Football Tactics 101

1 year ago

Tactics and systems used in football have varied over the years and coaches have different opinions about how best to set up a team.

Parking the Bus

Someone like Jose Mourinho takes quite a defensive approach to the game by challenging opponents to find a way past his massed ranks of defenders.

The so-called ‘parking the bus’ method is not easy on the eye for spectators and is can be energy-sapping for the defence. When utilised correctly though, this method can be effective and is notoriously tough to break down.

The Manchester United manager tends to employ this method away from home against the top teams hoping to nick a goal on the break or secure a goalless draw.

Space is at a premium across the width of the 18-yard area and teams are forced to go wide but, with little space in behind the defence, they must resort to ‘hit-and-hope’ crosses that are often dealt with by the defenders.

It is not an unbeatable system, however, and starting the match at 100mph is one counter employed as the theory is that the defence may not be totally settled into the system for the first five to ten minutes and there will be a chance for a sight on goal.

As the match progresses, coaches instruct their wingers and full-backs to hug the touchline when in possession to try and draw out the first line of defenders from their assigned positions.

Patience is key and the ability to keep playing the ball sideways to force the banks of defenders to continually shuffle across is a way of both probing for an opening and wearing out the opposition.

It requires skill to get through a deep-lying defence and can be like a game of chess at times.

False Nine

A team such as Manchester City, or any coached by Pep Guardiola, like to play possession-based football and avoid the long-ball tactics employed by sides with less skillful players.

They have stars both with pace and skill and therefore have options of how to find a route to goal.

One of Guardiola’s methods is to employ a so-called ‘false nine’ – a forward who plays in between the strikers and midfielders to create confusion among defenders.

He used Lionel Messi in such a role while in charge of Barcelona and advised the Argentinian to stay one step behind the target man and pick up the ball in the pockets of space created.

This gives the option of playing little ‘triangles’ in or around the edge of the box, with the hope of gaining a clear sight of goal for Messi to unleash his rapier-like shot into the back of the bet.

That tactic has been used more on the continent than in England where the pace of the game does not always lend itself to such stealth.
Deep-Lying Midfielder

Another tactic which seems to have gone out of vogue to a certain extent is the use of a deep-lying midfield playmaker to pick out the runs of the forwards or wide men.

Italian Andrea Pirlo, who has now hung up his boots, was a master of the art. He was able to bring one of his players into the game and cut out four or five defenders with one 40-yard pass.

An English equivalent would be Manchester United’s Michael Carrick, who had the ability to control a game from around the centre circle.


Route One

A tactic that is very much still used today is the long ball or ‘route one’ as it is sometimes called.

Teams such as Stoke City or West Brom were famed for it although both do now try to get the ball down more.

The route one tactic can still be seen by many teams towards the end of a match if they are desperate for a goal. It involves getting as many players in and around the penalty area as possible before hitting the ball towards the target man.

This is often done in a diagonal direction to create an angle to flick the ball on for a runner to latch on to. With so many bodies in such a small space, it is inevitable that any goal scored in this situation has an element of luck attached.

There are different ways to defend as well as attack and this is where the coaching staff can really earn their money as tactics should be used to stifle the opposition threat.


High Defensive Line

Employing a high defensive line serves to limit the space in the opposition half. The forward players press the defenders and never let them settle on the ball.

The hope here is to regain position in as little time as possible in order launch another attack.

This does have risks as it leaves a lot of space behind the last defender and should be used with caution if your opponents are blessed with pace in their ranks.

It necessitates the goalkeeper to become a sort of ‘sweeper-keeper’ who must be vigilante and ready to race out of the box and act as another defender to try and cut out a long ball over the top.

Counter Attacking

Finally, it is impossible not to mention the counter-attacking style of football made so famous by Leicester City in their unbelievable title-winning campaign.

The Foxes would be comfortable allowing opposition teams to have the ball for 70% of the match. This was because they were confident in an unbreakable defence and players who could move the ball from one end of the pitch to the other in a matter of seconds.

Quite often, it would be from a defensive corner or free kick that possession would be regained, and they would then be off to the races.

Three passes later and Jamie Vardy would bury the ball in the back of the net with opponents left wondering how on earth they had controlled the game for 90 minutes but ended up losing 1-0.

It requires pace, patience and skill to know exactly when to break and go for the jugular.

It is obvious that there are many ways to play the game of football and every man and his dog is an expert. But, an awareness of the situation and carrying out your specific job on the pitch while being aware of others, will go a long way to bringing success.


Written by Matt Law

Matt Law is a European football writer with an interest in betting and gambling. An avid Manchester United supporter, Matt can regularly be found backing away wins in unlikely circumstances, sometimes with big success.