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Global Soccer Update 21 May 2017

European soccer leagues are winding down and international tournaments are starting up. Here is a recap of what’s happening in the world of soccer.

Europe:

England: Chelsea champions and joined by Tottenham and Man. City in 2017/18 Champions League. Liverpool needs to qualify for CL. Arsenal. Man. U, and Everton qualify for Europa league. Hull, Middlesborough and Sunderland are relegated.

Germany: Bayern is champion and joined by Leipzig and Dortmund in the CL. Hoffenheim needs to qualify. Cologne and Berlin are in the Europa league. Darmstadt and Ingolstadt are relegated, Wolfsburg will go into relegation play-off.

Spain: Real Madrid clinched the championship, Barcelona and Atletico joining in the CL, Sevilla needs to qualify. Villareal and San Sebastion are in the Europa league. Gijon, Osasuna, Granada are relegated.

Italy: One match day left, but Juventus has clinched the championship, AS Rome (2nd) or Napoli (3rd) will directly go to CL or to qualifier. Lazio, Bergamo, AC Milan will play in the Europa League.

The Champions League final between Juventus and Real Madrid in Cardiff takes place June 3rd. The Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United in Solna takes place on May 24th.

International:

The  UEFA U17 Mens Euro finished on 19 May Spain defeating England 4-1 on penalties after a regulation 2-2 tie with Spain equalizing in the 6th minute of added time. England defeated Turkey in the semi-final and Spain defeated Germany on PKs.

The FIFA U20 Mens World Cup has just started in South Korea. It is played in 6 groups. Four groups have played their first game and a few upsets have already happened: Venezuela defeated Germany 2-0, Sambia defeated Portugal 2-1. Follow the tournament on http://fifa.com.

The Confederation Cup in Russia starts 17 June, featuring all continental champions plus the world cup winner and the 2018 world cup host. Group A features Portugal, Russia, New Zealand and Mexico. Group B contestants are Germany, Cameroon, Chile, Australia.

So stay tuned this summer – plenty of soccer to watch.

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How To Stop Ronaldo From Scoring

Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Portugal has been elected FIFA’s best player several times. He is a prolific, consistent top goal scorer in the Spanish La Liga and for his Portuguese national team. There always have been prolific goal scorers and there are others besides Ronaldo today – Messi, Lewandowski, Dzeko, to name just a few. But I want to talk about Ronaldo, because he has just accomplished something truly remarkable in the UEFA Champions League.

In the quarter-final he scored five of the six Real Madrid goals against Bayern Munich, both goals in the 2-1 win in Munich and a clean hat trick in the clinching 4-2 OT win in Madrid. He followed this by scoring all three goals in the first semi-final vs. Atletico Madrid. That is eight goals in three games at the very highest level of soccer. While Madrid and Ronaldo supporters are ecstatic about his feat(s), one might ask “How does he do it?”.  Or, “How does the other team let this happen, time and time again?”.

Ronaldo is no secret, his skills are well-known, his danger in front of opposing goals is globally recognized. Ancelotti, coach of Bayern, and Simeone of Atletico are excellent and very intelligent coaches. They have superb defenders on their team. How can they let Ronaldo score this many goals in critical games? As stated earlier, Ronaldo is representative of a host of prolific goal scorers and Bayern and Madrid represent teams  who get scored on by these exceptional players.

I look to the system of play and game strategy for answers to these questions. Today’s soccer relies on zonal defending while until the 1990s defenses mostly employed man marking strategies.

Zonal defending essentially means that defenders are responsible for a certain space on the field and they need to challenge any opponent that enters their space, with or without the ball. As attackers move around the attacking areas they get passed from defender to defender.

Man-marking means that a defender is assigned a specific opponent and when they enter the attacking area they get “marked” by a specific person.

In the days of man-marking there were also prolific goal scorers, Gerd Muller of Germany, Eusebio of Portugal, oele of Brasil, etc. So man-marking wasn’t the answer. In fact zonal defending was developed in the hope to control these exceptional attackers.

I believe it is time to admit that zonal defending has failed from the perspective of stopping the Ronaldos of the world. And that is the crux of the issue – top coaches today have accepted zonal defending as THE GOLD STANDARD and they will not move away from it. I am convinced that within their game preparation against Real, Ancelotti and Simeone had a plan to contain Ronaldo. I am equally convinced that the team bought into the game plan and was certain it would work. But it didn’t.

