With the way football is evolving nowadays, how to face its different tactical approaches is becoming harder by the minute. Every week of the season, we are getting used to seeing coaches adapting their game plans to overcome rivals week in, week out.

No matter if you coach in the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A, the game itself demand to be in every detail to win a game. One of those details is how to manage ball progression to surpass the opposition defensive lines. It can be done with a short combination of passes or more directly, but how to prepare that aspect through your training is one of the main challenges for a coach.

In this coaching tactical analysis, I will try to describe a possible training routine to be on top of your next rival in this aspect of the game, fitting and adapting your tactics in confrontation to the opposition.

Adapt your tactics

One of the main strengths a team can have nowadays is being adaptive. For some time, we got used to seeing coaches being too inflexible within their tactical approaches. Actually, that could mean that you are predictable, making your occasional rival job easier. 

You can change formations and mechanisms without changing your tactical principles or your game style. Also, it is pretty common to use different shapes offensively and defensively.

Different scenarios, same concepts

In order to reach that goal and be good at adapting your tactical display, it is important to control different scenarios that can appear during games. This includes your own team behaviours and oppositions. 

Regarding the opposition, for example, being good resolving against different formations and pressing approaches. Through analysis, you need to conclude where advantages and disadvantages will be in every possible situation and take that to the training pitch.

When it comes to your own team, you will need your players to be good at understanding situations and making decisions. When to pass or when to conduce the ball, when to pin a rival or when to move to create a free space, when you are second or third-man, are just some of the different concepts that they will have to manage to decide well. Then, as a coach you are responsible to create a structure and mechanisms that lead your players, and so your team, to overcome the game’s challenges collectively.

Game Plan

To have a good game plan, you need to identify your rival patterns when they press. Try to have a deep look into it, not just identifying what they usually do, but also imagining how they are going to play against your team. Height of their press, is it man-oriented or they use intermediate positions, key players that activate and if they try to orientate it to some specific zone are just some of the questions that you have to solve. In addition, think some different alternatives that they could do.

Then, be sure of what you are trying to do with your tactical approach. In this case, we are trying to advance the ball to the final third, so think of which are the situations that you want to attract to put your team in a good situation.

When all the previous tasks are done, it is time to design your teams mechanisms and take them to the training ground. Again, make sure you have different alternatives to advance the ball, managing as I mentioned before, different scenarios and including the possibility of a formation change.

General Drills

First of all, some key coaching points in words of former Mexico National Team, Juan Carlos Osorio. 

  • Design drills with real situations that can appear during games
  • Manage the pitch dimension so that situation is repeated frequently
  • Manage the number of players considering their position and roles

The possession drill we can see below is a 6v6+3 divided into two zones. Both teams have three players each in both zones and there is a middle space in which the only player allowed is a neutral midfielder that plays for the team in possession. The other two neutral players in the end lines should be the goalkeepers, to stimulate them to give numerical superiority against the first opposition pressing line. Players must keep possession playing from zone to zone, and they just can play to the other zone playing with the neutral midfielder, who has one touch and has to find a third-man that passes the ball to the other side. 

Coaching: How to coach ball progression in relation to your game plan - tactical analysis tactics

It gives a constant 5v3 situation in each zone and requires repeatedly searching for spaces in between the opposition through passes and circulation of the ball. Of course, changing dimensions, amount of players, and drill conditions can help you ensure it fits your teams level.

The second possession drill is a 6v6+4 that is a progression from the first one. It adds an extra neutral player and it requires more role awareness from the players. Also, it changes the focus of the attack, as it is more oriented to find wide players through passes. To “score”, the target is to get the ball to the furthest neutral player in the direction of your attack. The defending team can adjust their positions but they always have to keep at least one player in each zone. 

Coaching: How to coach ball progression in relation to your game plan - tactical analysis tactics

Both drills we have seen are good if you want to work with concepts generally to maintain possession of the ball. They both stimulate different movements, type of passes and managing spaces, and are focused just on the team that is in possession, not in any pressing style or defending aspect of the game.

You can use them as early-week drills to introduce players into what you will ask for them in the following game.

Game-based drills

The following drill is a 9v8 modified game where the white team has to get the ball into one of the three goals. That would mean that they get the ball into the final third. Meanwhile, the blue team will press in different ways and has to recover the ball and try to score in transition. No corners, no throw-ins, the target is to introduce your team to your game plan, so every out ball resumes with the white ball in possession from build-up. 

It is important not focusing just on build-up from goal kicks. Try to start possessions from different spots and situations that you think are pivotal to overcome your rival press. The blue team, as it would be your next rival, will simulate the pressing strategy that you think they will do in the game. Manage different alternatives like creating spaces in midfield or playing long behind the defensive line, and give your players key information to solve them. As I mentioned before, man-oriented or intermediate positioning requires different solutions. A first pressing line of three forwards it’s not the same than two forwards. Think about your rival focusing on pressing wide zones or central zones. Make your team aware of how they can overcome a situation where rivals are trying to prevent some specific player being involved during the build-up.

Designing this drill will allow a manager to imagine situations they think it will happen in the game and it also can be used in every time of the season, not just to prepare specific games. Remember, the more different scenarios your team manages, the more powerful team you have.

Coaching: How to coach ball progression in relation to your game plan - tactical analysis tactics

The last drill of the piece is the one which completes the progression to prepare your team in this aspect. It is a 11v11 game using a bit shorter space. You can determine different channels in favour of players position awareness. Reducing game space leads to more repetitions of the situations you have been training. If you want to focus on advancing the ball through possession you can again start from build-up when the ball goes out.

Coaching: How to coach ball progression in relation to your game plan - tactical analysis tactics

As I mentioned before, try to work on different pressing approaches. In the picture above, the blue team is positioned with a 4-4-2, while in the image below they are positioned more like a 4-3-3 focusing on covering central spaces.

Coaching: How to coach ball progression in relation to your game plan - tactical analysis tactics

However, don’t just focus from your rivals standpoint, also try to focus on how you can attract them to different situations that you would like to happen in order to break down their pressing tactics. Think about the impacts of your players’ position, in terms of the possibility of advancing the ball and making a mistake and losing it. Remember that all in-game phases are connected with each other. It’s not the same to drop a central midfielder into the backline when in possession than to drop a wide defender. Think where and when to overload and underload in order to disrupt your opposition defensive lines. 

The main key will be managing time and space, in correlation with your and your rivals’ strategies. Like a chess game, but more dynamic, more complex and more fun. 

Conclusion

Through this coaching tactical analysis, I tried to develop a typical training operative strategy to prepare a team in-possession approach into a game. 

No matter which coaching philosophy are you more attracted by, as a coach you need to prepare your team to the detail to overcome rivals. Pre-game strategy and in-game strategy has become more and more tricky and difficult. 

Because of this, training has evolved and coaches are focusing more than ever in developing smarter players that can be up to the challenges that occur during a football game.

Diego Stein
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