders who are assigned to mark them, thus maybe leading to opportunities as the defender tries to find their man in set pieces (corners, free kicks etc., where the man may be in a totally different position and thus evade his grasp). Also, if the wingers are different types of player (one favouring crossing from deep positions whilst the other is prone to trying to dribble past their marker for example), then it might be to exploit a weakness in the opposing defender.
- Strong side overloads: An offensive attack can pressure the defense on to one side of the pitch by running most of its attackers and midfielders to one side letting a wing player or defender come to the opposite side with little or no coverage. The ball is then crossed or passed to that unmarked player for a free or near free shot.
- Using a target man: This tactic is useful when the team possesses a quality striker who has the ability of taking on the whole defence on his own. He will usually occupy two defenders, thus making the defence more vulnerable. Combined with two fast wingers, this tactic may give the 4-man defence potential problems. The team may also benefit from a target man at set pieces. The target man, can use give/go tactics described earlier, can attempt to "knock down" high passes to teammates or can simply try to outpower and outmuscle opposition defenders to create scoring opportunities for himself. Alan Shearer, Duncan Ferguson, Chris Sutton, Luca Toni, Nikola Žigić, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Peter Crouch, Didier Drogba, Miroslav Klose, and Aleksandar Mitrović are all examples of strikers adept at playing this role.
Free kicks and dead-ball restarts come into play following a foul or other infractions. Indirect free kicks must be touched by another player before any shot is taken. Direct free kicks can be made directly on goal. Offensive players attempt numerous tricks to beat the defenders, who often form a solid wall of players directly in front of the goal. Attackers may attempt to blast the ball through the defensive wall, or curl it over or around using spin. A less common idea is to hit the ball powerfully and straight along the floor, since the defenders in the wall usually jump to try and prevent a shot being lifted over their heads. David Beckham, Siniša Mihajlović, Ronaldinho, Zico, Juninho, Andrea Pirlo, Pierre van Hooijdonk, Neymar, Roberto Carlos, Francesco Totti, Lionel Messi, Álvaro Recoba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Juan Román Riquelme, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Sejad Salihović, Rogério Ceni, Alessandro Del Piero, Thierry Henry, Roberto Baggio, Diego Maradona, Frank Lampard, Leighton Baines, Wesley Sneijder, Luis Suárez, Christian Eriksen, Miralem Pjanić and Gareth Bale are widely known to score from free kick positions.
How throw-ins are best handled depends on where it is:
- In one's own half the aim of a throw-in may be to retain possession in order to build up the next attack. The throw may or may not go toward the opponents' goal; the most unmarked player may be a full-back who is behind the ball. Such a throw followed by a quickly taken 'switch' pass can be an effective tactic. Under pressure however, the ball is often thrown up the line, toward the opponents' goal line to gain as much ground as possible.
- If the thrower is unmarked, a simple tactic is to take a short throw to the feet or chest of a marked player who immediately returns the ball to the thrower.
- In the last third of the pitch a player with a long throw can put pressure onto the defenders by throwing the ball deep into the opponents' penalty area, resulting in somewhat similar tactics to a corner kick situation, but with the added advantage of avoiding the offside trap, as an attacking player cannot be offside from a throw in. Players well known for their long throwing skills are Rory Delap, Giorgio Chiellini and Morten Gamst Pedersen.
A goal kick is an important 'set piece' that will occur many times in a game and yet few teams practice it. If taken quickly the kick may be taken short to a full-back who has run into a wide position. Although this may gain little ground it retains the all-important possession of the ball. A longer kick to the midfield is more common and it is vital that the midfield unit are in a position to receive it. Some goalkeepers may take advantage of no offside rule while taking a Goal Kick to quickly pass the ball to a striker while the opposite team is still repositioning. One of the best examples of this tactic is Ederson Morães, who often takes advantage of his strong and precise long kick to catch the opposition off guard.
A corner kick (or "corner") is a real goal scoring opportunity and it is essential to know who is the best at taking a good corner from both the left and right side of the pitch. A good corner will be aimed high across the goal and may be 'bent' towards or away from the goal. At least one of the forwards should be on or close to the goal line when the kick is taken.
Another tactic on a corner is to let the best shooter stay in the back "trash" position and have the defence worried about those up front. The player taking the corner kick makes a small pass back to the trash shooter who has time and space to take a good shot.