Should they have man-marked Ronaldo? Perhaps. But before I offer a suggestion, a brief analysis of what makes Ronaldo (and his goal scoring peers) so effective. They are the best at the Seven Speeds of Soccer, their reading of the game, anticipation and perception speeds, decision-making speeds, movement speeds, and game action speeds are superb. They show up in the spaces between the zonal defenders at the right time ready to strike. Look at the space Ronaldo had for his third goal against Atletico – incredible. It’s not because the defenders were bad, it’s because Ronaldo is that good.

 

What is required, in my opinion, is a rethinking on how to defend against these exceptional players. I suggest a mixed zonal/man-marking approach.  Play zonal defense everywhere except within 20 m of your own goal. As soon as Ronaldo (and his peers) come within 20 m of the goal, assign one of the defenders as a man-marker, staying tight to the attacker. Have covering defenders in case the “marker” gets beat by one of their trade mark 1v1 moves (check Messi, Robben). As marking and covering defenders are consumed, fill in the zones they are vacating with retreating midfielders. And always be goal side to block the shot.

Coaching pride might prevent such a strategy, but what is better – Munich and Atletico playing a conservative defensive game and advance, or sticking to their system and get eliminated?

On systems of play and how to adjust read our book Systems of Play

 

 

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Actual Playing Time In 90 Minute Soccer Match

If you’re a regular TV or live viewer of soccer you may at times be annoyed with the interruptions of the game. Frequent stops due to fouls, injuries, throw-ins, free kicks, goals, substitutions, etc. are one thing, the length of them are another. Time wasting by the winning team can add to the frustration, especially if you support the other team.

So are we justified in feeling cheated out of 90 minutes (plus added time) of soccer?

I just came across an analysis of the four major leagues in Europe. The conclusion is that the net playing time averages between 54 and 57 minutes:

Italy: 57

Germany: 56

England: 56

Spain: 54

That means that there is no active play for ~ 34 minutes or 38% of the alloted time.

The added time after the 90 minutes have expired is between 4 (Germany) and 6.5 (England) minutes. But of course there are stoppages within these as well.

Finally, the average number of game stoppages in these four leagues is 105. Shocking, if you think about it. It means that there is more than one game stoppage every minute. And the average length of each interruption is 20 seconds. Doesn’t sound like much, but try this. Go for a walk and after every 40 seconds stop for 20 seconds.

I have some thoughts on these statistics:

  • What is the point of a few minutes of added time when the game is halted for 34 minutes?
  • What would happen if soccer adopted net playing time from ice hockey or basketball? They play 60 minutes and the clock stops at every interruption. Soccer could say we’ll play net 80 minutes, two halves of 40 minutes. It may reduce time-wasting significantly.
  • Players run 11 km on average per game. It is a mix of sprints, runs, and jogs. So roughly a soccer player runs    11 km/hr. That is significant and is about twice the speed of a brisk walk.

I would advocate for some rule changes:

Play two 40 minute net playing time halves with a 15 minute break. No added time required. I suspect the total elapsed time would not increase by much, there would be fewer interruptions, shorter interruptions, and a better flowing game. Along with that I would allow one 60 second time out per game for each team. As for injuries, I would require any player who lies on the ground for more than 15 seconds to get a mandatory 10 minute medical examination off the pitch. They could be substituted of course.

Time to make the game more attractive and shake up some old habits.

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Soccer Team Depth Charts

Icon of a clipboard showing a page with a soccer strategy.

A soccer team depth chart is a critical tool for any soccer coach at any level (kids recreational to professional). A depth chart essentially shows the ideal starting line-up for your team formation. If you have more than one formation or system of play option for your team, then you need a depth chart for each of them. For information about soccer systems of play, click Soccer Systems Of Play

To illustrate, below is a recently published potential depth chart for FC Bayern Munich. You can download the PDF version: Depth Chart Bayern

The example shown is for the 4-2-3-1 system of play. A depth chart has several purposes:

  1. Game management
  2. Team development
  3. Player development
  4. Player recruiting

Using the FC Bayern example chart, let’s review each of the above points:

Game Management

The player at the top of each box is the ideal starter. So this 4-2-3-1 would start with:

Neuer-Alaba,Hummels, Boateng,Lahm-Thiago, Vidal-Ribery, Müller, Robben-Lewandowski.

The player named below the starter would be the first choice to replace the starter in case of injury or poor game performance. The goal is always to have the best eleven player for the given formation on the field. But it’s not as easy as simply replacing a starting player in the same position with a player from the bench. Let’s look at a simple example for the Bayern chart.

