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Monday, 16 November 2015

The changing face of attacking football

Modern day defences are far more organised than they used to be. Now it is all about narrowing down the space, covering space and pushing attacking teams into congested areas. It is then far more difficult for their opponents to create chances.

Whatever formation a side is playing they drop into two banks of four or on of four with a bank of five in front of them and even the striker drops back at times. To counter this teams have had to develop more unconventional play. 

The counter attack has become a more important weapon, so much so that teams now encourage the opposition to attack them to exploit weaknesses on the counter-attack when the defence is not as organised.

For some reason fans would complain at Michael Dawson playing the long diagonal to a wide man, bit this is simply a quick counter-attack strategy. The notion that he wasn't accurate is largely false. If you take an aerial shot of a team when Alderweireld, who plays the same ball just as much without complaint, has the ball in a right full-back position you will see most of the players on that side of the field. A long diagonal thus gives the inverted winger the opportunity to get in behind his fullback or to attack the space he has.

Again it is a tactic used against us. It is increasing rare to see a goalkeeper punt the ball upfield, he generally rolls it out to a centre-back who has split the width of the pitch. Any long ball opportunities are their responsibility. The long ball is simply a counter-attack with thr fewest passes, thus the quickest. As discussed in an earlier article you then have the opposition running towards their own goal with all the associated benefits that brings.

When the defender in possession is not under pressure and lifts his head, that is the trigger for midfield and forward players to make their runs. A midfield player will make a false run to receive the ball pulling an opponent out of position and the striker will make a diagonal run ro either receive the ball into a channel or to open space on the opposite flank for the inverted winger to receive the ball. The whole manoeuvre is pre-planned, it isn't simply a case of a defender looking up and seeing someone free.

An alternative is for the striker to receive the ball in front of the defenders either on the turn to face the opposition or is marked with his back to goal. He would then lay the ball off to a forward running midfielder who will look to slot the ball in behind a full-back, play the ball to a man in space or attack space himself. The running of midfielders is crucial.

They must offer themselves and if they have then swept the ball wide to arrive in the box ahead of the defenders in an ideal situation or at least to have an overload of players around the box. Where we have struggled is that we have had too many midfielders stay behind the ball. With Roberto Soldado up front he was often the only player in the box, the midfield all stayed out of the box, behind the ball to collect it there, it is no surprise he struggled. 

If you look at us now, Erik Lamela is getting into the box which he wasn't doing before, Mousa Dembele is now getting into the box, again he wasn't before, we know Chadli does, Heung-mun Son has already hit the back of the net and Clinton Njie attacks the box. Possession football is fine, the opposition can't score if you have the ball, but it is what you do with possession that determines the outcome. We play less across the field now and are becoming more direct. 

Dele Alli is probably the nearest thing we have to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in their pomp running form midfield and scoring 20 goals a season. He is an exciting emerging talent.

When an inverted winger cuts inside he is opening up space for the full-back to exploit, the idea being the ball can be played into space for him to run onto rather than to his feet for him to run into, depending upon the proximity of the defenders. It is quicker to pass a ball than to run with it, therefore, the fewer touches an over-lapping full-back has to make before delivering a cross the better. More touches to set himself the slower the play and the more chance for a defence to get organised.

When you see us passing the ball along our back line we are simply trying to pull the opposition up the pitch to create space that we can exploit. If we can't attack quick then we resort to possession football and move the ball around to move the opposition around and then quickly exploit a gap.

It is the method Spain employ, they were playing two passes simply to create the third, which was the pass they wanted to play all along. If you use three players out wide you can pull the full-back inside and draw them forward leaving the wide man totally free to then attack the space. The key to providing that space is the movement of the other two players. 

We see Spurs play it a fair amount, especially down our left anywhere in the opposition half. You could argue we don't make enough of the opportunities this creates. Rose attacks the space and the byline whereas Chadli or Eriksen stop and cut inside. Njie seems to run at the box diagonally and is thus a goal threat.

It all stems though from drawing the opposition into areas we want them to be in rather than the areas they want to be in. For that we need players with vision and intelligence, he has to read the game and anticipate what is going to happen. He has to be on the same wavelength as his colleagues to all know when a pre-planned move can be put into operation.

Reactive players are not the players our system needs, proactive players make it work. We don't need players reacting to game situations, we need player creating game situations and exploiting them. The counter-attack in its many forms is becoming more and more important.

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