In 2012, Austrian football team Red Bull Salzburg surprised the world with exciting football using the 4-2-2-2 shape. Ajax and also Bayern München had a hard time with the 4-2-2-2 ball oriented defense developed by Roger Schmidt and Ralf Rangnick. In this article, I will analyse the 4-2-2-2 pressing from a new perspective based on basketball defense tactics. First of all, I would like to explain some basic principles and rules of basketball.
What is a good defense in basketball?
Don´t let the opponent player short or pass easily. And to be able to immediately prepare a double team for the opposition dribble motion.
What is the best defense against the ball handler?
Shoot, Pass. Dribbling. Which play should a defensive player avoid most? The most dangerous play is to allow an open shot. Next is the pass. If the opponent pass the ball quickly, the will find a free player and hence an open shot.
The final one, Dribbling. Dribbling allows oppositions to move forward. However, from another perspective, the opposition´s ball handler can´t pass or shoot while he dribbles. It can be understood that the furthest state from the shoot is a dribble. The defensive player will be able to actively ball challenge to the dribbling player using an overload.
Basketball tactic “Pack Line defense”
Before explaining football, let’s introduce one of the basketball defensive tactics, “Pack Line Defense”. This tactic was created by Dick Bennett of University Wisconsin(USA). However, the model of this tactic was born long ago. So it’s also one of the most classic basketball defense.
What is a “Pack Line”?
The “Pack Line” is a virtual line about 1m behind the 3-point line (Fig.1). The concept of pack line defense is to compactly protect the area inside the pack line. It is a kind of man-to-man defense, but it has a unique point.
Fig.1 Pack Line
“Don’t go outside the pack line”
For example. Fig.2 shows the situation that # 1 has the ball. In a common man-to-man defense, the defensive player positions in the b’and c’. These positioning is a little like the cover shadow in football. But, in the pack line defense, they are positioned at B and C.
B and C are positioned on the edge of the shadow created by A as if the ball is the sun. At this time, B (C) can point to both ball-man # 1 and mark-man # 2 (# 3). This stance is called a “pistol stance” because it is similar to holding a pistol in both hands. And, the position overlooking the ball-man and the player who next ball-man is called “Gap” (next the next is “Help”).
# 1 can easily pass to # 2, but it is difficult to shoot with a dribbling straight ahead.
Fig.2 Gap position
Close-out of B is an important action (approach quickly to the opposition from the gap position is called close-out). Due to the close-out, #2 can’t shoot and pass to the far side. It is also difficult to dribble inside.
Fig.3 shows the pass from #1 to #2.
Under no circumstances do we let the opposition drive the ball baseline. We need to force the dribbler towards the middle of the floor where our help defenders are located.
Fig.4 shows the pass from #2 to #4.
And finally pack oppositions dribble-man!
Only three actions are allowed to the oppositions player with the pack line defense.
Pass to the both side player.
Shoot outside the 3 point line, in our close outs pressure.
Dribble toward the middle of the floor, but we must not dribble or pass through the five points (Fig.5). Because it ’s easier for the opponent to shoot with free.
Fig. 5 Protect 5 point
Let’s talk about football!
4-2-2-2 consists of four DF, W6er, W10, and 2FW. FW, W10, W6er and CB are inside the PA width as shown. Make a hexagon, like surround the area several meters outside the center circle. You can set the height freely. The fig.6 is only convenient for explaining the width using the center circle. However, the distance between FW and CB should be keep within about 25meter.
Now, let’s draw a pack line and hit five points as in basketball. I think Figure 6 is the best. Draw the Pack line a few meters outside the PA. If “Plug” is located at the edge of the center circle, “Elbow” is in the middle of the half space and “Block (I call Frank)” is about 10m ahead of the offside line.
For example. Opposition’s shape is 4-4-2 with W6er. When the opposition’s RightCB is Ball-man, Left10 and Right6er step on the shadow created by LeftFW, and pistol stance. RightFW and Right10 stand Gap Position with pistol stance (Fig.7).
If oppositions right CB chooses a pass to RightSB, Left10 is closed out to oppositions rightSB. LeftFW and Left6er step on the shadow created by Left10. At this time, Left10 allows oppositions RightSB only three plays. Pass to RightSH and ball sweep past the right side of the body, pass, or dribble. Finally, LeftFW challenges the ball that moves inside the field.
In this situation, problem is too far between LeftFW and oppositions RightCB for close out. So RightFW move to near the oppositions RightCB.
If oppositions RightSB choose a pass to RightSH, Left6er and LeftSB are close-out to oppositions RightSH. LeftCB and Right6er step on the shadow created by Left6er. (Fig.8)
At this time, LeftSB must never let oppositions RightSH vertical dribble. We need to force the dribbler towards the middle of the field where our help defenders are located. And finally pack ball!
Fig.9 Pack ball
4-2-2-2 Weaknesses and 4-D-2
The weakness of 4-2-2-2 is 3DF with WGB. For example, oppositions shape is 3-4-3.
If oppositions RightCB is a ball-man, LeftFW approaches as shown in the fig.10. If Left10 steps on the shadow created by LeftFW, he can’t close out to the oppositions LeftWGB. Because the distance is too far.
If the Left10 positioned more outside. Oppositions RightCB can pass via Elbow or Frank. This is big problem.
The simplest of improvement is to transform the shape into 4-D-2. 4-D-2 consists of four DF, Pivot, WSH, 10, and 2FW. In 4-D-2, widen the distance between two FWs. 10 must protected “Plug”. So I call 10 “Pluger”.
If LeftFW approach to oppositions RightCB, LeftSH and pluger step on the shadow created by LeftFW (Fig.11). The distance between LeftSH and oppositions RightWGB is shorter than 4-2-2-2 shape. So LeftSH can close-out to RightWGB.
Pluger and LeftCB steps on the shadow created by LeftSH.
Finally, as shown in the fig.12, press the oppositions RightFW as in 4-2-2-2 shape.
Exercise Example 7vs6 Game
The purpose of this exercise is to help our defensive players understand tactics and choose the right role.
Fig.13 7vs6 Game
2 player step the shadow created by close-out player.
The blue team tries to connect the ball from A to A’. However, they must go to A’ via B . The red team is defensive. Take the ball and try to dribble through either end line.
Divide the field into three parts in this exercise. Prepare a pack line and 6 points as a mark.
– Special rules –
Blue team can use only 3 people in zone1 (Zone2). Red team has a maximum of 4 people.
Zone 3 can only use B of the blue team. B must not go out of Zone3. As an exception, Red team’s players are allowed to run through within Zone 3. So, Red team can intercept in Zone 3.
4-2-2-2 defense made by Ralf Rangnick and Roger Schmidt is a ball-oriented defense. But my plan is more man-oriented. But very similar. But if you focus on the space occupied by a player. Three things are important in my plan.
Is the distance for closeouts good?
Are you in the gap position with a pistol stance?
Can you take care of the right side of the player who has closed out?
When a team meets these three conditions, the center of gravity of the team inevitably shifts greatly to one side. like their 4-2-2-2 defense.
Finally. Pack line defense is more effective in college basketball than the NBA. Why? Because there are many good 3Point shooters in the NBA. But, no 3 point shoot in Football. So, I think this 4-2-2-2 / 4-D-2 defense plan has great potential.
I hope you had a nice week and like me, you are looking forward to live football.
For today I had the problem that I didn’t have that much on my mind this week, I just couldn’t find three interesting aspects that I want to go into more detail about and which are interesting.
So, if you have any questions, feel free to send them to me and I will answer them in the next newsletter.
Therefore, after a long time, I have a training drill that I would like to present to you. The focus is on switches the play during possession with a team that already knows the concept a little bit.
The field is divided into three horizontal zones and two vertical zones. It will be played 6vs6 + goalkeeper. In order to shift, attracting the opponent plays a big role for me, only this way spaces open up elsewhere. As soon as the opponent is lured, I prefer to initiate the switch via a so-called solution player. This solver usually acts with his back to the space we want to circulate the ball into and is therefore only the wall player for a third man combination. However, this wall player is of enormous importance, because he attracts the opponent for a short time and opens spaces for the players with a better field of vision, who are then allowed to play the switching pass.
Furthermore, I want to have as much width in the game as possible to open space on the ballfar side, which we then can use. Therefore, in this drill, the rule is that the two outfield players act on the line outside the field in the middle third and can only enter the field in the defensive or offensive third. They may also only dribble into the field with the ball in the offensive third.
In addition, a balanced structure is important for relocation. Last season, for example, Borussia Dortmund regularly had to contend with the problem that there was no connecting player for the switch because the side close to the ball was overloaded heavily. As a consequence, the BVB was unable to make use of the open spaces away from the ball.
To prevent this from happening, the rule in this form of play is that the team in possession of the ball must occupy both vertical zones at all times.
This could be a possible change of sides. The red team attracts blue on the left side, resolves the pressure situation by a play of the solution player and then shifts quickly and aggressively into the open space. The pass into the offensive third allows the wing to move in and red can bring the attack into the last third.
In coaching I then focus especially on attracting and solving the pressure situation through the solution player. Details like the right body position, passes into the right foot, the use of the game over the third or the correct approach of the defenders can of course also be in focus. Here the coach must tailor the form of the game to the needs of his own team.
A possible variation would be a different field shape. For example, you could play in a diamond where the middle third is normal, while the two offensive zones have diagonal outer lines. So, we still encourage diagonal play towards the goal in the last period.
