It is a funny old game, as the saying goes. Really, in an eleven versus eleven match (or five v five, seven v seven or whatever) the side with the most athletic, the most technical players should win. Often, they do. Sometimes they don’t. In fact, the stronger side fails to win far too often for such an outcome to be a coincidence. Certainly, external factors such as the referee, can play a part, but it is of course soccer tactics which most often overthrow the form book.
For example, how are Sheffield United, underfunded and under-strength new comers to the English Premier league fighting to securing a Champions League spot? Player for player, their bunch of Championship journeyman performers should be propping up their more illustrious opponents by being firmly anchored to the bottom of the league?
The answer is tactics. Chris Wilder, their under-rated coach, has instilled a great competitive spirit among his players, yes, but it is his tactics, such as the innovative use of overlapping center backs (yes, you read that right) with which no opponent has yet to come to terms. Tactics; the love of the coach, the mistress of the trainer, the comfy armchair of the manager…the builder of reputations.
Reams have been written on this subject; from the meandering thoughts of ex-managers, raking in a final big payday with their memoirs to the hard to read strategic theories of the overqualified coach. To make any reasonable attempt to represent these in a 500-word blog belittles the 150 years of tactical development of the game. However, that does not mean that a few words might add to the great argument. A tactical debate on tactics, we might say.
Tactics Must Know Their Place
As a coach, although we might love assessing the relative values of 4-3-3 against 5-1-3-1, we must keep this in its place. Our first duty is to instil great technique, physical fitness and mental strength in our team. Only once these are secure can we begin to enjoy ourselves with our tactical developments.
Tactics Form A Long-Term Plan
Every successful team has an identity. They might be a pressing side, who are effective at turning transition into goals. They might be a team who like to dominate possession or one who are strong on the break.
Whatever, all systems have their strengths and weaknesses, but as long as a team (coach and players) is committed to a system, then success will usually develop over time.
From the system can come tactics. The ability to utilize strengths to maximum effect. For example, a team might use the tactic of identifying an opposing defender who is weak on the ball, and close as a team whenever that player gets possession. Maybe a fast full back who crosses well will seek to bomb forward at every opportunity, the coach accepting any defensive frailties which will probably follow.
Tactics are Integral to a Team’s Development
Building on the point above, a team’s tactics will be developed through a coach’s training program. Those who try to make wholesale changes to their tactical approach every game will never build a secure development plan. Any success from this approach will be short term. Of course, small changes (for example, man marking a particularly effective ball playing opponent) might deliver benefits, but this plan sits on top of the fundamental tactical drive of the team.
With such a plan in place, tactics can, and will, deliver results. For those keen to look further, the following link provides useful examples of a current very much ‘in vogue’ tactic – the high press.
If you liked this book, you’ll like our blog post on Soccer Formations.