Let’s say Lewandowski gets injured in the first half. According to the depth chart he is replaced by Müller. But Müller is the starting central attacking midfielder. His first back up choice is Thiago. But Thiago is the starting left holding midfielder. His first back up is Kimmich. Kimmich is not a starter. So Lewandowski would come off, Müller would move to the striker spot, Thiago to central attacking midfielder, and Kimmich would come off the bench as left holding midfielder. In the stadium it would be announced as Kimmich coming on for Lewandowski. Spectators and viewers might wonder about that move, especially if Costa and Coman, who are attacking players remain on the bench. Only if you understand the depth chart will this substitution make sense. On TV you would notice Kimmich coming on and giving all the position changes to Müller and Thiago.

Now imagine if Lahm were injured or suspended and Rafinha started on right defense. Rafinha gets injured and must be substituted. Kimmich would be next to replace him but he just came on as left holding midfielder. According to the depth chart Kimmich would now move to right defender and Sanches would come on as left holding midfielder.

These depth charts are helpful at all levels. For recreational youth coaches they help you shuffle your line-up if some players don’t show up for a game, regardless if you play 11 v 11 or 6 v 6. Or if you substitute at fixed intervals for equal playing time. As you approach the professional model with limited substitutions and more complex game strategies, the Munich example becomes real.

Team Development

As alluded to in the introduction, you will need a balanced depth chart for each formation. Suppose you play a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2. The starting line-ups change dramatically. Using Bayern as the example, you now need two strikers and at least one back up striker. So Lewandowski and Müller might be starting strikers, but they don’t have to be. The 4-2-3-1 depth chart doesn’t translate to a different formation. The best partner for Lewandowski might be Ribery.

This means that your team needs to practice all different formations with starters and back ups in all their possible positions. You can imagine that this takes time. Now inject a coaching change and you can see that teams can struggle to find their stride. Sometimes a new coach can get quick improvements if he/she intuitively sees a more optimal formation, starting line-up, and depth chart than the predecessor.

Player Development

There will be many players who have to learn to play different positions, and they must learn it to be very close in effectiveness to the starter. Looking at the Bayern depth chart you will see that Lewandowski, Ribery, Robben, Vidal, Alonso, Boateng, Lahm, Rafinha, Neuer, and Ulreich only need to know one position in the 4-2-3-1 system. Müller is the most versatile player needing to know four positions. This is a challenge for players and places value on versatility. Now add to this that these players likely play on their national teams, in different positions and systems, and it becomes clear that besides having soccer skills and being fit soccer professionals must be intelligent thinkers.

Player Recruiting

The depth chart makes it clear that smart recruiting isn’t about acquiring a start player, it is about strengthening the line-up for all contemplated formations. If you have a strong starting line-up that will be with your team for a while, then recruiting to strengthen your depth in key positions may be the right move. If some starters might be a flight risk or just aren’t performing, then you may need to recruit a new starter. The human, communication and contractual aspects of player and team management become important.

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Soccer Skill Mechanics – Jockeying

An adolescent getting ready to kick a soccer ball. Link to a soccer preactice book for U9 to U12.
Soccer Jockeying Video
Soccer Jockeying Video Link

Very recently I was asked by two experienced soccer coaches how to teach players the mechanics of a particular soccer skill, one of them being defensive jockeying,

I was surprised because I thought coaches would know how to break down a skill into its mechanical elements, demonstrate to their players, and then correct them and show them how to improve that skill to perfection. So I explained jockeying but that wasn’t enough. I then demonstrated to show them what my words meant. We got into some discussion because one of them had learned something different. It then dawned on me that depending on the coach’s experience, their training, and their resource material, they may have different understandings of how a certain skill is executed.

When I got back home I researched the internet for specifics on defensive jockeying. To my surprise there were quite divergent views on how to jockey. I decided that the best way to convey the skill mechanics was through a well explained or at least well presented video. Again, I found material that was good, some that was completely wrong, and some I found good enough to pass on to interested coaches.

So what I will do is feature a soccer skill on our site with a brief explanation of the key elements and a link to the video I believe best represents that skill. Hopefully it will not only save you research time, but also give you the proper way of teaching the particular soccer skill.

Defensive Jockeying

Defensive jockeying can be from behind an attacker who is shielding the ball or from in front of an attacker who is trying to dribble past you.