All eleven players on the pitch have a defensive role. Which roles they are assigned, depends on tactics. In principle, there are two ways of defending, zone defence and man-to-man defense. In a zone defence, defensive players mainly move in relation to each other, whereas a man-to-man defence mainly moves in relation to opposing players. Whenever defensive players are given, or give themselves, a larger degree of freedom, hybrids of the two are seen.
First, second and third defenders
The first defender has the main responsibility for what the opponent in possession does, seeking to obstruct dangerous passes. The initial few seconds after a team has lost the ball are important, as the newly-defending team in these seconds will be poorly organised defensively. Wise first defending will contribute to the defending team managing to organise before the opponents attack.
The first defender should usually be the player closest to the opponent holding possession, but needs to be at the defending side of him in order to do an effective job. He or she should keep a distance of about 2 metres, although the ideal distance will vary with each situation. The point is to pressure the opponent as much as possible without giving him a large possibility of a dribble. As a dribble isn't as dangerous when the defending team is well organised, the distance may be shorter in these cases. Analogously, the distance should be increased if the defence is poorly organised.
In certain cases, the first defender should attempt a tackle. Often, however, this will increase the probability of being dribbled and passed.
The direction in which to move towards the opponent with possession of the ball may be the shortest direction. However, it may be of value to curve the defensive run, in order to channel (also called "show") the opponent in a certain direction. If the defensive team is well organised, he should be channelled ("shown") towards the centre of the pitch. In the case of temporarily poor defensive organisation, however, he should be channelled towards the line.
The second defender is for security if the first defender is passed. In that case, he takes over as first defender, and ideally one of the third defenders takes over as second defender. The team should be organised in a manner to make this transition as fast as possible. The typical ideal distance between the second and first defender is about six metres, but this will vary strongly from situation to situation. The most important factor is the opponent's speed. If he's moving fast, the distance should be longer. If he's standing still, the second and first defender may in some cases join forces and work as two first defenders.
The job of the third defender is to provide deep cover. He is generally in a stand-off position relative to the first and second defenders and tries to view the "big picture", keeping watch for new opponents moving up, and covering vulnerable gaps if the first and second defenders are bypassed. The sweeper role is sometimes conceived as that of a third defender, but every defensive player not immediately engaging the ball has the obligation to adjust his positioning to guard against dangerous situations and to plug vulnerable gaps. While the role of first and second defenders are rather similar, the third defenders' role is very different in zone defence and man-to-man defence. Also, their organisation will vary with formation.
The zone defence
In zone defence, second and third defenders and midfielders are organised in two lines, in the transverse direction of the field, thus organising a defender line and a midfielder line, the midfielder line working as an "outer shield" for the defenders. The lines should be as straight as possible, although the first defender and in some cases the second defender may rush out of it to pressure the opponent with the ball. A straight line of defenders may prevent spaces behind some of them due to the offside rule. Also, even in zone defence, some opponents, for example those moving into dangerous space, may temporarily need to be marked. The man-to-man defence ideology holds that almost all opponents need to be marked at all times, although they will have to keep an eye on zone considerations as well, and usually a sweeper will be given a free defensive role. In practice, however, every defence will be a mix of zone defence and a man-to-man defence, although often with heavy leanings towards one or the other.
The number of players in the defender and midfielder lines is given by the number of football formations. Some formations use midfield anchors to stop attacks between the two lines. Attackers usually also play a role in pressurising defenders, in order to give them less time to find good passing alternatives.
The lines should be shifted sideways depending where the ball is. The third defenders should keep a sensible distance to each other, depending on the width the opponent's attacking players are distributed in.
The distance between the defender line and the midfielder line should be kept constant at about 15 metres. However, the defensive line should back up and thus increase this distance, stand off, when there is no pressure on the opponent in possession, as this increases the possibility of a through ball. With tough pressure on the opponent, the distance may be reduced to below 15 metres. Also, as opponents move in close to the penalty area, the defending team will be forced to move their midfielders ever closer to their defenders.
When organised, the defending team will offer no resistance until the attacking team has advanced to a certain height on the pitch. The pressure height, or at which depth the midfielders should start acting as first and second defenders, depends on a lot of factors. For example, as higher pressure is more tiring, it demands players with good stamina. In general, a defensive-minded team will tend to stay lower, thus diminishing defensive risks as opponents get less space. This however, also gives them a longer way to the goal in the event of a break and counter-attack, making the long through ball a typical alternative.
