Positional Play | The most intriguing tactic in recent times


Positional play, what does that mean for a team and their structure, and not in the very least for the opponent. Teams that always has a high possession percentage, uses positions in possession to prepare the team for a defensive transition, meaning their defensive play is an integrated part of the all phases in build up, while also in positioning themselves when without the ball.

In modern football, it’s quite popular to create diamonds, meaning the player on the ball, two wide players and one player in a high position in the shadow of the opponent pressing player (furthermore there can be a central player, either on the side or just behind the pressing player). — What I’ll recognize as locational-play or even say is the apt description of the philosophy is wherein the team attacks by creating local-overload with the intention to either penetrate the opposition, usually wide area of half space, or keep possession by playing through the opponents pressure/gegenpressing.

Making the wise decision:

The less pressure the player on the ball has, greater is the opportunity that he will make a good decision for the team. The more pressure the player on the ball has, greater is the possibility that he’ll play through the opponent’s lines but also a great chance that he will lose the ball. Furthermore there is no value in playing a teammate who doesn’t have an advantage of receiving the ball. In those situations you should attract the opponents by dribbling close to them to do combinations or just switch the play. Furthermore the player in possession should pass it if he doesn’t have an advantage of being in possession. Local numerical superiority isn’t equal to positional superiority/balance.


By overloading an area, naturally the team is underloading another area on the pitch, where you can seek to get 1vs1, 2vs2 situations, typically you’ll have your best dual players/runners in those areas.

Defensive vs Offensive

In this situation, see the two pictures below, FC Copenhagen (white) can choose one of two things, either remain in their defensive structure(zonally) or go man vs man. Do they remain in their defensive structure, they allow FC Nordsjaelland (black) to play out from the back which means they control the space.  On the other hand, FC Copenhagen controls the space behind their back four and in front of the back four in their zonal-marking, which must be seen as more important than just pressing high with the risk of opening to much space.

In man-to-man marking, the demand required of the FC Copenhagen players defensive skills, is high in 1vs1. Furthermore the demands for FC Nordsjaelland offensive players, in their offensive 1vs1 skills is also high, which makes it a 50/50 situation and therefore hard to control for either teams. In one run, FCN can have a free player which has a positional advantage. Of course, FCN can have a positional advantage by FC Copenhagen remaining in their defensive structure.

Positional Play | 1

Translation- ‘Dækker halvanden’ — Covering one and a half. ‘Lang pres afstand’ — Long pressure distance.

In this situation, FC Nordsjaelland is creating both numerical and positional advantage, in which Marcondes (the player receiving the ball) could have chosen to play the link-up player instead of trying to go towards the opponent’s goal. — William Kvist (the nearest FC Copenhagen player) has a very short pressing distance, therefore it’s difficult for Marcondes to be successful. The link-up player has the opportunity to either play deep when the opponent is so high in their back-four or trying to switch play onto the other side seeking a 1vs1.

Positional Play | 2

Translation Danish to english. ‘Dybt punkt’ — Player having a deep position. ‘Centralt punkt i mellemrum’ — Central player in the space between the opponents back four and the midfielders line. ‘Link-up spiller’ — Link-up player’. ‘Bredt punkt’ — ‘Wide player. ‘Vende spiller’ — Player to play to switch sides. ‘Luk eget mellemrum ved tab af bold’ — Close the space between own back-four and midfielders line, in case of defensive transition.

The phases of the play — Permanent/Relative

The three phases I analyze as coach in, is phase 1, 2 and 3. The picture below, shows the three permanent phases.

Positional Play | 3

Translation Danish to English. ‘Fase 1’ — Phase one. ‘Fase 2’ — Phase two. ‘Fase 3’ — Phase three. ‘Angriber denne vej’ — Attacking this way.

The relative phases means that the player in possession can be located in the permanent phase 3, but the intention from the player on the ball, is to remain possession and not trying to penetrate the opposition and have a shot at goal. — Therefore in this situation, the relative phase is 2. The team can also be in the permanent phase 1, but relatively in phase 2. Everything depends on the intention of the player in possession.

Phase 1 — playing out from the back and playing the first opponent/defender away. 

The centre-backs can either play two-play against one attacker or three-play against two attackers, which typically means the pivot has a position either between the two centre-backs or on the outside of one of them. Alternatively the team can also play with three centre backs, in which the two most outer centre-backs will be in half space, to either dribble and seek pressure or receive the ball in the space behind the opponents attackers and seek passes in which will penetrate the opposition lines with only few touches.

Phase 2— penetrate through either central, half-space or wide-area.

A fullback doing either inverted or outward runs, from wide area or half space, is very important for the style of play, and for the possibility to play through the oppositions lines. The fullbacks position depends which space the wing is occupying, usually half space/wide area. Depending on the winger/fullbacks key abilities, it can be a good strategy to have both players in the wide area to create a 2vs1 situation. If the team has runners, in which their key abilities lie in getting behind the fullback of the opponent or to make runs which is in the channel behind the fullback and centre back, it will be a good idea to overload the wide areas. By playing in the space between the opponent’s back-four and the line of the midfielders, it’s a good idea to play with only one touch to accelerate the pace of the ball and use the space wisely.

Phase 3 — Get shots inside and outside danger-zone, by low crosses, high crosses, straight crosses, chip-balls, cutbacks, dribbles, combinations etc.

A straight pass on a diagonal run, or a diagonal pass on a straight run, a behaviour in which the players should understand, when we train the main and sub-principles. Low crosses have a higher conversion rate than high crosses, irrespective of the playing style and types of players.

Shots from inside the danger-zone has a higher conversion rate than shots from outside, therefore the strategy for me will always to be to get the crosses low in to dangerzone, optimal from half space.

When the player on the ball dribbles forward against the opponent back-four, usually the nearest defender often decides what the player in possession is going to do. If the defender breaks up from the line, the player in possession has the opportunity to combinations in front of him with teammates running in the back of him. If the defender stays, one can chip the ball into the space vacated by the defender that has moved forward or play a pass to a diagonally made run.





Featured Image credits: Cruyff Academy