The key principles of jockeying are:

  1. Distance to attacker – very close from behind, arm’s length from in front
  2. Body posture – crouched (knees bent) and at an angle
  3. Body position – between attacker and goal
  4. Eyes – on ball, not on body
  5. Goal – force attacker to the outside, away from the net
  6. Tip – the side line or goal line act like a defensive wall, pushing the attacker close to these lines severely limits their options.

Click on the picture above or this text link to access an excellent and short YouTube video:

Soccer Jockeying Video

 

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Global Soccer Update March 2017

This world soccer update focuses on three key competitions:

  • World Cup 2018 Qualifiers
  • UEFA Champions League
  • UEFA Europa League

World Cup 2018 Qualifiers

After an extended winter break the qualifier rounds are restarting this week.

North/Central America has only played two rounds with three of six teams qualifying directly. Costa Rica leads (6) followed by Mexico (4), Panama (4) and Honduras (3). The U.S. is last after two losses which cost Klinsmann his coaching job late last year. They face Honduras in a critical match and a win puts them back in the race, a loss and the prospects of going to Russia will be bleak for the U.S. boys.

In Europe teams are entering match day 5 of 10. There are nine groups with the winners qualifying and the 8 best second place teams going into elimination games. In group B second place Portugal (9) faces third Hungary (7). A Portugal win would likely seal Hungary’s fate. Group E is seeing key showdowns between first place Poland (10) and second Montenegro (7) and third Denmark (6) against fourth Romania (5). Group G features first place Spain (10) against third Israel (9) for what might be Israel’s last chance. Second Italy (10) plays fourth Albania (6). Group H features first place Belgium (12) against second Greece (10) with the winner in great shape to qualify. A similar scenario exists in group I with first place Croatia (10) taking on second Ukraine (8).

South America is entering game day 13 of 18 with the top four qualifying. Brasil safely holds top spot with 27 points, followed by Uruguay (23), Ecuador (20), and Chile (20). Argentina is in fifth (19) which would get them into a play-off with an Asian group team. They are challenged by Columbia (18). Argentina v. Chile is the key game, a loss by Argentina and they will be in trouble.

Africa is playing in five groups with only the group winners qualifying. Teams are entering round three of six. The key game is in group B with leaders Nigeria (6) playing Africa Cup champions Cameroon (2). A Cameroon loss and they are all but eliminated.

In Asia the two groups are half way through. Group A is lead by Iran (11pts) followed by South Korea (10) and Uzbekistan (9). The top two teams qualify directly. Syria (5) is playing Uzbekistan in a last chance game. Group B is much tighter with Saudi Arabia (10), Japan (10), Australia (9) and United Arab Emirates (9) in a tight battle. The key game is Japan vs. UAE.

Oceania teams are playing in two groups of three with the group winners playing a each other for a qualifying opportunity against a North American team. New Zealand is comfortably leading group A while Tahiti and Solomon Islands are tied for top spot in group B.

UEFA Champions League

The quarter finals are set to start April 11 with Dortmund – Monaco, Juventus – Barcelona, Bayern – Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid – Leicester. Who would have thought Leicester to be the only EPL team left. And I believe they have a realistic chance to make the semi with my other picks of Dortmund, Bayern, and Juventus. Yes, I see all three Spanish teams going out.

UEFA Europa League

Quarter finals start April 13 with Ajax-Schalke, Celta Vigo-Genk, Lyon-Besiktas, Anderlecht-Man United. I see Man U. as the clear favourite to win it all.

Enjoy watching any games you can.

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Soccer Player Development – A National Strategy?

I just reviewed the national soccer programs of some leading (Germany, Spain) and not so leading (Canada) soccer nations. I can say with confidence that both groups have defined visions and strategies. In fact in many ways they are similar. Here are some common elements:

  1. National, regional, and local administrative organizations
  2. Coaching development frameworks – certifications
  3. Player development frame works – regional centers, academies
  4. League structures from recreational to professional teams
  5. Defined club structures with technical directors and qualified coaches
  6. Playing philosophies

The execution and advancement of the vision/goals/strategies into action varies. Countries with long and successful soccer histories are leading in the development of structures, training programs, coaching certifications, etc., while the “newer to soccer” countries are emulating and catching up.

Interestingly enough, both sets of nations face some key common questions:

  1. Should we force all clubs, teams, coaches, players everywhere to follow a top down standard player development model? If so, what should that model be?
  2. Should local organizations, grassroots clubs and coaches have freedom to develop their own player development approaches?