The man-to-man defence
In a man-to-man defence system, a single defender follows his opponent wherever he goes. Extremely tight marking can be achieved in this way and star players can often be neutralised in a game by use of a dedicated "shadow". Since the man-to-man defence will take defenders in any part of the field, interceptions and broken plays will often offer opportunity for quick counter-attack. The Italian teams of the 1970s and 1980s often used this approach with impressive results.
The weakness of the man-to-man defence is depth when fresh attackers move up. The man-to-man defence also allows defenders to be drawn out of position, opening gaps for other attackers in vulnerable areas. This was Italy's fatal weakness in the 1970 Final, according to some analysts. To overcome this problem with depth, the man to man defence may use a 'sweeper', who is a central defender and has a free role, i.e. has not been assigned a player to mark. He sometimes takes up a position slightly behind the other defenders, as his defensive role often is to 'sweep up' any attacks that break through the defence and as such he adds valuable depth to the defensive unit. Usually the sweeper will be the controller of the defence. They will determine where the back line should be at any given time. Zone defence does not require a sweeper role, and as many teams have changed their tactics to this, sweepers are today rare.
Defending at set pieces
Free-kicks from short range
At free-kicks from short range, particularly when defending a direct free-kick, a wall of defensive players is lined up. The number of players who form the wall depends on the angle and distance from the goal, the opponent's assumed shooting skills, and the need to mark opponents to whom the ball might be passed. The wall is usually set up at the direction of the defending goalkeeper to block a direct shot at the near post. The goalkeeper is normally positioned nearer the far post. In order to increase the difficulty for the free-kick taker to kick the ball over the wall and into the goal it is common for the players in the wall to jump vertically when the kick is taken. Defending indirect free-kicks provides different difficulties for the defending team. The wall must be prepared to charge down the ball once it has been touched by the free-kick taker, and other defenders must be alert to the attacking team's practised set-plays. Getting the ball over the wall and then to dip into the bottom corner is a superb skill. Xherdan Shaqiri approaches the ball from a 90 degrees angle which is very effective.
Corner kicks and other crosses
At corner kicks, and at direct free kick, indirect free kick or throw-ins that are likely to become a cross, most teams use man-on-man marking, even those which otherwise play zone defence. Each player is given an opponent to mark, in advanced football they usually have been assigned an opponent before the match. Substituting at the time of a defensive set piece is regarded as unwise, as play may be started before the substitute has come into marking position.
A few teams use the tactic of gathering defenders on one line on corner kicks and similar situations, in effect giving them the responsibility for zones instead of particular opponents.
In the case of a penalty kick, no defending players except the goalkeeper are allowed within the penalty area or within ten yards of the penalty spot and 18 yards of the goal line. A significant number of players should, however, be placed right outside the penalty area, alert to advance into the area and clear any deflection. For this purpose, sometimes the attacking team will nominate two players to run at the goal from either side of the penalty spot; timing their run so that they only enter the penalty area once the kick has been taken will hopefully give them the first opportunity at gathering the ball if it is saved by the goalkeeper. This tactic is rarely seen, however, since the likelihood of the ball being saved and then falling into the path of the attacking player is small. A particular tactic that can be used by the goalkeeper involves trying to distract the penalty taker by drawing his concentration away from striking the ball cleanly. Such tactics normally involve moving one's body, or body parts, in an extravagant manner, or through verbal comments. Famous examples of where this worked successfully include Bruce Grobbelaar in the 1984 European Cup final, and Jerzy Dudek in the 2005 Champions League Final.
"Forward" versus "collapsing" defences
Some teams use forward defending, aggressively challenging the ball when on the defensive in any part of the field. Others rely on a "collapsing" style, that falls back deep into its own half when the opponent is in possession of the ball. The "forward" policy can put immense physical and psychological pressure on opponents, and is aimed at slowing down or breaking up attacks early. It has more physical demands however, and may spread a defensive formation more thinly. The "collapsing" approach is more economical in physical demand, and provides a packed back zone to thwart attacks. However it sometimes creates large gaps in midfield, and invites the opposing team to dribble forward and to take shots from long range; if the opposing team is good at the two aforementioned skills then goals will be conceded freely. The most extreme form of "forward" defending, gegenpressing (German: [ˈɡeːɡn̩ˌpʁɛsɪŋ], "contra-pressing") as exemplified by manager Jürgen Klopp, requires each attacker to switch to defense immediately upon loss of the ball.
