Type of Possession #4: Position Change oriented
According to the official team sheet Bayern played a 4-1-4-1 formation. Robben on the right, Ribery on the left, and Muller as forward. Robben is left footed and likes to dribble, so he can cut in towards the center and shoot with his left. Ribery on the right side can do the opposite, while Muller drifts in and out to create space. At least, that’s what they published.
During this video, none of them stay in their “position”. Ribery started out left and drifted inside three times. Muller did the opposite, shifting around the same time Ribery moved. And Robben showed up wherever the ball was.
Imagine being the central defender chasing these forwards. They would appear in front of you, then start to glide towards the outside. If you follow them too far, you’ll leave a gap in the center where you used to be. But if you don’t follow them, they’re free to receive the ball. You could tell your midfielders to help, but you don’t want them leaving the center midfield exposed. You need to communicate with your defenders flawlessly – he’s coming, switch, move outside, move inside, etc.
Moving forwards mean moving defenders, and moving defenders mean a higher likelihood they step out of position and create gaps. Bayern have intelligent, observant, and fit players to execute this. They see the ball and teammates, the defenders and gaps. They’re talking constantly – hey I’m coming, go there, shift wide – and they move the Man City defenders everywhere.
Type of Possession #5: Dribbling
Dribbling? Most of the focus in possession (rightly) goes to passing but don’t forget to dribble. With a purpose. Challenge defenders in the attacking third to drive forward. Lure multiple defenders towards you to create space elsewhere. It adds dimension to your attack especially if you had been passing like a metronome.
In a rare dribbling scene, Ribery lures three City defenders to him before passing back to Alaba, who passes to Lahm, who switches the field. Dribble to force defenders out of position.
Type of Possession #6: Long Pass
Use the long pass to bypass pressure. Short, short, short – the defenders close in – short, long. Players on the other side of the field should anticipate the switch and position themselves in open areas. Using short passes without team movement quickly leads to defenders swarming you, so use the long, driven pass to find space.
The second, riskier move is the vertical pass to penetrate. It shows attacking intent, and if the defenders are sleeping, can be very effective. Supposedly Guardiola practiced this with Bayern before their league match against Dortmund. Dortmund press high up the field, so his idea was to bypass the pressing through long balls and find space behind their lines. He was furious the press leaked the tactic before the match.
The video had few long passes since Bayern were camped in City’s third of the pitch. Still, there were two beautiful diagonal passes on the ground.
Type of Possession #7: Star Player
Step 1, pass the ball the your best player. Step 2, watch the magic. Repeat. Look up any video titled Maradona vs England, vs Belgium, or vs Korea and you’ll see every third pass goes to him. But why not? If your best player is obviously better than the opponent and can pass, dribble, and shoot freely, give him the ball. Coordinate the team to cover his weaknesses, usually in defense. Get attackers who will move for him to create confusion, space, and time. And let him do his thing.
But it’s all meaningless
Unless you score. As the late Luis Aragones, head coach of Euro 2008 champions Spain, replied when asked what’s your soccer philosophy – Win, win and win and win and win and win again. To do that, you need goals. Possession is pretty but it’s not for the sake of possession. It’s to move defenders, create gaps, and score by exploiting the gaps. Don’t one touch pass all the time, wait to lure defenders and then pass. Dribble. Move to create space and drag defenders. Fire the long through balls to your forwards. And don’t forget to shoot.