I hope the game form is useful for you and inspires you to create your own game forms on the topic of game shifting. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.
Next week I would like to do a little Q&A, so feel free to send me your questions about any football topic.
Revolutions are very rare in football. Pep Guardiola once summed it up perfectly when he said that in the end, he’s just trying to use existing ideas that he picked up from another team and adjust those ideas to the needs and characteristics of his team. Therefore, I would suggest that we deal with evolutions rather than revolutions in football.
A remarkable evolution of the game could be observed last season at Holstein Kiel. Under coach Tim Walter, the back-four operated with a lot of risk, tried to solve everything playfully and wanted to build up the game from behind. So far so good, this is not yet a real evolution of the way a team tries to build-up. However, the back-four of Tim Walter´s team behaved differently. They did not hold their positions but rather moved fluently and varied the occupation of different spaces constantly.
In order to receive the ball, Kiel´s players dynamically moved in the space in order to receive the ball but then left the space unoccupied again. Even the central defenders took part in these movements. This meant that regularly a central defender would move out of the cover shadow of his opponent after a pass and move into the six-space without the ball. Kiel went so far that sometimes only two players occupied the first line, and these were not always the central defenders, but sometimes the LCB and RB, sometimes LB and RB and once even RM and LB.
The same principles could be seen again and again. At first glance, the game of Tim Walter’s team looked like that of a team that followed the principles of positional play. However, it only looked that way at first glance. Although the usual principles could be seen, Holstein Kiel acted much more dynamically, occupied spaces more flexibly and overloaded some spaces more.
Ultimately, this style was dubbed Walterball by Tactics-Twitter. Which of course does not really describe the style. All in all, it is a dynamic occupation of different spaces.
Since Tim Walter is no longer head coach at either Holstein Kiel or VfB Stuttgart, we need a different team to analyse the different principles and actions. Fortunately, Kiel U19 coach Dominik Glawogger seems to have been influenced by Tim Walter, as many of the classic actions that characterised Holstein Kiel last season can still be observed in the U19 of Holstein Kiel.
Consequently, in this article I would like to take a look at the U19 of Holstein Kiel and explain various principles and actions of the dynamic occupation of different spaces.
Clearing the six-space
In order to occupy spaces dynamically, those spaces have to be unoccupied by both the own team and the opponent. In the case of the U19 from Holstein Kiel, this is primarily the six-space. Although the Kieler structure in possession often resembles a 4-3-3, the defensive midfielder seldom acts in a role as a deep connector, but pushes significantly further forward. This also applies to the two eights who occupy the half spaces, but often act in line with the striker or move between the defence and midfield chain.
Consequently, the opponent has to retreat further, and Holstein Kiel creates a lot of depth. The now open six-space can be occupied again and again by one of the central defenders or the fullbacks. Especially against the 4-4-2, which is regularly used by teams in Germany, this strategy is ideal. In the 4-4-2, the space behind the two strikers is already poorly occupied but is often compensated by a good vertical compactness. Against the Kiel players, however, this does not work in high pressing, because many players of the Störche position themselves further forward. If the opponent does not follow those players, there is a risk that they will be susceptible to quick attacks after a long ball.
The following graphic describes the basic situation of the Kieler build-up. Either the wing players or eights act on the same line as the striker to tie the four-man line. Furthermore, the Störche can always create a free man because the opponent is often forced to play 1v1 in the last line as well as in midfield. Ultimately, it is always a risk for the defending team to defend completely 1vs1 without having an additional player to protect the spaces behind the defensive line.
What makes the Kiel game so dangerous is the use of the goalkeeper. Many teams use the goalkeeper only as a run-through station and support in building up the game. In Kiel, however, he plays a fundamental role, as he is the man who often plays the ball into the free six-space.
Thus, the team from Northern Germany manages to create an 11vs10 advantage in possession. It is also crucial that one of the central defenders is allowed to move into the six-space. If he would not be allowed to do so, but would have to hold his position, the opponent would always have the possibility to create a 1vs1 out of a 2vs1 overload for the team in possession of the ball by using the cover shadow intelligently.
Curls of the opponent – the decisive opening action
Interestingly enough, Kiel is accommodating the new goal kick rule. Since the ball can be received in the box when a kick is taken, the central defenders can already position themselves there. The effect is huge. Firstly, the distances are shorter and the ball can be moved faster. On the other hand, the angles are advantageous, because the GK can already receive the ball in an open position due to the shorter distance.
But much more important is that the opponent can be lured even more strongly. Because the CB is in the box, the striker has to move almost to the baseline to gain access. As a result, the angle is suboptimal for him and he opens the pass line into the centre.
Most teams trying to create a 1v1 out of a 2v1 use the concept of pressing through. In this case the striker starts to press the CB as soon as the ball is on its way to him. However, he does not stop his run once the ball travels back but continues to press the goalkeeper. The idea – by continuing the pressing run, the striker closes the pass to the central defender with his cover shadow while pressing the goalkeeper.
However, Holstein Kiel wants to provoke exactly this action. The CB can then move out of the cover shadow undisturbedly and receive the ball again. The striker did not create equality but took himself out of the game because of his run.
Furthermore, it is important that the defensive midfielder pushes further forward. Why? Think for a moment about how the team’s structure in black would look like if the defensive midfielder would be positioned in the red marked space.
And? Exactly, the ballfar striker would probably drop deeper and would block the spaces as well as the passing lane to the defensive midfielder. Or one of the midfielders would push forward to pick-up Kiel´s number six. All in all, the red marked space would be better occupied, hence, the forward moving CB could be pressed easily once he receives the ball. Therefore, the risk of this action would tremendously increase while the positive effects of the simple one-two combination would diminish.
Whoever controls the centre controls the game
In the graphic above, you can clearly see how the central defender is moving out of the cover shadow and hence can receive the ball. Interestingly enough, many teams react after a certain time in such a way that the ballfar striker is positioned a bit more central and is supposed to intercept passes of the goalkeeper. Consequently, Kiel´s other centre-back has more time on the ball. A consequence of the consistent use of the goalkeeper to create an overload.
But if the pass is now played to the advancing central defender, the opponent is faced with a challenge. Who will now move out in time. This has to be clearly coordinated, because one should already press when the ball is still on the way. If the defender leaves his position too late, he won´t be able to press the advancing CB who consequently can play a quick pass to one of his teammates in midfield.
However, this also shows the weakness and especially the risk of Kiel´s build-up. Firstly, the goalkeeper has to play the pass to the central defender regularly, because due to the pressing mechanisms the forward will usually press the goalkeeper. Consequently, either the six player close to the ball or even better the wing player can move into the hole early and press the central defender from Kiel. Accordingly, there are often quite tight situations in which the CB is involved in a direct duel.
Secondly, the risk is of course high, because a turnover in this zone will probably lead to a good chance for the opponent. Interestingly enough, this happens rarely. Tim Walter’s team in Stuttgart or in Kiel conceded goals more often because of the poor protection once the ball is lost high-up the pitch and the opponent managed to overcome the counterpressing, rather than because of a mistake in the build-up.
Accordingly, Kiel regularly take this risk, also in the U19. The calmness and courage to solve situations under pressure is particularly impressive for the young central defenders.
This is of enormous importance, because the possibilities, which result from the dynamic occupation of the six-man area, are very valuable for the team. This has to do with the angle of vision and the positioning of the players in the higher lines.
The example here is very simplified, because there was simply no player coming out to press the central defender. Consequently, Kiel have the great advantage that they can use their presence in the high zones to quickly advance from the build-up into the last third.
The exciting aspect of the central defender’s dynamic occupation of the six-zone is the advantage of the angle of vision that results. This is because the central defender receives the ball in an open position due to the advancing movement. Accordingly, he can pass the ball to a team-mate with two contacts or even with the first touch.
If we think about a “normal” game structure with a central six that occupies the space marked in red, there is always the problem that the defensive midfielder receives the ball with its back to the opposing goal. Consequently, the third man principle has to be used and a good circulation is necessary to create a free man by either passing the ball to the free CB or the six-man who can turn with the ball. However, this will probably slow down the build-up of the game and the central defender will only receive the ball in a deeper zone in an open position
Positional play principles help
If the ball now reaches the central defender in the six-space as mentioned, the various principles of positional play help Kiel to get the most out of such situations.
Because of the open position of the receiver, the Störche create pressure and force the opponent to press. Now it is crucial that the offensive players aren´t positioned in the cover shadow and offer passing options to advance.
The Kiel players benefit from the fact that certain principles of positional play in possession of the ball are implemented by the team. Among other things, the various vertical zones are very cleanly occupied by the midfielders.
Dominik Glawogger’s team regularly succeeds in creating overloads. This is due to the positioning of the offensive players. Although the wing players often start in a wide position, they can regularly leave their position at the sideline and occupy the space between CB and FB. Together with the striker, they can occupy the whole back-four, hence, creating numerical superiority in the centre.
As a result, the central and defensive midfielders can detach themselves without major problems and turn around when the ball is passed to them. Along with the principles of positional play, the Störche generate pressure (red) in one space, thus space opens somewhere else. Especially here the players regularly try to find a diagonal solution so that the receiver of the pass is immediately in an open position again.
Especially, when the DM of the opponent steps up to press, Kiel looks for the halfspace switch because the other defensive midfielder will most likely focus on Kiel´s DM, hence, the CM is the free man. However, in those situations, Kiel is very flexible and tries to create problems by constantly using vertical movements.