Defending with the ball
Clearing is when the player in possession of the ball is pressed hard, often near his own goal, and chooses to shoot the ball away with low precision simply in order to get out of a dangerous situation. When opponent pressure is extremely high, the ball is often cleared to a corner kick or to a throw-in. Clearing long, but into opponent control, may give the defence time and the opportunity to organise, including setting up the correct formation and pressure height. If the attack was high up the field, such as in or near the penalty area, defenders will thus quickly push out, and attackers will then be forced to retreat in order to avoid offside in the next move. Clearing may be combined with an attempt to hit a long pass or a long through ball. Players high up in the field who are pressed hard, and who are eager to avoid a counter-attack, may in some instances combine clearing with a shot.
A team composed of good passers and mobile players with good positioning skills may more often try to avoid clearing, as their skills make it easier to make shorter passes and thus retaining possession until they get out of a difficult situation.
Retaining possession in this way may also be regarded as a longer-term way of defending, as the opposing team cannot attack when they don't have the ball. With the ball, the team applying this tactic can simply pass the ball between each other - as in the possession football style, but with little or no intention of building up an attack, thus decreasing the risk of a break.
The major benefits of this tactic is that the team is in complete control over its opponents. Meanwhile, by knocking the ball around, opponents playing the pressing game can easily tire. And should an opportunity suddenly arise, defence may be quickly switched to attack. A major downfall is that because the accuracy of passes needs to be high, short passes between the players are required. This significantly narrows the gap between the attack, midfield and defence (usually, the latter is forced to push up). So if the opponent gains possession, a long ball could effectively open up the defence. Similarly, if it is the attack and midfield that need to drop back, the team will have little chances of counter-attacking even if possession is won back.
In FIFA competitive 11-a-side matches, teams are allowed to make up to three substitutions during the game. The rules of the competition state that all players and substitutes be named before kick-off and anyone not named in the starting lineup who takes to the field of play is considered a substitution. In non-competitive matches, the use of substitutes must be determined before the match begins, except in friendly international matches, where no more than six substitutes may be brought on.
The most tired players are generally substituted, but only if their substitutes are well trained to fill in the same role, or if the formation is transformed at the same time to accommodate for the substitution.
Coaches often refrain from substituting defensive players in order not to disrupt the defensive posture of the team. Instead, they often replace ineffective attackers or unimaginative midfielders in order to freshen up the attacking posture and increase their chances of scoring.
For a team that is losing a game, a fresh striker can bring more benefit in circumventing an opposed defence line composed of relatively tired players. For a team that is winning a game, a fresh midfielder or a defender can bring more benefit in strengthening the defence against the opposition's attackers (who may be fresh substitutes themselves). In this situation, it is usually imaginative attacking flair players who are replaced by tough-tackling defensive midfielders or defenders.
Injured players may also need to be substituted. For each injured player who must be substituted, the team loses one more opportunity to influence things later in the game to their favour.
Football coaches and technical manuals such as Soccer Skills and tactics, and The Soccer Coaching Bible, often use visual symbols and diagrams to demonstrate the principles described above, and to link principles to historical games. The following examples combine technical coaching observations with championship play descriptions at the World Cup level as in Brian Glanville's World Cup, (1994). The written descriptions are diagrammed for the reader to better understand various football tactics and skills as they are applied in the real world, at the highest levels.
Combined team play using width and depth: Brazil vs Italy, 1970 Final
Beating a defence using width and depth. Astute use of the principles of width and depth led to the final goal of the 1970 World Cup, considered by many to be the best combined team effort in Cup history. Almost all the players of Brazil touched the ball in this effort that penetrated one of the tightest defences ever seen, the famous Italian catenaccio "padlock" defence. The Italians used four defenders, plus a sweeper, Pierluigi Cera, behind the "back four." They relied on a counter-attacking game, deploying three midfielders and two strikers, and closely marked opponents man to man.