Both top down standardization and bottom up “free for all” have been tried with mixed success. The difficulty isn’t that the sport of soccer is changing dramatically and thereby outdating the latest development models. The issue is that kids starting to play soccer come with varying skills and abilities, coaches have different ideas, and organizations have different goals. Forcing everyone into one model can stifle creativity, allowing everyone to do their own thing fails to develop consistency.

What are some of the issues countries face?

Germany has made great advances in changing from a purely tactical and physical style of soccer to developing more skills and flexibility. They have developed a national program and professional clubs are required to have academies with residences in which youth are trained in soccer and receive their education. The concern is that young people are “standardized” and eventually creativity will suffer.

Spain has placed emphasis on technical and cognitive skill development at very young ages in their club structures. This has led to success through possession soccer. The concern is what will happen when other countries develop responses to this standardization? Which has actually happened.

Canada is in the growing stages and still has a lot of autonomy at the regional and local level. Infrastructures to train coaches and player development systems are in place, yet at the club and team level coaches have lots of autonomy.

I believe there is something to be learned from all approaches. In my opinion it is important to have administrative and development structures defined and  in place. The ultimate objective is to develop the best soccer players possible for a country which come together in national teams achieving maximum success. For Germany and Spain this means to be competitive in World Cups, for Canada it might mean to qualify every now and again on the men’s side. The national women’s team has achieved international success. One might wonder why.

Player and team development has to be a healthy combination of following prescribed programs while allowing coaches and players to be creative and flexible.

I would suggest that the top down administrations provide a framework of coaching and player development supported by training programs, yet allowing coaches flexibility within the framework. What could this framework be? I believe our 4 PILLARS OF SOCCER ™ would be a good model. You can read about it here: 4 Pillars of Soccer.

Defining technical, tactical, physical, and mental (psychological, thinking, emotional) competencies by age group and skill level supported by training programs and plans would be the right path.

Technical Skills haven’t changed much over the years and skill development could be fairly standardized.

Tactical elements change all the time, they even reinvent themselves. This is an area in which flexibility is key. It’s not about possession or fast break soccer, it’s about teaching both. What is the right tactic at which time?

Physical Fitness training is continuously evolving. Proper conditioning, injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, speed, strength, endurance, diagnostics, etc. need to be introduced properly at the right age and competitive levels. This is an area that is underdeveloped at the grass-roots level.

Mental Training has the most potential. As a foundation example I recommend the Seven Speeds of Soccer supported by the appropriate psychological and emotional training programs, for administrators, officials, coaches, and players. The area of cognitive player development has huge potential. If you think about soccer as a high-speed chess game with all pieces moving all the time then developing the ability to analyze, think, strategize, and execute quickly will be the key to future success.

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Soccer Drill Unpacked: Goalkeeper Reaction Dives

An icon of a soccer goalkeeper making a save.

Today we unpack the soccer goalkeeper development principles embedded in a reaction dive drill.  All drills in our  Soccer Goalkeeping Practice Book are assembled into practice plans to ensure that each practice offers the proper balance between the four pillars of soccer:

Technical Skills – Tactics – Physical Fitness – Mental Fitness

It is this balance, practiced over a season, that has led the tens of thousands of coaches who own our books to improve the performance of their goalkeepers.

Soccer Goalkeeping Drill

Download the drill here: Soccer Goalie Reaction Dives

From: Soccer Goalkeeping Practice Book

Soccer Drill Profile:

 

The profile indicates that this drill emphasizes soccer goalkeeping technique and physical fitness, with a strong element of mental toughness.

Set Up:

This drill does not require any goals and can be set up in a 10m by 5m area. In addition to the goalkeeper two ball servers are required. Ideally all three individuals would be goalkeepers. The first server rolls a ball through the legs of the keeper facing the server, 1m away. The keeper then pivots and dives on the ball. The keeper immediately recovers, gets up into ready position and makes a diving save of a ball thrown by the second server facing the keeper from 5m away.

Technical Skills:

The technical skill trained is diving. This includes the proper “get set” position for the keeper, remembering that the closer the in the shooter is, the lower the keeper has to crouch to get fastest maximum diving distance.

The first dive is straight forward, after a 180° pivot. This works on the technique of saving low shots directed at the keeper. There are different ways to go on the ground for a low ball, see Soccer Goalkeeping Basics

The second dive is a high sideways dive with the distance being varied. The drill progression suggests to throw the ball at various heights and varying distances to the goalkeepers body. This forces a variety of reaction saves, from quick parries to fully extended “flights”.

