Football Tactics For Beginners: How to watch Football -Part 1

    How to watch football like an expert? Never try to analyse a game from the team you support live. You get too caught up...
Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

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The Perfect Defensive System # 1

In this new series called The Perfect Defensive System,we invite you the reader to contribute posts on what you think is the best defensive system. So if you think you are better than Jose Mourinho at parking the bus,then send in your contributions to [email protected] Credit to Tom Rumbelow for the idea


Yes, at first sight, it seems extortionate that this guy on the internet can claim to have created the perfect way to organise a defence, and maybe perfect is an overstatement; after all, football is far from a science.  However I like to think through plenty of studying a variety of the greatest teams of the modern era I have created a system that will maximise any team’s chances of success with little regard for budget or squad composition.  Anyhow, let the article do the talking!

Yes it’s a cliché, but it’s one that rings very true to this day, “Strikers win you matches, defenders with you trophies”, so this is an area I put a lot of consideration into when considering tactics.  My defensive ideology here is based heavily upon, perhaps unsurprisingly, two of the most dominant Italian sides since the turn of the millennia.  Firstly, arguably the greatest side of the modern era, the mighty AC Milan of the mid 2000s, led by Carlo Ancelotti they notably lost the infamous 2005 Champions League to Liverpool but that was sandwiched by wins in 2003 and 2007.  Secondly the dominant force in the most recent 3 calcio campaigns, Juventus.  Antonio Conte has led his side to 3 consecutive titles since 2011 and their intriguing use of 3 centre backs in particular caught my eye.  In terms of goalkeeping I have also taken inspiration from a side not quite on the same level but featuring the prototype modern goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris.

Watching this current Juventus side in action has at times had me rather pining over the supremacy of their defensive unit, the concept of 3 at the back has always fascinated me, it allows so much more flexibility in offensive areas I felt that if it could be executed well, it is a must in any team.  Yet it is not easy to execute well as almost all young players are trained to play in a back four.  This was a conundrum to me up until very recently whilst watching some old footage of that great AC Milan side and I decided to combine the two.  Simplistically, the basic layout of the team is a narrow diamond, 4-4-2 shape, an adaptation of the most straightforward tactic there is.  This is another tactic which I’ve always seen so much potential in but never quite been able to grasp the mechanics behind it.  Regardless, the basic idea is that we begin with a back four whilst in a standard or defensive shape and a man sitting in front of the two centre backs; this provides a stable defensive shape with the midfield man covering and hopefully breaking up any attacking moves, nothing revolutionary so far.

However the transition to offence is where this comes into its own.  The defensive midfielder drops back in as a third centre back allowing the other two to split and the full backs to bomb forward and take up positions as wingers in the attack.  This allows there to be sufficient defensive cover on the break without restricting attacking fluidity whilst simultaneously providing defensive stability when out of possession in a familiar system.

The goalkeeper and other midfielders are also integral to this defensive system.  Whilst there are only 3 men in defence, realistically, we are a man down on the ordinary, in order to counteract the potential for rapid breaks creating overlaps and scoring opportunities, we must act pragmatically off the ball.  Notably, the 2 central midfielders must press high, closing down any space to slow any counter attack, ideally allowing the full backs sufficient time to return to their natural positions and resume the solidity of the 4 man defence holding a relatively deep line and instantly the opposition have a unit to break down again.

When the ball does break rapidly though is where the goalkeeper comes in.  Despite the relatively poor performance by Spurs this season, Hugo Lloris has stood out once again as the model goalkeeper for the modern game.  The high line used by first Andre Villas Boas and more recently Tim Sherwood has come under plenty of criticism, but always notable has been the speed and reactions of the French number one, any through ball that passes the defence he’s there.  Obviously not all goalkeepers possess these attributes but there are ways around that issue.  In the offensive phases of play the 3 man defence will inevitably playing a high line in order to limit space in midfield for the opposition and if a quick counter attack does occur, in a perfect world a strong offside trap would prevent too much getting in behind them.  Unfortunately the world of football is very much flawed so obviously strikers will get in behind the defence sometimes.  What we want to avoid is the opposition being able to stroll through on goal under no pressure and knock it in.  So logically we want a sweeper in behind the defence, but we don’t want to waste offensive numbers so the goalkeeper can hence perform dual roles.

 Based on the principle that if a forward gets past the high line, he is highly likely to score, the goalkeeper actually being in his goal only reduces these odds by a small percentage.  My thinking is that having the goalkeeper’s starting position somewhere around the edge of his area gives him the flexibility to drop back into his goal if required whilst also covering any long balls over or through the defensive line, and to me cutting out the danger before it actually arrives in this way is more likely to reduce the chances of conceding in the grand scheme of things, even if on occasion he is lobbed or rounded for a tap in.

This is my idea of the perfect defensive shape in a 4-4-2 diamond and it can be adapted for any other formation theoretically, with relative ease.  Obviously, contrary to my prior claims, no system is perfect, players will make errors, oppositions will figure out ways to counter it, but to me, this combines the defences of two of the great sides, from a country renowned for its fantastic defences.  Obviously, football is a game of opinions and this is merely mine, if anybody has anything to add please feel free to comment!

-Tom Rumbelow

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