This tight system however involved a "collapsing" approach that while packing the Italian penalty area and denying the Brazilian forwards much space, left relatively large gaps in midfield. See "Standing Off" defensive discussion above. Brazil's superb skills exploited this weakness, showing especially that any defence (whether man to man, zone or other variants) can be beaten using the principles of both width and depth. The weakness of the man to man system was also exposed. Italian left back Giacinto Facchetti dedicated himself to winger Jairzinho, shadowing him tightly wherever he went. Jairzinho cunningly moved off the right flank, opening gaps for others to follow as can be seen below. See "Switching the attack" and "Swapping wing men" above for discussion of this aspect of offensive tactics.
Italian defence pulled left in quick sequence. Brazilian midfielder Clodoaldo began the move with a weaving dribble out to the left flank, that beat three men and essentially pulled the Italian defence in that direction. A fatal gap was thus eventually opened up for the run of fullback Carlos Alberto Torres on the right. Clodoaldo eased the ball to the Rivelino moving up on the left. Rivellino quickly played the ball forward to Jairzinho, who crossed the field to appear on the left flank.
Movement in center "freezes" Italian defence. Almost without pause the powerful Jairzinho began a weaving run. Facchetti played Jairzinho well, backing off the ball, and squeezing him inside where it was more crowded. Good defenders will "channel" (see discussion above) an attacker into areas with less space. So far, all seemed safe for Italy. Facchetti covered well, as did the other Italian defenders. There were two extra men as insurance in the back as Jairzinho began his run. Depth is also a principle of defence, and the sweeper system (or other arrangements) provides such.
As Jairzinho accelerated, the ever dangerous striker Tostão began a sprint up the middle, drawing his defender with him, diverting the Italian defence and making more room for Jairzinho. Younger players should note the movement off the ball by Brazil. Increasingly squeezed inside, Jairzinho's run nevertheless drew the defence to him and he eased the ball to Pelé in the centre. Always dangerous, Pelé paused and shaped to make a dribble.
Overlapping defender exploits principle of depth to cap the move. For the Italian defence, there was still no cause for undue alarm. Pelé seemed well covered, and there was still the sweeper at the back as insurance behind the defence. Nevertheless, Pelé's feint, combined with the previous moves, kept Italian focus frozen in the middle, attracting the attention of three men, and he casually slipped the ball right- to Carlos Alberto who was thundering up from the rear, totally unmarked.
Pelé played the ball well ahead of Alberto, using space intelligently, so that the fast fullback ran on and shot without pausing, in full stride, smashing the ball into the Italian net. So effective was Brazil's use of width, that no Italian defender is even within reasonable striking distance of Alberto until the last moment. The principle of width stretched and drew the Italian defence. The principle of depth—fresh men moving up from the rear—allowed Brazil to exploit the gaps created by width.
Penetration and envelopment in attack: Banks versus Pelé, Mexico 1970
Penetration in attack- the forward or through pass: To the footballer, the penetration pass is one of the first methods learned in attack, whether it be the simple "kick and chase" of the youth leagues, or the exquisite through-balls by today's world class stars. Penetration by pass is the quickest method of advancing the ball towards the enemy goal. When well executed, it can yield spectacular results. Penetration in attack however requires more than mere passing. Players without the ball must move into space, and must time their runs so as not to be caught offside.
Envelopment in attack: the central cross. Attacking an opposing side from the flanks using crosses from the wings is among the oldest and most effective football tactics. An attack from the flanks uses width to stretch an opposing defence creating gaps in the goal area to be exploited. While the direction of the lateral cross is not as straightforward as the through-ball, both types of passes serve to split an enemy defence, in view of striking at the vital central area of the goal. This example, the legendary confrontation between keeper Gordon Banks of England and Pelé of Brazil, captures the two types of attack in one snapshot. It also serves to illustrate the difficulties in defending against both types of passes.
Two pass types - one great defensive save. The powerful running of Brazil's right winger Jairzinho set the stage, with initial direction by captain Carlos Alberto. Sprinting down the flank, Jairzinho pounced on an excellent through pass from Alberto, accelerated past Cooper the English back, and lofted a high arcing cross to Pelé in the centre. Pelé headed down powerfully and was already raising his arms in triumph when Banks leaped to his right "like a salmon over a fall" Pelé said later, and somehow flailed the bouncing ball over the crossbar, saving a sure goal. The Brazilian forward said it was the greatest save he had ever seen. Offensively, this play demonstrates how both types of passes can divide and stretch a defence. Jairzinho's running and cross was set up by an excellent forward pass, and his centre to Pelé capped a move that should have resulted in a goal, were it not for the extraordinary skill of English keeper, Gordon Banks. Offside traps are one way to defend against both pass types, but the ultimate solution is defensive depth and sound goalkeeping.