It is important for the keeper to execute the basic technique elements of “not rotating in the air and landing on belly or facing backwards”, of grabbing the ball securely with both hands (or punching it far away if it can’t be caught”, of landing on the quads and arms with one leg kicking up, etc.

 

Tactics:

There are no team related tactics involved in this soccer drill. The only tactical element is goalkeeper specific and relates to the proper ready position relative to the distance of the server.

Fitness Training:

This is a physically very demanding drill with the flexibility to vary intensity.

With the first throw the keeper trains flexibility by (1) rotating and (2) getting back up immediately after the save to face the second shot. The same is true after the second save – immediate recovery and getting ready to save the next short ball through the legs. The speed at which the servers throw the next ball determines the recovery speed of the keeper. At the maximum pace the keeper will get both an aerobic and anaerobic workout.

Repetitive diving will be challenging on all parts of the body that touch the ground upon landing, especially if the ground is a little harder.

The continuous crouching and recovery will challenge the quadricep muscles of both legs and help strengthen them. This will contribute to improved vertical leaps in the future.

Mental Fitness:

This soccer goalkeeping drill involves all Seven Speeds Of Soccer

Perception

The keeper has to see the servers and read their body motion quickly so they know how quickly to recover from a save and set for the next one.

Anticipation

 

In this drill the key anticipation is the timing and weight of both throws. On the first throw the goalie must pivot as soon as the ball is rolled/kicked through the legs and anticipate the pace of the ball. This will dictate the extension of the dive. On the second throw the goalkeeper must quickly anticipate the pace, height and horizontal distance of the throw, reading the flight of the ball immediately after it leaves the server’s hand.

Decision Making

The key decision is whether or not the ball can be securely caught, must be parried away, or requires a foot save.

Reaction

Once the ball leaves the server, the keeper must react to the direction, pace, and height of the throw. This is the essence of this exercise.

Movement With Ball

If the keeper catches the ball and has control, they must recover with the ball in hands and return it to the server while setting for the next throw. This is not easy and requires a lot of coordination and stamina.

Movement Without Ball

These movements are primarily resetting for the next save.

Game Action

This drill replicates game action in which the opponents have created a scoring chance in the penalty box, near the goal. The chance could have been generated by a cross, a corner kick, free kick, or a though ball setting up a 1v1 with the keeper. It does not simulate long distance shots.

Coaching Tips:

1. It would be great if you have three keepers to work together on this drill.

2. The crouching positions must be very low to explode into dive.

3. Vary the distance of the first dive from a short collapsing dive to a fully extended dive.

4. Vary the second throw from throwing it to goalie’s feet, chest, over top of head, to either side requiring little to full extension dives.

5. Insist on proper technique and stress the fundamentals of getting behind the ball and getting both hands on the ball.

It is important for the person working with the keeper(s) to build a rapport with them and to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Use this knowledge to provide the keeper with lots of successes, but also with some “surprises” or challenges to improve performance and build skill and confidence. Relate exercises to game situations as much as possible, preferably to actual experiences of the keeper.

 

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Soccer Performance Metrics

In today’s information age and the availability of “Big Data” enabled by camera and on-body sensors, more data than ever are available to soccer coaches. Each player in each game and each practice can be measured and data can be aggregated to the team level. To illustrate: distance run in a game can be measured for each player and team distance can be aggregated by adding all of the players’ distances.

There are software packages that manage all the data for coaches and generate any number of analyses and reports. As a trained soccer coach and professional engineer I understand that it is not the amount of data you get, but the appropriateness of data. The purpose of data is to identify areas for improvement and to enable the development and implementation of improvement plans. A wise person once said: “Tell me how I’m measured and I’ll tell you how I will behave”.

I have sifted through a lot of the metrics collected all over the world, some of which are reported during live broadcasts on TV. The scope of this review is game performance and improvement. This therefore excludes medical, physiological and any other individual or team health data. The idea is that if you have data that relate to your team’s performance, then you can identify what areas need to be improved and structure your soccer practices accordingly.

Possession %

This measures the amount of time a team controls the ball as a % of game time. Usually camera systems track the seconds each team is in control of the ball. Analysis has proven that possession % does not correlate to winning games. This metric is therefore only useful if your game philosophy and strategy is to dominate possession. Then you should establish a target of possession % (say > 65% +) and practice how to play a possession game.