In the end, the only thing left to do is to react to the opponent’s decision, as there must definitely be a free pass.
Of course, it always depends on the shape of the opponent in pressing, but the midfielders of Kiel usually have many passing options because of their overload in the centre.
For example, one can observe more often how quickly the ball is shifted to the advancing AV. Due to the pressure generated in the centre, there is more space on the wings and the Kiel players can quickly gain a lot of space and push diagonally into the centre.
All in all, the risky variant in the build-up game with the advancing central defender or a full-back who dynamically occupies the six-space serves the purpose of fast ball advance. Here the Kiel team acts very similar to the teams of Maurizio Sarri or Borussia M’Gladbach under Marco Rose.
Basically, it’s all about attracting the opponent by a deeper circulation in order to use the resulting space by means of fast combinations. One could, therefore, speak of a counterattack without a transitional moment.
Tak, tak, tak, that´s the sound the ball makes when it is passed quickly between teammates. But its more than simple passes, it feels like the players move as a unit, it becomes poetry in motion.
As a football fan those moments are rare, and therefore remembered for a long time. If you look back at history, teams like the Dutch national team and Ajax Amsterdam of the 70s, AC Milan around 1990 or Barcelona under Pep Guardiola from 2008-2012 come to mind. Those were the great teams that not only were successful but also played the game in a way which is often described as the beautiful, the right way of playing football.
All of those teams have in common that they are influenced by the idea of total football which was introduced by Ajax under Rinus Michels in the 70s.
In contrast to the school of Michels, Cruyff and Guardiola, Maurizio Sarri developed his on playing style throughout the years in Italy. Of course, influenced by coaches such as Guardiola, Sacchi or Conte, Sarri managed to give his teams an identity which was different from what we saw before.
Especially, his Napoli side which managed to gain 91 points in the 17-18 Serie A campaign but still couldn´t win a championship, is the blueprint of the way Sarri wants his teams to play. One dominant concept of this team was the 3rd man concept.
Although the actual action is rather simple, the concept is one of the most important yet undervalued tools in football for teams to play successfully in possession. But, why is the 3rd man concept so important? Which details make it so valuable and why should we take a closer look at it?
Well, because understanding every detail of the 3rd man concept will elevate the game of your team to a higher level. Therefore, I´m going to analyse the principle in detail in this article.
The basic action
For everyone who is not familiar with the 3rd man concept, it is basically a passing combination including three players. So, the idea is that player A wants to pass the ball to player B, however, the passing lane is closed. Hence, player A uses a third player (I will refer to him as the third player), player C who is open. Now, player A passes the ball to C who plays a simple layoff pass to B. By using the third man, player A could successfully move the ball to player B.
While the actual action is rather simple, the concept behind involves different ideas. I will use Napoli under Sarri as the example throughout this analysis to illustrate the potential actions the 3rd man principle triggers.
The basic idea behind the 3rd man principle
We already know that the third man principle is used to pass the ball to a player that is covered by a defender. In order to understand the idea behind it, we have to take a look at the main goal a team has in possession.
Except of obviously scoring a goal, a team in possession should always look to find the free man in an advantageous position. Hence, the different concepts such as the switch or the 3rd man principle only serve as a tool to find the free man.
In case of the third man principle, the player ultimately receiving the ball, in my example from above, player B, should be the free man. Due to the fact that teams nowadays do not defend 1v1 but rather try to cover the space and shift towards the ball, moving the ball intelligently can create a free man.
In order to find a free man, Napoli tries to create pressure by passing the ball to Marek Hamsik in the example above.
Why do they create pressure? Because the opponent is able to press and if Hamsik turns with the ball he could easily play a pass between the lines and create a dangerous situation for the defence of Udinese.
Those two motives, the risk of getting outplayed and the chance of conquering the ball, lead the opponent to press aggressively. Usually, several players of the defensive team will focus on that area and try to make the ballnear space as tight as possible. As a consequence, other spaces aren´t tightly covered anymore. Preferably, the player ultimately receiving the ball is positioned in such a space. If he then receives the layoff pass, he should have time and space to control the ball and make the next move for his team.
In the example above, Diawara didn´t have any space due to the position of the striker and the midfielder. However, the striker starts to press and the fact that Marek Hamsik receives the ball lead to a short movement of the midfielder towards the Slovakian midfielder. As a consequence, Diawara has more space once he receives the ball.
This example shows the effect of creating pressure with the first pass in an extremer way. Here, three players of Udinese have the possibility to press. Hence, the blue space opens which Napoli can use by applying the 3rd man principle.
However, creating a free man is not the only objective of the usage of the third man. Both examples so far show another aspect which is important to consider. The player receiving the ball in the end, faces the goal of the opponent while his team advance closer towards it.
One has to understand that facing the opponents goal gives the ball carrier the possibility to see most of the players on the pitch as well as the structure of the defence of the opponent. Of course, simply turning the body once receiving the ball is also possible, however, in the modern game this is rarely possible due to the compact defences and the high game IQ many players possess.
Here, for instance, Diawara has enough space, hence he can simply turn with the ball.
Now, the question arises which preconditions have to be met in order to use the third man combination. As always, triangles and diamonds play a particular important role due to the diagonal passing lanes that are created.
More general spoken, it is important that the players of the team in possession position on different vertical and horizontal lines. The more they create due to their positioning, the easier is the 3rd man concept useable.
For instance, if the 3rd man principle is used to overplay a defensive line, the third player should be positioned higher in order to occupy the defence and free-up the player to which he plays the layoff pass. The centre-back-winger-central midfielder combination is for example one of the more common actions where the creation of several horizontal lines due the positioning is visible.
But not only the number of horizontal but also vertical lines which are occupied/created is important. The reason is that diagonal passes are harder to defend than vertical or horizontal passes. Hence, creating two diagonal passing lanes instead of one vertical and one diagonal is beneficial for the successful use of the concept. Furthermore, the third man is able to turn with the ball more easily if the defender tries to speculate for the layoff pass.
Once the first pass is played vertically, the third man has a harder time turning with the ball in one direction, hence he can only play the layoff pass. Furthermore, the spacing can be less optimal and the player who presses the CB can maybe even intercept the first pass to the CM.
Furthermore, the body position of the CM only allows layoff passes which are slightly played backwards. Every other direction requires great body control as well as a great first touch.
In the case of a diagonal structure, the CM has various possibilities depending on the pass of the CB, the positioning of the DM and the behaviour of the defender.
For example, if the pass is played to the right foot of the CM he can turn over his right shoulder. If the defender moves slightly diagonal because he anticipates the layoff pass or his initial position was more centrally, the CM of red can capitalise on the behaviour of the defender.
If the CB passes the ball to the left foot of the CM, he will probably adjust his body position slightly and is able to play a layoff pass. That pass can easily be played horizontally forcing the DM to move forward.
The third option for the CM would be to turn around his left shoulder and attack the space behind the defender of black. This is possible once the defender does not approach the CM diagonally from the centre. As a reaction to the different angle of the defender, the CB could play a harder pass towards the left foot of the CM, signalling him to turn over his left shoulder.
A perfect example for the non-verbal communication of players by passing the ball. At Napoli one could observe this regularly. Especially, because every pass had a purpose. Therefore, the 3rd man concept was used in different ways and not only in the described order by Napoli.
In my opinion there are five important points a team has to consider in order to use the 3rd man concept effectively.
Position on different horizontal and vertical lines
Try to create passing angles which give you several possibilities
The spacing has to be good
The body position of the third man has to be correct in order to play the layoff pass
The pass has to be played as flat as possible to allow a first contact layoff pass
I quickly want to explain point three which goes hand in hand with the creation of advantageous passing angles. Players have to take into consideration that there positioning decides whether the use of the 3rd man action will be successful or not.
Here as coaches, it’s important to create guidelines helping the players to orient easily on the pitch. The perfect spacing means that the three players involved in the action are positioned far away enough that the defender can´t defend two players simultaneously. However, the passing lanes still have to be short in order to speed up an attack and play a simple layoff pass.
The third man principle as a tool to open space
I already mentioned that the 3rd man principle is used to create space for the player ultimately receiving the ball. Although, the main task of the third player is to create a connection to the second player, this does not have to be the case all the time.
He can also be used to attract opponents while playing a simple one-two with the first player. However, this simple one-two can ultimately free-up the third man.
Napoli under Sarri used the 3rd man concept regularly in this way.
In this scene, the passing lane to Hamsik was closed due the positioning of the striker while one of the defensive midfielders or the striker could press Diawara if he would try to turn around with the ball. In order to solve this situation Napoli would use the third man concept.
By passing the ball to Diawara, Napoli creates pressure and lure the striker out of position. Consequently, the passing lane to Hamsik is open, although not for Diawara. That’s why he passes the ball back to the centre-back who can give the ball to Hamsik easily. In fact, the third man concept as we know it was present when Diawara passed the ball back to the CB. The difference in this situation, the CB was the one initiating this action.
While is seems to be trivial and only a small detail, Napoli also used the 3rd man concept to create more space for an overlapping fullback. Usually, a winger dribbles towards the defence in order to force them focusing on him and then he would pass the ball out to the fullback. The problem is that especially against a deeper block, this two-man action is easy to contain. Therefore, Napoli involved a third player.