The two-man combination
Using the two-man combination. The 2-man combination pass, variously called the wall pass, the "one-two", the "give and go" and other local names, is among the simplest yet most powerful team techniques in football. It requires a fair level of individual skill to pull off, yet this should not stop coaches from introducing it early in the higher youth leagues, nor should players from these leagues neglect it in favour of the all too easy "kick and chase". There are two ways to execute it: (a) pass and run to space for the return pass without pausing or (b) pass then pause briefly to gauge opposing reaction before running into an open spot for the return. In tight conditions, the first method is better, while the second can be used where there is a bit more space to operate.
Power of the two-man combination: Netherlands vs Brazil, 1974. Simple as it is, the 2-man move can penetrate the teeth of the densest, most negative opposition. Peru brought it to a high art on the World Cup stage in 1970, under their coach Didi, Brazil's former midfield general of 1958 and 1962. Time after time Peruvian forwards like Cubillas, Gallardo, and Sotil put a central combination on the floor that sliced through the opposition and created countless dangerous situations. The Dutch team of 1974 were also disciples of the two-man combination. The diagram here shows the first Dutch goal in the 1974 game that crushed Brazil's repeat championship hopes - product of an exchange between Johan Neeskens and Johan Cruyff. A two-man move also set up the second goal for Cruyff in the game. Contrast with the "hand" of Diego Maradona below.
Potential of the two-man combination: Maradona's "Hand of God" goal – 1986. The example shown below, the first goal of Diego Maradona against England in 1986, is used to illustrate the potential of the move. Argentina utilised it frequently, being ideally suited to their crisp, quick, short passing style. As he had often done during the game, Maradona initiated the sequence with a quick dribbling run into the packed central area. Surrounded, he began a 2-man combo pass - slipping the ball to Jorge Valdano on the right, and then moving up for the reply. Valdano pivoted and attempted to return, but conditions were too tight. Hodge, the English midfielder, intercepted and rather dangerously, attempted to tap the ball back to his keeper, Shilton. The rest is well known. Maradona and Shilton raced towards the floating ball, which connected with Maradona's hand (the so-called "Hand of God" goal), past Shilton, into the goal. While much controversy still surrounds the goal, Maradona's run illustrates how even the tightest conditions can be pried open with the two-man exchange. It also illustrates how the simple two-man combination can create countless dangerous situations and force opponents into making errors.
The three-man move
Effectiveness of three-man strike teams. The three-man move is another very effective weapon in the attacking arsenal. It is distinguished from simple passing between players in that the initiator of the move finishes it with a shot on goal or a well-placed pass leading to a shot. It is thus a collaboration of three distinct players. Famous three-man strike teams are legendary in football, from the earliest days, through the famous Hungarian sides of the 1950s, to the "clockwork orange" of the Dutch masters in the 1970s, through the German, Italian, French, Argentinian, Brazilian, and other teams of the contemporary era. The three-man package can be more effective than the two-man combo because it gives more attacking options and causes more confusion in the defence. The initial pass cannot be quickly cut off as in the two-man manoeuvre which really has only one option. Typically the second pass in the three-man move lures and diverts defenders on to false ground. This gives the initiator of the sequence time to run into an advantageous position. Triple player collaborations of course do not operate in isolation – they have other supporting players – but the tight three-man exchange still remains a fundamental pillar of successful attacking play.