Scoring Chances & Shots Taken

Shots taken is what you see on TV and it is a simple measure. Any shot from anywhere deemed to be in the direction of the goal counts as a shot taken, regardless of whether or not it actually hits the target. So a shot going up into the rafters counts as a shot taken. There is very little subjectivity. The metric is to count the number of shots taken by the team during a game.

Scoring chances is more subjective, but in my opinion more relevant. A scoring chance is defined as a play that offered a good chance of scoring a goal, even if the final shot isn’t taken. The metric is to count the number of scoring chances your team generates in a game.

To illustrate the difference between these two measurements:

A shot taken from 30 m out that goes 5 m wide of the net is counted as a “shot taken”, but wouldn’t qualify as a scoring chance.

A cross into the box to an open player 5 m in front of goal is a scoring chance, even if the player slips and never gets their foot on the ball – no shot is taken.

Shots on Goal

This metric goes with both of the previous metrics – scoring chances and shots taken. You count the number of shots on goal. A useful statistic would be to calculate the % shots on goal as a percentage of shots taken AND as a percentage of scoring chances. A low % of shots on goal  indicates that shots taken need accuracy improvement or scoring chances need finishing improvement (determination, timing, etc.).

Ultimately goals scored as a % of shots taken or scoring chances generated gives you an idea of the efficiency and effectiveness of your team’s attacking plays.

Getting By Opposing Players

This is a more recent metric. There are two ways to get by an opposing player – a 1 v.1 move or a pass. Furthermore it is of significance which players you get by, any player or defenders. So the metrics are, for each player and aggregated to team total for a game (or practice drill)

  • getting by any opponent in a 1 v. 1
  • getting by an opposing defender in a 1 v. 1
  • getting by any opponent with a completed pass
  • getting by a defender with a completed pass
  • receiving a completed pass past any opposing player
  • receiving a completed pass past a defender

You can also analyze these results by position and set some goals for your team. For example if you encourage your wingers taking on defenders 1 v. 1 to generate a cross and scoring chance, then measure the number of successful and failed 1 v. 1 moves by your wingers. By wingers I don’t mean only the designated wide players in your formation, but anyone who happens to be in the attacking third on the wing, such as an overlapping defender. You can count these for each player and later aggregate the numbers for individuals, positions (defenders, central midfielders, etc.), and the team. You can further accumulate the data for each game and the sum of games played to date.

Summary

There are many more metrics but if you consider those presented, you could easily formulate a vision/strategy for your team. For example:

“We are a fast attacking (not possession) team generating at least 10 scoring changes per game and scoring at on at least 20% of scoring chances. We generate these scoring chances through two touch soccer, quick and accurate passing past opponents, with a final cross or a vertical pass into the penalty box.

Then pick the metrics that are meaningful to the strategy, correlate the data to goals scored, wins, points and formulate improvement plans.

I should mention that I have illustrated offensive metrics. Defensive metrics for your team are the exact opposite. Track the same metrics for the opposing team.

Coach Tom

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Soccer Tactics – Breaking Down Defensive Teams

Icon of a clipboard showing a page with a soccer strategy.

It has become more prevalent for the better soccer team that dominates a game in possession not to win or even lose. By better we mean a team with more highly skilled players who play their system well together. In international competition they typically end up in the final four and in league competitions they routinely occupy the top five spots.

Quite often their system of play has been innovative and they enjoy initial success. But once the competition adjusts they are less successful. Less successful in this context doesn’t mean they drop to the bottom, but rather that they don’t win the titles they used to win or defeat the “easy teams”. To illustrate a few prominent examples:

Spain

Spain invented the “tiki taka” possession game focussing on precise passing over short distances supported by quick runs into space. The opponents were chasing players and ball and eventually a space was created around the penalty box which Spanish players exploited to scorer goals. When their opponents had the ball Spanish players quickly closed in on the ball carrier with two or three players to pressure him into a mistake. At the same time a second layer of defense closed down all passing lanes. So the combination of high pressure and possession game was effective and led Spain to successive Euro and FIFA championships. But then the opposition adjusted by setting up defensive walls and essentially letting the Spanish pass the ball around without giving them space to penetrate into dangerous areas. When opponents gained possession they used super fast break counters to catch the Spanish defense out of position and get an attempt at goal. The result is that Spain has lost its domination and advances in tournaments.