Now the winger would dribble towards the defence, pass the ball to the central midfielder while sprinting forward without the ball. The central midfielder would then pass the ball to the fullback. The difference in this approach is the short switch from the wing to the halfspace and the movement of the winger who creates space.
However, the short switch is important because it distracts the defence for a few second from the threat the overlapping fullback is and towards the central midfielder. Those few second moving towards the central midfielder create more time for the fullback once he receives the ball.
The 3rd man principle to control the speed and rhythm of the game
In possession switches play an important role as I outlined in my piece for thefalsefullback. Switches help to move the opponent, force him to make mistakes and find open space. In order to successfully move the opponent, speed and rhythm play an important role.
For one, if you move the ball faster, the opponent needs to react more quickly which more likely leads to mistake being made. Furthermore, rhythm is crucial to surprise a defence. If I manage to increase the speed of my combinations suddenly, I can catch the opponent sleeping which can be advantageous for me.
The 3rd man concept can help increasing speed or changing rhythm all of a sudden. Due to the short time spans in which each player has the ball, the combinations are quicker. Moreover, the quick layoff pass can trigger an increase in speed.
That’s why Napoli under Sarri sometimes used the third man concept to switch the play to the far side. How did this look like? For instance, the left centre-back passed the ball to the central midfielder who played a layoff pass to the other centre-back, a common movement during the build-up phase to connect the centre-backs.
If the centre-back now wanted to switch to the right-back, he could either turn around with the ball or play a quick layoff pass to his partner. Napoli´s centre-backs were usually positioned close to each other. The other centre-back would then pass the ball to the fullback. Hence, the 2nd line pass increased the speed while the third man action before triggered the speed increase and changed the rhythm.
The third man principle during the build-up phase
As we now know the general ideas behind the third man concept as well as the details which are necessary for a successful usage, let´s take a look at real game situations.
During the build-up phase the 3rd man principle has to general applications. One would be to evade pressure and try to find the free man in the first build-up line. The other application is the transfer of the ball from the defenders to the offensive players in the second or attacking third.
In the example above we could see that the 3rd man principle is useful to move the ball to the defensive midfielder who then can advance the ball in higher zones. Another common situation is that the centre-back wants to move the ball to the other side, but the opponent tries to cut the connection to his centre-back partner. Then the defensive midfielder can function as a connector. That’s why most teams either use a triangle or a diamond during build-up.
Or the attacking team is able to attract the opponent while moving the ball quickly. As in the example above, they would be able to use the third man concept to attack the open space. Again, creating pressure to create space is the main idea.
Once we take a look at the transfer of the ball to the final third, the action that comes to mind is the pass of the centre-back through the halfspace to one of the wingers who then plays a layoff pass to the central midfielders. Here, it is crucial to move the opponent before and create space for the centre-back. If he then dribbles with the ball, he directs the focus of the midfielders of the opponent towards him. In fact, he creates pressure. Hence, they won´t pay close attention to the central midfielders, a potential advantage once the winger plays the layoff pass to the central midfielders because they then have more space to operate.
However, the pass to the winger is not the only option for the centre-back moving forward. At Bayern with Robert Lewandowski you could observe regularly that the Polish striker would drop a few meters and could receive diagonal passes from the centre-back. As we discussed before, diagonal passes are preferable because it gives you more option to continue. Either he turns around with the ball or he can lay off the ball in one of the halfspaces. Especially, when they can use the third man principle out of the build-up to switch dangerous goalscoring opportunities can be created.
The importance of the next options
Along with a good structure for the initial third man action, it is beneficial if the attacking team creates a connected shape with multiple passing options for the third player or for the second player to continue. Therefore, the movement without the ball is crucial to create options to even use the play with the fourth man.
In order to secure a good structure, the principles explained like positioning on different horizontal and vertical lines as well as creating diagonal passing lanes are important. Furthermore, the balance in terms of where on the pitch the players are positioned is important.
For instance, last season Borussia Dortmund tried to overload the left side constantly, however, they had too many players on that side leading to a disbalance overall. The consequences were that the team of Lucien Favre couldn´t switch quickly to the other side or halfspace, hence their combination became ineffective because they did not manage to play through tied spaces the opponent could create due Dortmund´s disbalance.
However, there was another important point why Borussia Dortmund struggled in possession, which is also crucial for the third man principle in the last third – vertical movements without the ball were missing.
The third man principle as tool to overcome a defence
Several teams heavily focus on the third man concept in their plan to overcome the defence of an opponent. Teams like Napoli but also Antonio Contes Chelsea, Inter or Juventus are just a few examples. Those teams often have in common that they circulate the ball in deeper zones, invite the opponent to press and then use those quick third man combinations to use the open space the higher pressing created.
Therefore, those passes from the centre-back to the winger in the halfspaces are crucial. From there on, many different options are possible.
Here, I want to stress the importance of the right structure again. Having options to continue the attack is crucial for the successful use of the 3rd man concept as a tool to overcome a defence. Essentially, movement without the ball is the decisive factor in terms of attacking successfully.
When we take a look at Napoli under Maurizio Sarri one can quickly identify that one player of the Italian side always moved deep behind the last defensive line. This has two reasons. Number one, it created a passing option which was a direct threat for the opponent. Quite often you could see that a layoff pass was played, and the next pass was immediately a throughball to the forward moving attacker.
If the pass couldn´t be played because the defence reacted accordingly, the player receiving the layoff pass would have more space because the defence had to move backwards. So, no matter how the defence reacted, Napoli created a positional advantage for themselves.
Following the principle of creating pressure to create space, they often used the third man concept to create space only to then play a backwards pass to the central midfielders. You may ask yourself why attack if you play the ball backwards anyways. However, think for a second what happened through the applied 3rd man concept.
Let´s assume the striker is the third man and passes the ball to the winger between the lines, for example, Insigne. Lorenzo Insigne could then either try to create a shoot, pass the ball behind the defence or backwards. No matter which action he decides to do, the fact that he was the player receiving the layoff pass and not the central midfielder already, forced the defence to narrow the space around the Italian winger. As a consequence, the central midfielders could position higher and still have enough space to operate. From there on you could observe how Marek Hamsik took a shoot, switched the ball to the other side or give it up to Jorginho whose chippasses behind the defence were always a threat.
As I mentioned with the example of Borussia Dortmund, vertical movements without the ball are crucial not only for the 3rd man concept but also for the game in possession in general. Especially, when those vertical movements cross a horizontal line of the opponent leading to communication issues for the defence, the third man principle can be perfectly suited to take advantage of those movements.
Take this example where left back Ghoulam moves forward through the halfspace without the ball. The 3rd man principle is the ideal tool to use the dynamic of the run without the ball. Ghoulam can start his run early having an advantage over the defender who has to react. When the striker of Napoli now plays the layoff pass, Ghoulam will have few seconds in which he won´t get pressed because none of the defender can step up the face him due to the striker and left winger of Napoli waiting for the possibility to attack the blue marked space.
Here, multiple possibilities to continue the attack are possible for Ghoulam. Either Mertens, the striker turns around and moves in between the two CBs into the blue marked space or Insigne attacks this space diagonally. No matter who is performing the run, Ghoulam can play the throughball immediately.
Due to the fact that the CB may try to press Ghoulam, it would be good if Mertens performs the run behind the defence while Insigne stays wide in order to stretch the defence. Either the left-back of Napoli plays the throughball or he passes the ball to Insigne when the right-back of Inter follows Mertens.
One detail I want to mention is the movement of Mertens. First, he starts to sprint towards the opponent´s goal, stops and drops a few meters. By performing this movement, he pushed the defence back and created more space for Ghoulam.
In general, different vertical movements combined with the third man concept can be really dangerous for the defence. The reason is that the dynamic created by the movement and the short individual possession times challenge the opponent in terms of communicating and reacting as a collective.
Hence, it is beneficial to have the third player dropping a few meters and playing the layoff pass to the forward moving player. Add a fourth man sprinting behind the last line of the defence and you have an almost unstoppable attacking move. Especially, when the fourth player moves diagonally in the space behind the defence. The diagonal movement creates a situation in which the fourth player is always outside of the vision field of the defenders who try to contain the third man combination.
Especially, in attack the third man principle can ideally be used to surprise the defence and use the advantages of the dynamic of the offense. Similar to the example with Ghoulam above, one can regularly observe how the layoff pass can be played to a player sprinting towards the goal. Again, the fact that the first pass creates pressure and forces the attention of the defence towards the third man, creates more space for the player ultimately receiving the ball.
As one can see, the possibilities are endless. However, it needs a lot of coordination between teammates to fully use the potential of the 3rd man principle.
This article was a brief overview of the third man concept. Of course, one can even describe the concept in greater detail and illustrate the endless possibilities. However, I think I gave you a useful overview over the most important ideas behind the 3rd man.
If you have any questions, you can always ask me via Twitter 😊
I hope you enjoyed my last newsletter article, this time I have three thoughts for you again.
Cognitive biases and the influence on the feedback culture
This time I would like to talk a little bit about cognitive biases and their appearance in football. On Thefalsefullback.de I have already dealt with the outcome bias and also the confirmation bias. Those articles focused on the assessment of coaches and players, which is strongly influenced by these biases.
In this article, I would like to talk a little bit about the topic of feedback. The idea comes from this very exciting article, which refers to the book “thinking fast and slow” by Daniel Kahnemann, which you should definitely read.
