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:
- Game management
- Team development
- Player development
- Player recruiting
Using the FC Bayern example chart, let’s review each of the above points:
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.
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.
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.
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.