Brazil vs Uruguay 1970 – strike package: Jairzinho – Pelé – Tostão. The example below, is drawn from one of the most famous strike teams in World Cup history- Pelé, Tostão and Jairzinho. This goal, against Uruguay in the 1970 semi-final, captures the power of the move. The fast winger Jairzinho set the stage- dribbling down the right flank before finding Pelé ahead. Tightly marked, and with his back to the goal, Pelé immediately played a subtle pass to Tostão. The Brazilian center-forward drew the defence to him with a short dribble before finding Jairzinho again on the wing. This exchange of passes gave Jairzinho a lead on other defenders and he made the most of it – accelerating down the wing, selling a dummy (letting the ball run after pretending to stop and play it) on Uruguayan defender Matosas, and muscling him aside as he approached the enemy goal. Uruguayan keeper Mazurkiewicz came off his line but it was simply too late, as Jairzinho slotted the ball into the net. Of note in this sequence is the attacking space created by the tight exchanges between Jairzinho, Pelé, and Tostão. Even the Uruguayans, playing one of the most densely packed, solid defences seen in a World Cup could not stop it. Jairzinho is surrounded by opposing defenders when the sequence starts, but at the end, he only has one to deal with. Also of note is the unselfish passing of Brazilian striker Tostão, with his skill creating countless openings for his teammates throughout the 1970 tournament.
The quick long-ball counter-attack
Counter attacking Football involves a team withdrawing players into their own half but ensuring that one or two players are committed to the attack. One such example is the quick counter-strike mounted by England against Germany in the 1970 World Cup. Defensive midfielder Alan Mullery began the move, lofting a long through pass over the heads of three German defenders, to Newton on the right flank. Not pausing to admire his handiwork, Mullery kept moving up. Newton, a defensive player was placed in an excellent attacking position with few opponents to check his progress. Newton advanced on a short dribble, before producing a low, outstanding diagonal cross that found Mullery, who had sprinted into the goalmouth. Mullery finished what he had started, by driving the ball home past the German goalkeeper Sepp Maier. Tactically, this goal combines the power of the long pass with that of the two-man combination, and indeed, before his pass to Newton, Mullery had exchanged passes with Francis Lee before setting off on his final combination run. This move was pulled off by two normally defensively oriented players, showing that the long-ball counter-strike can be successful from a deep position on the field with any combination of skilled players.
Free-kicks and set-pieces
Indirect free-kicks can throw a defence into confusion when taken quickly, or in unexpected directions. The third goal of Brazil's 1970 World Cup victory over Italy illustrates the method. Brazil's midfield general Gerson Nunes approached rapidly and lofted the dead ball in a high arc almost from the midfield line. It found Pelé perfectly positioned near the Italian goal. The Brazilian headed down softly and accurately, straight into the path of the onrushing winger Jairzinho, who virtually walked the ball into the net. Italy's catenaccio defence was caught out of position here, not only failing to neutralise Pelé, but providing little cover to stop Jairzinho. A rapid, daring set-piece kick will often accomplish this unbalancing of defences.
Direct free-kicks are a key part of attacking in football, and can lead to many goals. Numerous feints and ruses are tried to fool the opposition, including having attackers join the "wall." A successful free kick from the 1970 World Cup- Brazil vs Czechoslovakia, illustrates how the technique works. Brazilian forwards Jairzinho and Tostao cunningly joined the end of the defensive wall as the Czechs set it up. As Pelé backed off and feinted as if to take the kick, both Jair and Tostão began to move off, creating space. Roberto Rivelino ghosted in from the side to shoot powerfully into the gap for a goal.
Moving into space - the diagonal run
Moving into free space is one of the most critical skills that football players must develop. Attacking players must move off the ball into space to give an advance the maximum chance of success. Passes to space are feasible when there is intelligent movement of players to receive the ball and do something constructive with it. Skilled players are able to find seams between defenders, positioning themselves to receive a pass.
This diagram shows a productive use of space by West Germany in the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final which led to Gerd Müller's game-winning goal against the Netherlands. German midfielder Rainer Bonhof made a long diagonal run out to the right side of the field, putting put him clear of the Dutch opposition. Deep into the Dutch half, Bonhof received a ball from Jürgen Grabowski and beat Arie Haan. Bonhof sent a low cross in to Müller, who found the back of the net. Moving diagonally is one of the best offensive movements, whether at the near or far posts, or out to the wings farther back in midfield. Diagonal movement creates added space to maneuver, compared to simply running straight ahead or laterally. It also means that players must be willing to switch positions as the situation demands.
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- Staff writer. "Football Training Drills And Exercises". Project Sports Mastery. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
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- Brian Glanville, World Cup, Faber and Faber: 1994
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- Brian Glanville, World Cup, Faber and Faber: 1994