“On many occasions I have praised flight cadets for clean execution of some aerobatic maneuver. The next time they try the same maneuver they usually do worse. On the other hand, I have often screamed into a cadet’s earphone for bad execution, and in general he does better on his next try. So please don’t tell us that reward works and punishment does not, because the opposite is the case.
People can’t think statistically in general. This example shows this very well. Because we try to establish a causal connection in any correlation, although many things are simply influenced by chance. In this example, the instructor assumes that his way of giving feedback has a direct influence on the pilots’ performance in the next training flight. While this is quite possible, it is more likely that the pilots had a breakaway in the previous flight and are now back to their normal performance level.
Our performance is subject to fluctuations, we all know that. Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes a bad one. Basically, we have an average performance level. On some days we overperform, whereas on other days we cannot call up our normal performance. Sooner or later, however, our performance will come closer to our average performance.
Therefore, it is a misconception to imply that praise makes the players worse and yelling inevitably wakes the players up and they perform better. No, this can simply be related to a return to normal performance. Correlation does not automatically imply causality.
That’s why I advise everyone not to criticize or exaggerate based on a game or even worse, based on the result. Try to support your players to keep an eye on the long-term development and use concrete examples to offer constructive criticism.
Why did the two-striker systems disappear
From the esteemed colleagues of Cavanis Friseur there is an exciting podcast on the topic of double-header or generally systems with two strikers. It’s really worth listening to it.
Inspired by Till, Sascha and Marco, I’ve been thinking about why two forward systems, especially the 4-4-2, becoming less and less common.
This question is actually not so easy to answer, since every 4-4-2 is interpreted differently and depends mainly on the individual players. Furthermore, one can of course argue that the 4-4-2 still exists. If Thomas Müller, for example, plays on the ten, the Bavarians will more often think of it as a 4-4-2 instead of a 4-2-3-1, because of Müller’s playing style.
However, this is probably now more the exception than the rule. There are various reasons for the disappearance of the two-striker systems. In the search for the optimal occupation of space in football, many coaches noticed that it is rather suboptimal to attack with two strikers and four midfielders in a flat 4-4-2. Not only the unoccupied tens room, but especially the occupation of the vertical lines is the main reason for this.
The lack of occupation of the tens area can still be compensated for by a dropping striker and a box-to-box midfielder. However, especially the occupation of the half spaces turns out to be extremely difficult. If you look at the 4-4-2, you quickly notice that generally only four vertical and three horizontal lines are formed. The half-spaces remain unoccupied.
Of course, the half spaces can be occupied by the winger, but this is at the expense of the depth in the game. Alternatively, a striker can of course also move regularly behind the last line, but then he is missing as a passing option in the centre.
In a 4-3-3 the occupation of half spaces and the creation of depth is much easier to accomplish without the players having to move long distances to get from their defensive to their offensive position. Furthermore, a better structure in possession is provided by the central midfielders.
Furthermore, it is intelligent to sacrifice a striker for a midfielder. Especially at a time when more and more teams are defending very compactly and pushing aggressively, you need players in the centre as well as in the first build-up line. Without creating a superior number in deeper zones, it is very difficult to overplay a compact and aggressive pressing.
Consequently, a second striker is probably unnecessary, precisely because many midfielders or wing players became much more dangerous regarding goal scoring. Especially midfielders who sprinted in are more difficult to defend on crosses for a defence because of the dynamics than two strikers who are already waiting in the box.
Interestingly enough, the two-man attack is on the rise again, but many coaches are creating a different structure in possession of the ball. Nagelsmann, for example, uses a triple chain in construction and lets two eights act behind the two leaders. RB Salzburg on the other hand likes to use a rhombus and thus manages to occupy the half spaces by the eights.
This way the two strikers are better connected to the rest of the team and a successful combination game is easier.
What do you think? Why have we seen so few teams play with two strikers over the last few years and do you think this trend will be reversed?
How do you try to learn new things? Are you more the video type or about articles? And what role does thinking about an idea and applying it to your team play in your own development?
I hope you enjoyed my last newsletter article, this time I have three thoughts for you again.
Is it worthwhile for a coach to take a closer look at other sports?
I asked this question in my last newsletter article and I even got some answers, which I was very happy about. One reaction should not remain unmentioned here.
I can answer this question with a clear yes: I prefer to try to gain insights into basketball, ice hockey, football and handball.
The reader, who remains anonymous at this point, shares my opinion on this question. I think it is of fundamental importance as a coach to look beyond one’s own sport and deal with other sports. Although most ball sports differ from football in the fact that they are played with the hand, this does not necessarily mean that concepts cannot be transferred.
Especially when it comes to how to position oneself without the ball, create spaces and fill them, many sports offer interesting concepts for football. A few weeks ago, I already mentioned the dynamic occupation of the zone under the basket in basketball and its similarity to the concept of the false nine.
Especially from basketball with its more man-oriented game and the possibility to move around the field, interesting concepts can be adopted. Especially blind-side movements are often seen in basketball. Players have to be able to confuse their direct opponent, to bring the defender into situations where he finds it difficult to see opponent and ball at the same time or to gain an advantage by cleverly anticipating the situation.
For the so-called backdoor cuts in basketball, offensive players try to fool the opponent with their posture or even their eyes to provoke mistakes. These deceptions resemble the behaviour of Sergio Busquets. The Spanish six player is a master in deceiving the opponent with his body posture in order to pass the ball between the lines instead of a pass to the outside.
But basketball is not the only sport. Even handball, which differs more from football because of the circle, has concepts that can be used in football. Just think about how handball tries to get the opponent moving. Typical for football. It is not for nothing that Guardiola’s style was often described with the words “like handball” when the ball was circulated around the box. Although this was meant as a point of criticism, in the end the same principle applies to handball as to football. Move the ball, get the defence moving and then try to create pressure. Either throw yourself or create space for your teammate and move the ball to the free man.
Pep Guardiola once referred to the quick changes of sides in rugby to break the line of defence when he spoke about the importance of changing sides in football.
But it is not only the concepts on the pitch that are worth analysing. It is also the people with their ideas on tactics, training or team leadership in other sports that can serve as a source of inspiration.
Steve Kerr, Toni Nadal and Gregg Popovich – there are great personalities in all sports
I think I have mentioned Gregg Popovich at least once in every newsletter article so far. The eccentric coach of the San Antonio Spurs is not without reason considered one of the best coaches of all time. Especially his leadership skills are impressive. The mix of a good friend/father figure and a tough coach who yells at a player is probably one of the reasons why the Spurs have been among the best teams in the NBA for years.
There have been many articles written about the leadership style of Gregg Popovich. For me, there have been many articles with interesting aspects and lessons that can be useful for a coach or leader in any field, like this one.
Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal’s uncle and coach, also shared interesting lessons in his Ted-Talk about what it takes to be a top athlete and how he could support his protégé.
Another example is the former coach of Michael Phelps or Pete Carroll and Steve Kerr, who share many exciting experiences in their podcast. I could continue the list endlessly, but you will have already understood my point.
A good trainer is characterized by constantly trying to educate himself and to extract something for himself and his work as a coach from every situation, experience, conversation or article. It would be narrow-minded or naive to think that just because other sports are different from football, you can’t draw anything from them.
Let me put it this way: what distinguishes intelligent people from normal people is curiosity and the motivation to always learn something new. Moreover, the ability to put concepts and ideas into a larger context and to connect them with other ideas.
So if you want to become improve as a coach, it’s worthwhile to not only deal with football.
Next week I would like to talk a little about decision making. Hence the question, in which situations do you make the wrong decisions based on emotionality or certain stereotypes?
In our last newsletter, I asked the final question, whether showing vulnerability is a weakness. The question originally came from the podcast of Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll. Especially in American sports, but also in football, we expect coaches and players to radiate strength and self-confidence.
In my opinion, vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength. It means that I had the courage to try something. If you fail, there’s nothing wrong with letting your disappointment run free. This is not a sign of weakness, but rather an expression of the importance for oneself.
Let us create a culture in our team where it is okay to make mistakes. In the end, we are vulnerable when we take risks and therefore make mistakes or fail. Only if we allow this in our team will we have players who always have the courage to take risks. Only in this way will we be able to send a team onto the pitch that wants to win. Teams in which mistakes are hardly allowed, play frequently in order not to lose.
I’ve been thinking a lot about team culture lately, without having a clear picture of what a perfect team culture should look like. What is your opinion about this? Which values are fundamental for you?
Dribbling – when are the dribblings that beat the opponents are established during the build-up phase?
After the 2018 World Cup, criticism and discussions about the German youth system began to revive. Given the large number of midfielders and the problems the team faces against deep-sitting opponents, more players were once again being called upon to play in a way that resembles a real street kicker.
The difference players who can decide a game on their own with their breath-taking dribblings. I already noticed at various points during this discussion that when we think about players with strong dribbling skills, we often have one type of player in mind. A dribbler is usually a wing player who can prevail in 1vs1 situations.
Basically, there is nothing wrong with that, but two aspects of this discussion bother me. On the one hand, 1vs1 is presented to me too often as the basis of the game. As already discussed, many times, there is actually never an isolated 1vs1 in football. You always have to look at situations in the context of the four reference points, which is why the isolated view of a situation is problematic.
However, in this article I do not want to discuss the first point of criticism too much. Rather, I would like to point out that dribbling is not something that primarily winger players have to be able to do. Especially in the central midfield, but also in defence, dribblings are still hardly used.
