That buzzword – Possession soccer (1)

Over the winter a couple of things happened. One, it was so cold the city made it illegal to be outside unless it was an emergency or you were going home. Two, there was no coaching of little kids because I’m not involved in indoor coaching and honestly wanted a break for a bit. And three, I was sucked into the world of tactics.
Detailed tactical analysis is everywhere online now, I’ve got links at the bottom to my favorite ones. Keywords from the past two months of reading include “half-spaces”, “counter pressing”, and of course, “possession”. The last one is the holy grail, the one every coach and player wants to do. On the pickup field – “keep it simple”, “one touch”. On the blogs – “the gold standard is possession football” or “kick and rush soccer is over”. I wanted to know more. Breaking it down, what does it looks like, how do you coach it, how can you get your indoor soccer team to do it?
I’m going to start with this. It’s a passing sequence in Bayern vs Man City in the Champions League last year, when Bayern hold the ball for five minutes straight. I suggest you watch through it once (mute the video though, the music is questionable). Then read on below. And if the link stops working, type in “Bayern benny hill” into youtube and a variation of the same video will pop up.
Type of Possession #1: Overload 
At 0:18, Schweinsteiger receives the ball, turns, and sees more teammates than opponents on the left side of the field. He passes, and Bayern get to enjoy possession for another 10-15 seconds. With an extra man, it’s very difficult for defenses to jump in and take the ball. It requires risk and confidence in possession to execute this because an overload on one side of the field means you’re exposed on the other side. What if, as his teammates move forward, Schweinsteiger mis-passes the ball? Immediately three of his teammates are out of position and will have to begin the long chase backwards.
In this play Bayern didn’t penetrate forward. They slowed, and as defenders closed in, Ribery began dribbling and almost lost the ball. But eventually as five defenders surround him, he gets it to Alaba who passes back to Lahm who switches the field. Note this possession isn’t to score goals. It’s to control the game and own the tempo, let others have a break and move the opponent out of position.
At 0:30 they get close to an overload situation, and hold their positions. Until again, at 0:34, once they drag City defenders towards them, they switch the field. Ever played 4 v 2 in practice? I always practiced it focusing on passing accuracy and splitting the defenders. Also to never get intercepted because I hated being in the middle. But these players took their practice straight onto the field. Organic 4v3s, 4v2s are happening during a real game. Now that’s a gold standard to target as a coach.
Type of Possession #2: Attacking a weak point 
Part of the fun in having the ball is attacking whomever you want. And you should frequently target the opponent’s weakest link. Ronaldo does this when he switches sides constantly, trying to find which defender he can dribble past easier. Barcelona do this when they sub in fast players like Tello or Pedro late in the second half. They search for the weaker, slower defender, and put a fast guy against him. See the recent game against Levante where Tello scored a hattrick of identical goals. You should try this in intramural or rec leagues that you play in – put your best attacker against their weakest defender. Remember though, it’s not always the same player. One guy could make a couple of mistakes and lose confidence during a game, go for him. One could have sprinted to join an attack and is sprinting back, out of breath- target him. A fast defender might have low stamina, go for him at the end of the game.
In the Bayern – City match, it’s a little harder. City’s defenders are fast, fit, and strong. I count five times when Bayern really penetrated, and it was spread out evenly. They didn’t target one side over another.
Twice on the left: At 0:07 with the vertical pass and 0:23 with Ribery’s dribble.
Once in the middle: 0:35 that ended with Robben’s diagonal pass to the left
Twice on the right: 0:14 run into the space (see next paragraph if you don’t consider this an attack), and 1:00 when they broke the right side wide open.
Type of Possession #3a: Dragging players out of position for teammates 
Playing indoor soccer twice a week, what I hear most from the losing team is “we’ve got to move more!” I agree. But how and why? Here’s an example, and it happens throughout the video. At 0:03 Alaba makes a run to drag a midfielder towards the inside. Just outside the top of the screenshot, a Bayern player is waiting, wide open. To distract the defender properly, Alaba begins his run just as his teammate is about to pass. Now a defender thinks I have to mark this guy because the ball will reach him. If Alaba ran earlier, he would’ve been passed off to the defender behind him (pic below), and Bayern would have to attack somewhere else. It’s an unselfish play timed right so that his teammate will have extra time on the ball.
At 0:31, another example. This time City cut off the passing lane so nothing happens. But the right wing is ready to make that run.
And of course, there are times it doesn’t work. Below at 0:49, Muller (bottom right) sees Kompany about to pressure Robben. Muller is ready to make the run, but Robben doesn’t move. The space is gone (2nd pic).
Type of Possession #3b: Dragging players out of position for yourself
Another method is dragging opponents to create space for yourself. At 0:12 a left back rushes forward to mark Muller. (First pic) He has to press because the center mid is occupied with someone else. Muller notices this, baits the defender further out of position by moving backwards, then explodes in the other direction. (2nd pic) You see Man City panic and send three defenders over. By dragging a defender out of position, Muller forced other defenders to cover for him. The panicked recovery will open space elsewhere on the pitch.
Type of Possession #3c: Dragging half the team out of position 
At 0:55, for the first time in the video, a pass goes all the way back into the Bayern half. And look at the City players running towards it to press. They must be so tired, but without pressing, how are they going to get the ball back? So they move forward as a unit. If it was only Aguero chasing up front, that would be futile. They’re pressing as a team. But Bayern are dragging them way out of position. Look at Yaya Toure, a center midfielder who is supposed to stand in front of his defenders, protecting them. He’s all the way up, leaving his defenders exposed.
And when he get’s bypassed with a wall pass, suddenly City are in trouble.
More to come
Those are just three kinds of possession, my next post will have more. And I’m trying something new – being a Virtual Coach. If you have a video of your team playing, I’d like you to upload it here Take it with your phone. Long, short, I don’t mind. I’ll reply with your strengths, strategies that are working, and strategies you could consider to help your team. I can focus on attack, defense, transitions, team shape, width, depth, you name it.
In the meantime, check out any of these links. – Great if you watch a full game, then read about it – Detailed analysis of teams and how they attack. Videos too – Use google translate, there is some gold in here. This website inspired this article.

One thought on “That buzzword – Possession soccer (1)

  1. Pingback: How to: From Engineer to Soccer Coach | That Buzzword – Possession (2)

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