Pep Guardiola

Pep was the embodiment, if not the creator, of tiki taka at Barcelona. He was successful with it in Spain and then was hired first by Bayern Munich and now by Manchester City to create dominant teams. In Munich he did create ball possession dominance but in three years struggled to deliver the success that the quality of the roster (and management) demanded. He did win three successive championships but was knocked out of the Champions league semi-finals three years in a row, twice in embarrassing fashion. Even in the Bundesliga his team faded in the second half of the season. Why? because everyone knew what to expect and adjusted to it with their own strategy. A similar pattern is emerging at Man. City. A solid season start with nine winning games at the top of the table has turned into mediocrity (at a high level still). Man City will not win the EPL.

Jürgen Klopp

One of my favourite coaches for enthusiasm and ability to quickly turn a team around. His stile isn’t tiki taka, it is high pressure, requiring lots of running, and a fairly direct play into the box to generate scoring chances. His teams play through the middle and down the sides, they switch play often enough. It is a game strategy this coach embraces, with one exception. Initially at Dortmund Klopp was very successful, then teams caught on, personnel changed, and results dropped. Now at Liverpool he has inspired his team early, charged up the table bringing Liverpool back into contention. As of late his team is in a terrible slump, particularly against weaker teams, losing against bottom EPL teams and lower league clubs in cup competition. Klopp’s game demand a huge physical effort to keep the high press up and to transition quickly to defense upon loss of possession. His players are marathon sprinters. They get fatigued in a game and as the season goes, especially if key players get insured. I wouldn’t play a permanent pressing game but allow the team some periods of rest and sitting back.

WHY DO WEAKER TEAMS SUCCEED?

With two exceptions the teams I have coached were the weaker teams in competitive youth and university leagues. I have coached against the Spains, Peps, and Klopps in  my world. I wasn’t surprised by their play because I scouted their teams and games and had a very good idea who they played and which players to watch for in particular. Good professional coaches do the same, so there is no surprise.

I had no choice but to move into a defensive mode. Here are proven soccer rules:

  1. If the clearly weaker team tries to ignore the strength of their opponent and play “their game”, they get slaughtered – Liverpool, Man City, Spain still generate lopsided wins.
  2. If there are equal strength teams on the pitch it becomes a very entertaining chess game as each will play to its strength and be successful in certain phases of the game.

So the clearly weaker team MUST move into a defensive shell and rely on counter attacks, without exposing their own defense while doing so. This usually results in a flat back defensive line of five or six players with a flat four defensive midfield  line 10 m or so in front of the defense. One or no attacker is kept up to challenge defenders or at least keep a couple of them back. The space here doesn’t allow to get into all of the tactical formations to accomplish this strategy.

The strong team now is forced to find a way through this tight defensive mesh and despite 70%-80% possession, gives up the ball 1 out of 4 times. This change of possession is the opportunity the weaker teams rely on the start a fast break counter attack quite often ending up in 2v1, 3v2, 4v3 advantage at the other end. The longer the game stays close the better the chance for the weaker team to snatch a point or a 1-0/2-0 win.

WHAT ARE THE STRONGER TEAMS TO DO?

First of all the coach must realize that the ONE game strategy has been adapted to by some teams. The moment they recognize this in a game (or even before a game) they need to be able to change game plan. Instead of setting up occupation outside the opponents penalty box and passing the ball sideways and backwards waiting for a gap in the defense, they must adapt themselves. The goal is to break the two defensive walls, creating spaces for penetrating passes through the middle or crosses from the goal line into the back of defenders. Here are some traditional ways:

  1. Take defenders on 1v1 with your best dribblers (thinking of Ribery and Robben at Bayern Munich). This draws out the supporting defender and starts to open up spaces for quick runs and passes into the back of the defense.
  2. Set up 2v1 to get by defenders, tried and true tactics are give & goes, overlaps. You’ll see them from good teams and they work.
  3. Switch the side of attack quickly.
  4. Move your attacking player around randomly to confuse the defense. Get your center forward to make diagonal runs to the wing and have a wide midfielder break to the center. It will distract the defense and open up spaces.

Additionally you can consider:

  1. Play the odd long ball just to send the message that it’s not all possession.
  2. Intentionally give the other team the ball and then win it back and launch your own fast break counter catching the other team out of shape and balance.
  3. Vary your style during the game.

Teams that you can study who are more or less successful AGAINST WEAKER DEFENSIVE MINDED teams are Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Juventus, Germany,

The one thing is for sure – sticking to one formation and one style doesn’t work in a game, in a season, or in a tournament.

We have a great book to help you practice successful high-speed transition: Competitive Pro Fast Break Soccer Practice Plans & Drills