But here a lot of new possibilities would arise. If you analyse the game of Frenkie de Jong, for example, who was used as a central defender for Ajax Amsterdam and had a lot of freedom in Erik ten Haag’s system, the advantages of dribbling in the centre become apparent. As a central defender the breath-taking dribblings of de Jong could be used regularly. These risky undertakings are enormously important not only for the spectators but also for his own team.
Dribblings create pressure, present the opponent with new challenges, lure him out of his position and cause disorder due to the moment of surprise.
It is important to distinguish between the different types of dribbling. The central defender who dribbles also creates pressure, but these dribblings have more the function of attracting the opponent. However, those dribblings could be also used to actually beat the opponent´s midfield line.
In addition, there are dribblings that are used to get out of a pressure situation. Thiago or Sergio Busquets are good examples.
However, it is rare to find central midfielders who regularly try to break through the opponent’s defensive lines with their dribblings. This is where we should start training young players. In the centre, the safe option does not always have to be chosen. Even a risky dribbling can turn out to be the right decision and should therefore be chosen.
Dribblings in midfield have the advantage that a more man-oriented pressing is confronted with new challenges, because allocation problems arise as soon as the opponent has beaten one defender. Furthermore, the aspect of opening up spaces through dribbling is added.
The possibilities are endless. However, we should move away from 1vs1 when practicing the dribbling skills of our youth players. Because especially in the central midfield there are really no 1vs1 duels. Furthermore, so many variables have to be observed that a 1vs1 game form would not cover the game at all.
Is it worthwhile as a coach to take a close look at other sports and learn their concepts?
The inner game of tennis, relaxed concentration, and coaches as role models
I hope you enjoyed my last newsletter article, this time I have three thoughts for you again.
Our biggest obstacle is in our head
We all know those days at which everything simply goes the wrong way. The first missed chance, the first lost duel or the first bad pass, from then on it only gets worse – just a day you want to forget as quickly as possible. While in training everything works, the simplest pass in the game is already a challenge – okay, maybe a bit exaggerated. But I think you get the point.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve often had coaches who would get louder, get angry about mistakes and even yell at you sometimes. Others put a focus on the basics in the next training. Back to the simple passing exercises to master the basics first.
Of course, there are days when a player is not focused, but that’s probably the exception rather than normality. Some players simply perform worse in the game than in training. Furthermore, these poor performances are not due to the fact that the players are technically unable to score in the box or to play a pass over 10 meters to their teammates.
So, what is the problem? The players think too much.
Yes, you heard correctly. Players can think too much on the pitch. Anyone who did a sport like tennis or table tennis will know it. Within these sports there is a constant inner dialogue/monologue. One talks to oneself get upset about oneself, makes oneself bad, or praises oneself effusively. This happens not only in tennis, but also during a football match in the mind of a player. This inner dialogue, whether positive or negative, is the problem.
At least if you believe the book the inner game of tennis. A book that star coaches like NBA coach Steve Kerr or NFL coach Pete Carroll swear by. When Timothy Gallwey wrote the book, he probably never thought it would be such a success. After all, he was just writing about tennis. So why are so many coaches outside of tennis celebrating this book?
Quite simply, it contains many important lessons that can be applied to any sport and to everyday life. It’s all about relaxed concentration. The goal should be to stop having the inner dialogue. Instead, it is about letting the body do its work and not thinking too much about every single action. Because our body knows how to play a pass or put the ball in the goal from 20 meters. Usually, our own head is the biggest obstacle.
In order to overcome this obstacle, we have to start by not immediately classifying actions into good and bad, but by taking a neutral view of them. Because the problem is, if we divide everything into good and bad, we evaluate ourselves and this often leads to a loss of self-confidence. If the next action does not succeed, this leads to a negative cycle, the player loses confidence in his abilities and remains behind his possibilities.
Interestingly, it is similar to positive feedback. If I celebrate myself for a good action, I will measure my next action against this successful one. If the next actions do not reach this level, this again has negative effects on my self-confidence.
Ultimately, our job as coaches is to create a culture in which mistakes are seen as a normal part of the game and not as something positive or negative. In this way, we can help our players to focus on the moment and not on the inner monologue that is blocking.
Coaches as a role model, what does that actually mean?
First of all, it is important to become aware of the influence you have on children. Especially when children reach puberty, they look for role models to emulate. It has been proven that a coach plays a formative role in this, as he is the person to respect on the pitch for 90 minutes at least twice a week.
Consequently, our behaviour on and off the pitch influences the young players. If we shout and insult the referee during the game, we should not be surprised that our players also show no respect. If we are not able to acknowledge that the opponent was stronger that day, why should the players be able to?
In the very exciting episode 3 of the Flying Coaches Podcast with Pete Carroll and Steve Kerr a lot was about the term lead by example. We can’t expect our players to behave in a way that we don’t.
Before we talk about values or tell players how to behave, we coaches have to set a good example. Children, in particular, are guided by the behaviour of adults in their environment. That is why we should set an example of values such as respect, team spirit, supporting each other, or recognizing and appreciating the successes of others.
However, it is not only these values that we as trainers can convey. Things like general education, interest in new things, or respect for other cultures can also be conveyed. It is not without reason that sport is one of the best ways to integrate people of other origins and to form open-minded people.
During the research for this article, I once again came across Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. One of the most diverse teams in the NBA during the championship years. A characteristic that all players appreciated, and which distinguished the team from others. In my opinion, it is very exciting how coach Gregg Popovich tries to broaden the players’ horizons and to stimulate the interest of the other players in the culture of a player by doing little things.
We coaches in the amateur sector can also learn little details from Popovich to promote aspects such as cosmopolitanism and curiosity in our players. Because Popovich often only uses short speeches for this purpose. During a team address, for example, he asks a question about the capitals of the USA’s neighbouring countries, or he wants to know from his players what a typical Australian meal is.
Of course, we don’t want to have lessons in amateur and youth football, as the children are already at school all day anyway. However, such small questions can stimulate communication between the players now and then, arouse curiosity and bring the team closer together.
My last thought this time is a question for you. Is it a weakness to be vulnerable? Think about that until next week, and I’ll give you my opinion.
In my new newsletter format, I would like to delight you every Monday with a new article that should make you think. I will present three of my own thoughts about tactics or training. These points can often still be immature, badly explained or simply wrong. For me it’s more about writing down my own thoughts and maybe to exchange them with some of you.
I hope you enjoy the article! 😊
Basketball and football – the concept of dynamic space occupation
Besides soccer, I am also enthusiastic about many other sports such as tennis, handball, table tennis or even basketball. In particular I am passionate about the NBA, which is due to inspiring personalities like Gregg Popovich or Steve Kerr.
Due to the fact that I am more and more involved with basketball, I have been thinking about the parallels between basketball and football for quite some time. Are there perhaps concepts from basketball that can be applied to football?
The rules, number of players and the fact that basketball is a high-scoring game and football is not, make it difficult to find connections. But after I took a closer look at Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors, I came across one point – the dynamic space occupation.
By dynamic occupancy I mean that a particular space is not occupied by a player, but rather remains unoccupied, so that different players can always dynamically fill this space according to the situation. This makes it extremely difficult for the opponent to defend this space, because the opponent as orientation point is missing and dynamics is more difficult to defend than statics. If the opponent comes with speed while the defender is still standing still, the attacker has a decisive advantage. Interestingly, I have recently dealt with this in my analysis of the Kiel U19.
The Golden State Warriors used this concept regularly during their successful time. The paint was regularly unoccupied. Normally at least one classic Big Man is under the basket or near the zone. The Warriors, on the other hand, ordered their big players to the High Post. There they benefited from the passing strength of Draymond Green or David West. In a classic Warriors move, after a little ball movement, the ball was passed relatively early in the post to one of the big men.
The guards around the two outstanding shooters Klay Thompson and Steph Curry now began to move quickly, setting blocks for each other and thus presenting the opponent with challenges. The goal was for one of the players to move to the basket while the others positioned themselves behind the three-point line. Now the player in the high post could either pass the ball to the cutter or the ball moved to a three-point shooter.
Due to the high position of the big man, the opponent had to open the zone into which a player of the Warriors could then move. Either he received the ball or the defense was pushed back, which gave more room for the three-point shooters. In addition, the player who cut to the basket could move back towards the three-point line after not receiving the ball, while another player moved to the basket. As a result, it happened often that the first cutter escaped the defensive field of vision and could be found open at the three-point line. The constant movement of the ball and the players regularly caused problems and forced the opponent to make mistakes, which the Warriors mercilessly exploited.
“The main goal, is to just make the defense make as many decisions as you can so that they’re going to mess up at some point with all that ball movement and body movement and whatnot”
What does this have to do with football?
A lot, because this principle resembles the idea behind the false nine. The hole created by the movement of the false nine could be occupied by other players at all time. I think that this strategy should be used much more often. Especially against man-oriented defences, certain spaces can be left open so that they can be filled by an advancing or falling player depending on the situation.
For example, a striker can drop deeper and at the same moment a midfielder can advance vertically to occupy the hole. Together with various runs of other offensive players behind the last defensive line, these situations are truly unpleasant to defend.
Even diagonal movements into the open space could pose immense challenges for a defender, as the diagonally advancing player would stay out of the defenders’ field of vision for a very long time. The decisive factor here is that the situations of dynamic space occupation force the opponent to make a decision. Do we occupy the space or follow the player dropping deeper?
