Teach your players how to attack!
The objective of the game is to score goals, but certain variables such as the scoreline can influence a particular team’s desperation to ruffle the net. The following team styles represent some of the methods used to control the game and instigate attacks:
For years, the golden rule for coaches everywhere was ‘pass and move’, and this tenet is still enshrined in possession football (soccer). Quite simply, teams attempt to hold onto the ball for as long as possible, at all times choosing the easiest possible pass (hence the many times you see defenders passing the ball along the defensive line).
There is logic behind this seemingly banal style though. By keeping hold of the ball, the opponent’s frustration will hopefully draw out certain players from their starting positions, making spaces for killer through-balls which would otherwise be impossible. Moreover, by keeping possession, you encourage the opponent to chase all over the pitch, impacting their stamina and further allowing you to control the pace of the match.
Counter attacking football
With 11 players to get past, scoring a goal is a tricky task at the best of times. However, the beauty of counter-attacking football is to use the other team’s desperation to score to your own advantage.
By withdrawing into your own half, but keeping a man or two further up the pitch, the goal is to take the ball off the opponent while they have players committed to the attack and thus out of position. Once you have the ball in your own half, you have more space to deliver a through-ball for your strikers, who will be lurking around the halfway line and will have fewer players to negotiate.
This tactic, while extremely risky and reliant on solid defending, can render impressive results and is often utilised by teams who are defending a lead or field a 4-5-1 formation (meaning the lone striker can get isolated in front of 4 defenders if both sides are set up properly).
Long ball/direct football
Often used to deride ‘boring’ teams, the long-ball style of play is genuine route one football. Rather than spend time on the ball picking the pass, exploiting small gaps in the opposition’s defensive or utilising the flanks, the long-ball is employed as an opportunistic method of attack. By pinging the ball up the field from defense or midfield, the hope is that the strikers will either latch onto the hopeful pass or exploit any mistakes by the defenders. Because the long-ball is dealt with in the air most of the time, any team employing it needs to have a strong target man.
Wide play and alternating wingers
Since the days of Stanley Matthews and Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone, the wings have always been a key part of attacking football. By spreading the ball wide, you allow a different angle of attack and offer a number of opportunities for the winger; take on the fullback and drag central defenders out of position, cut inside and drive forward at an angle, or whip in a cross from deep for the strikers to attack.
A further development in wing-play has been to alternate wingers on the left and right flanks. If a winger is losing the battle with his fullback, switching wings can provide a breakthrough for the team. This was effectively employed by Portugal on their way to the final of the 2004 European Championships, with Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo frequently exchanging wing positions.