The offensive structure of our team should then be so good that there is an alternative and the person with the ball ultimately only has to pay attention to the decision of the defenders to make the right decision.
As far as dynamic space occupation is concerned, basketball certainly still offers many exciting principles and lessons for football. One principle could be that for every vertical movement forward, a matching dropping movement of another player must occur.
Deliberate Practice – it depends on how you use your time
Recently I read the book of Kobe Bryant – Mamba Mentality, as I have always been fascinated by Kobe’s work ethic and professionalism. Although the book was unfortunately rather a disappointment, I came across the term Deliberate Practice through him once again.
I found a very interesting article by James Clear about the meaning of Deliberate Practice. An anecdote about Kobe Bryant explains very nicely why we should set ourselves goals instead of measuring our work enthusiasm by the hours invested.
Kobe Bryant started his conditioning work around 4:30am, continued to run and sprint until 6am, lifted weights from 6am to 7am, and finally proceeded to make 800 jump shots between 7am and 11am.
Kobe Bryant not only put a lot of time into his training, but also set himself goals. He trained to hit 800 jumpshots, completely irrelevant how long it takes.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s relevant to all situations in life. Many of us define diligence by the hours of work packed into one thing. However, an hour of training, analyzing a game, or learning more does not automatically mean that you have really made progress or accomplished something – it depends on how the time was used.
“Consider the activity of two basketball players practicing free throws for one hour. Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50, The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt. The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice. To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?
What can we as coaches take away from this?
A lot, especially for our own training. Before we go through 2-hour training sessions in preparation, which do not follow any real goal, we should think about what we want to achieve in this training. Which goals should be achieved, which contents should be learned, and which problems should be solved?
On this basis we can design our training unit, but always keep in mind that the length of the unit does not say anything about the quality. Sometimes it is better to use shorter, more intensive drills with more breaks instead of playing the small-sided game longer at medium intensity.
Of course, it can also make sense to train longer, I don’t want to exclude that. I just want to point out that every training should have a goal.
“Train with a purpose in mind”
How many principles do you need?
Only recently I had a very exciting conversation with Niklas Bühler about developing my own game idea. We exchanged views on his playing principles and came up against the question of how many principles a coach should teach his players and how universal they should be.
This question is not so easy to answer. Since I see principles as guidelines for solving certain situations, one could assume that more principles help the player to find a solution in more situations. However, too many principles not only confuse players, but also restrict their freedom and creativity. Ultimately, we coaches should create a framework in which the players can express their full strength.
It is probably worth keeping principles more general, so that players can apply them in whatever system they play in. Furthermore, more general principles cover several situations. This gives the players guidelines that can help them in many situations.
However, I have to admit that I have been thinking about this issue only recently. Therefore, I would be glad about your input and hope for an exciting discussion 😊
It´s been a
while since my last piece written in English. Over the summer, I took a break –
didn´t watch any football and focused on other things I wanted to learn – and
that was brilliant. I didn´t enjoy analysing and writing about football that
much anymore, and I would say that you could see it because the quality of my
work went down.
I needed this football-free time span, focusing on improving my statistics
knowledge, my university grades and read many books giving me new stuff to
love football, especially, when a team plays and attractive and dominant style.
That´s why I am back because I want to introduce you to Christian Fiel´s Dynamo
Dresden. Usually, a middle-class team in the second German division, they
caught my eye due to their modern and dominant approach – uncommon in the 2.
Dresden plays an attractive style of football (you are going to find an
in-depth piece about their playing style soon on The False Fullback) the main
reason I´m writing this article is the narrative that only the best teams with
the best players can use positional play in order to be successful.
in Germany the common view on football is characterize by the believe that only
compact defensive combined with fast counter-attacks is the way small teams can
learning to attack by using specific concepts of positional play is probably
harder than to defend deep and counter-attack, however, the long-term benefit
of establishing a carefully planed offensive concept are probably higher.
In order to
show you where a team like Dynamo Dresden can create advantages which will lead
to more goals and more wins in the long team, I´m going to analyse their
structure in build-up and a real-world scene from their 4-2 loss against
Karlsruher SC, the typical 4-4-2 counter-attack/long-ball team.
Creating superiority by
dig into the specific scenes, I want to introduce you to the main concept of
positional play, creating superiorities to end up in an advantageous situation.
different kind of superiorities like qualitative, numerical and positional.
superiority means getting your best players in their preferred spots against
weaker opponents. The best example is a winger against a fullback. If Neymar is
facing Matteo Darmian on the wing, his team has an advantage. It not necessarily
has to be a dribbler on the wing, it could also be a taller striker in the box,
or a more skilled and intelligent midfielder in the centre.
Dresden, for instance, does not have individual superior players, however, if
one of their fast and skilled offensive players receives the ball between the
lines against a taller but slower defender, he has an advantage.
superiority is self-explanatory. If you have a numeric advantage it is easier
for you to play your way through the defence or score a goal in the box. Because
the goalkeeper of the team in possession is more involved than the other
goalkeeper, the team in possession naturally has a 11vs10 advantage. All the
team in possession has to do is finding the free player by moving the ball
superiority often occurs in a smaller context. For example, in build-up, many
teams either use a back-three or a midfielder who drops between the
centre-backs in order to create a numerical advantage when they are pressed by
teams play man-against-man in modern football because of the risks a man-vs-man
approach has. In modern days era, teams try to close the ballnear space leaving
spaces on the far-side open. Therefore, numerical superiority can occur when the
team in possession moves the ball quickly enough and finds those spaces.
form – and probably most difficult to understand – is positional superiority.
Compared to qualitative and numerical superiority, it isn´t quite as visible.
To have a positional advantage means to be better positioned than the opponent.
individual level, one could imagine the following scene. The team in possession
has the ball on the left side, trying to cross it into the box. While the
defender has to observe the ball and his opponent constantly, the striker can
create a positional advantage by moving on the blind side of the defender,
forcing him to either watch the ball or follow his movement. Consequently, once
the cross arrives in the box, the striker is in the more advantageous position
because he can see his opponent and the ball simultaneously.
for superiority should end in being in an advantageous position which either
can be via a free man or another form of superiority. Certain tools are
necessary in order to create those superiorities, we will identify a few, while
analysing specific scenes of Dynamo Dresden. However, at this point we can
conclude every team in possession should try to create superiorities because it
will lead to more goals.
the tools in order to create superiorities are rather simple, however, the
execution is difficult and depends on small details. Although you need
technically gifted players, a few guidelines from positional play would help
every team, simply because even less skilled players can perform better in
advantageous situations. Because one thing is crystal clear, having more time
and space makes it easier for every player no matter which level of skill he
Positioning and applying
going to analyse one scene in detail, a quick introduction into the playing
style of Dynamo Dresden. Under their coach Christian Fiel they are using a
5-2-3 formation which transforms into a 3-4-3/3-2-5 in possession with the
wingbacks moving high up the pitch.
The structural advantages
Dresden´s positioning and ball movement is very good, it is hard to press them
effectively. On the other hand, Dynamo has several options to advance and
create goalscoring opportunities because their build-up is well-structured.
For instance, the ball-near striker would press the LCB using his cover shadow to block the passing lane to the DM. In order to reach the DM nevertheless, Dresden could use the third-man concept. The second striker has to decide whether he wants to stay in his position in order to tighten the centre or press the CB immediately.
Even if the
striker presses the CB, the diagonal passing options help the ball carrier to
play a pass with the first touch to the DM.
would stay deeper to cover the centre, the CB would still have the option to
switch to the far side where the RCB would have space available.
possible scenario would be that the striker who pressed first would drop in
order to close the passing lane to the left DM of Dresden while the other
striker presses the CB. Then, a pass directly back to the LCB would help Dynamo
because the LCB would have more space available.
The possibilities of
playing through the centre
One could ask himself whether the defensive midfielders of Karlsruhe could simply press the DMs of Dresden. While this is possible, the numerical superiority of Dresden in the centre, gives them multiple other options to progress the ball.
instance, Dresden focuses on the movement without the ball and constantly uses
tools like the third-man concept to free-up a player. In order to use the
third-man concept, it is important that the midfielders do not stay on the same
horizontal line. Again, diagonal passing lanes offer multiple advantages for
the team in possession. Diagonal passes are naturally harder to press because
the receiver often faces the opponent´s goal.
particular scene, the DM closer to the ball can move higher, creating space
between the line of strikers and midfielders of Karlsruhe. Although KSC´s DM
can apply pressure immediately, the DM of Dresden can escape this situation
with a simple layoff pass. Here, we can see the use of the third-man concept in
a simple example in order to get behind the first line of pressure.
The DM who receives the ball, in the end, is in an advantageous situation because he not only has the necessary space to operate but he also faces the opponent´s goal once he receives the ball. Once again, the numerical superiority of Dresden in the centre leads to tremendous advantage. The striker in the yellow-marked space can be reached immediately after the DM receives the ball facing the opponent´s goal. Due to the overload in the last line (Together with the wing-backs, Dresden forms a 5v4 situation) the striker can destabilize the defence with a simple layoff pass if one of the centre-backs is following him.
This leaves the second DM of Karlsruhe in a precarious situation. Either he steps up pressing the DM of Dresden who receives the layoff pass, risking that he is too late and gets overplayed. Or he stays, trying to close the space but leaving the DM of Dresden with time and space in order to plan the next attacking move of the Saxonians. Furthermore, if he tries to press, his timing has to be perfect, if he starts too early, the DM who plays the layoff pass does not have to play that one but rather can use the space. If he is too later, Dresden´s second DM has already too much time controlling the ball.
against a 4-4-2 – the halfspace progression
However, the well-structured build-up of Dresden offers further advantages and routes the ball could travel. Important to add here is that the clear guidelines in positioning are crucial for the success of Dresden in terms of advancing the ball in higher zones.
situation perfectly shows the positional superiority established by Dynamo.
Although, the scene presents a 3v3 situation on the left-side, the positioning
of Dresden´s players created different options. If Karlsruhe closes down one,
another opens. In fact, this is probably one of the best definitions for
superiority. No matter how the defence tries to defend it, the team with the
ball just have to choose another route helping them to advance.
“It’s a game of position, not possession! It’s
about how you place yourself in relation to the others on the field when you
have the ball and where you should be so that you can continue pressing when
you lose it.”
– Domènec Torrent, Ex
positioning of Dresden leads to the positional superiority in this scene. While
Karlsruhe defends with two players on the same vertical line, Dresden sets up a
triangle leading to diagonal passing options for the centre-back. Therefore,
the centre-back has three passing options he can use depending on the movement
of the right winger and right-back of Karlsruhe.
all, the pass to the wingback is the first option for the left centre-back,
however, also the less threatful for the opponent because the wing is naturally
a space where the defensive team has the advantage of using the sideline to
defend, resulting in isolations for the ball carrier.
a pass to the wing can be still useful. Especially, when the player occupying
that space is positioned high-up the pitch. Then a team faces the trade-off
between overplaying a defensive line or gaining more space. Furthermore, a
quick change in rhythm can catch the defence out of position. For instance, a
pass to the wing could mean an extreme increase of the speed at which the
attack is played. When the wingback increases the speed once he receives the
ball and the offensive players sprint into depth, the defence can make two
mistakes. Either they aren´t able to defend a throughball quickly enough or
they fall too fast leaving space in the centre for the defensive midfielders of
the team in possession.
the defence can´t completely ignore the wingback and only focus on defending
the centre. By moving out of position, the right-back or the right winger of
KSC can press, however, the positional superiority of Dresden adds a cost to
every movement of KSC´s players because it opens other passing lanes.
right winger of Karlsruhe (marked red) moves out to press, he has to orient
towards the side earlier enough. If not, the wingback of Dresden would have too
much time to overplay him. Therefore, the space available for a pass between
the lanes to the LW. This is one of the passes regularly observable during
Once the LW receives the ball he has the advantage because he has the inside line, while the right-back is positioned wider due to the threat provided by the wingback. The ballnear centre-back faces the striker because Dresden has the numerical superiority in the last line. Although he could press the LW, the striker of Dresden would receive more space. Alternatively, the ballnear DM of Karlsruhe could close the passing line. Then it would be most profitable for Dresden to switch to the other side or attack the centre via the CB.
several additional options for Dresden when they establish an even superior
positioning. Quite often their back-three stays rather flat instead of
diagonally. Although, the angle to pass the ball to the DM would be less
optimal, Dresden´s halfbacks could hurt the defence even more if they move
slightly forward. This position can be established by either advancing with the
ball or being already in that position.
striker of Karlsruhe has a harder time pressing the centre-back effectively
because the halfspace is open for a dribbling. Due to the fact that the striker
would have to press more from the side, the CB can protect the ball easier.
When the LW
of Dresden moves more to the left side and pulls the FB with him, the striker
can be a potential passing option for the ball carrier causing issues for KSC
while applying pressure which leaves open spaces somewhere else.
once the fullback of Karlsruhe focuses too much on the movement to the sideline
in order to press, the LW can always start a run behind the defence and Dresden
can use a long ball to hurt the defence. Therefore, several different options
to advance arise due to the positional superiority of Dresden in this zone.
Applying pressure and the
scene against Karlsruhe illustrates why applying pressure by dribbling and
passing the ball into tight spaces is crucial. After switching the ball from
the left halfspace to the right, their right-centre back moves forward while
getting pressed by Karlsruhe´s striker.
Due to the back-three of Dresden and the two central midfielders moving in the channels Karlsruhe struggled to press the build-up effectively. The diagonal passing options created helped Dresden to overplay the first line of pressure. Due to the diagonality in build-up, the strikers couldn´t use their cover shadows effectively. Dresden not only created numerical but also positional superiority due to their positioning and patient ball circulation.
Here, the left
centre-back of Dresden was pressed by the right winger of Karlsruhe. Consequently,
the switched the ball to the other side to make use of potential open spaces.
Due to two
midfielders in the centre, both strikers of KSC had to hold their position in
order to close the passing lane into the midfield. Therefore, they could start
their run once the ball travelled to the next centre-back which gave Dresden´s
players a few seconds to control the ball. This little extra time made the
difference between reacting to Karlsruhe´s pressing or actively trying to use
the space which was opened due to the higher pressing.
consists of generating superiorities out of the defensive line against those
who are pressing you. Everything is much easier when the first progression of
the ball is clean.”
– Juan Manuel Lillo
As we could
see, Dresden already created numerical superiority in the first line, according
to Juan Manuel Lillo – one of the teachers of Pep Guardiola – crucial in order
to attack effectively.
the centre-back moved aggressively forward with the ball once the striker tried
to press him. By doing this, the centre-back draws not only attention towards
him but also put pressure on the defence. Because at one point they have to
press him, consequently their attention was drawn towards him leaving his
action taken by the right centre-back, the structure of Dresden gave the ball
carrier enough passing options. Although, the DM was hardly reachable due to
the pressure applied by the striker, the centre-back had still the option to
pass it wide or to look for the striker between the lines.
wingback was the obvious option, consequently, the midfielders focused on
pressing Patrick Ebert – on the right. Here, another important point Dresden
does well in general. Due to their balanced structure, they are able to move
the opponent which opens holes in the defence.
Dresden does this in particular very well, it´s not about the movement of the
ball. Moving the ball is only a tool in order to move the opponent. By doing
this, you force them to constantly adjust their position which leads to
mistakes made over the course of 90 minutes.
“The objective is to
move the opponent, not the ball.”
— Pep Guardiola
Moreover, the objective of positional play is to break through opponents’ lines. In this example, Dresden executed this thought nicely. Instead of passing the ball out wide and giving the opponent the possibility to press with the help of the sideline, the right centre-back plays a great pass between the lines to the striker. The fact that Karlsruhe had to shift to their left-side helped opening that space. The winger of Karlsruhe speculated whether the pass would be played to the wing, while the defensive midfielder oriented towards Dresden´s defensive midfielder. Consequently, the passing lane to the striker opened.
the pass between the lines, Dresden applied pressure. This is another crucial
principle of positional play. Sometimes you have to apply pressure by passing
the ball in dangerous spaces in order to open room somewhere else.
consequence, the defence of Karlsruhe tried to press and taking advantage of
the situational overload in the red marked space. However, the positioning of
the striker allowed him to use several routes in order to hurt the defence. For
one, his diagonal body position allowed him to turn around quickly and use the
space behind the centre-back.
to add here is that it is the ball-far centre-back who had to follow the
striker, therefore, he was diagonally behind, and the striker had the advantage
to turn in either diagonal direction without giving the centre-back a
possibility of intercepting.
why the ball-far centre-back had to push out was the numerical superiority
Dresden created by pushing the wingbacks high up the pitch. As a consequence,
the left-back of KSC had to defend the RWB while the RW of Dynamo was able to
occupy the ball-near CB.
advantage of the numerical superiority for Dresden was the space created on the
far-side. Interestingly, the KSC midfielder who pushed forward to press the
back-three didn´t cover his position properly giving the LCB a tone of space on
the striker of Dresden had three options to hurt the defence applying the third
man concept. Both would make use of the numerical superiority Dresden created.
Either he plays a layoff pass to the DM who could easily switch to the left
side (blue space), or the striker would try to play the throughball to the
right winger and therefore taking advantage of the space opened. Also, the left
winger performed a diagonal run offering another option while simultaneously
opening space on the left. The third option would be to start a dribbling and
disbalance they defender who tried to press him.
option named could be a perfect example for qualitative superiority. The CB was
taller and slower and less mobile than the attacker, thus, giving the striker
the advantage of acceleration and agility. He could simply use the speed of the
CB to unbalance him by quickly turning in one direction with the perfect
the numerical superiority in the last line can have one major disadvantage in
this situation. Only two players can apply pressure immediately after losing
the ball while Karlsruhe has more players to play out of that situation.
Furthermore, the high position of the right centre-back offers KSC open space
to play a long ball into. One of the weaknesses of Dresden so far this season.
should show you how many possibilities and advantages arise from a more
structured approach with the ball, especially adapting the principles of
positional play. Those once like creating superiorities, using switches to move
the opponent or incorporating the third-man concept into the build-up can be
extremely valuable for every team.
it always depends on the quality of the players. If you only have physical
strong but technical weak players, this approach is probably inferior to one
focused on long balls and winning the duels to gain the second ball. However,
even in the lowest leagues, a better structure and clear guidelines in
possession can help every player. In the end, football is always about time and
space. Everything is easier when you have time and space to control a ball and
make a decision.
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