Monday, November 28, 2011

Selecting a soccer system in 11-player soccer

I have spent some time the last year helping out as a soccer coach.
As usual when I engage in any activity I like to delve deep into
the theoretical parts of the activity. My team has played 7-player
soccer this year and is now moving to the 11-player game on a full
soccer field.

So I spent some time analysing the various variants of 11-player soccer.
What I have found is that there really is only 3 players in the modern
soccer theory which has variable positions. The other 8 players are always
there. More or less all variants contain a goalkeeper, 3 defenders, 3 midfielders
(1 central and 2 side midfielders) and at least 1 forward. For a complete listing
of all used formations in classic and modern football see here.

The only exception is the 4-6-0 formation which is highly unusual, but was
used by Jose Mourinho in one of the games against Barcelona last year.

So this actually means that it is fairly easy to transform your play given
that all modern formations have so much in common. It also means that for
a coach like myself at a basic level for 12-15-year old boys one can use some
simple rules to select a system and can use some simple thoughts to adapt his
system according to the team that is on the other side of the field.

The remaining 3 players can be located as defenders, defensive central midfielders,
offensive central midfielder or as forwards. However placing all 3 as forwards
isn't really an option, the 3-3-4 isn't considered a modern formation although
it has been used historically.

So the question is how to wisely select to place the remaining 3 players.
How to place those players is really dependent on a number of things such
as the strength of the team, the types of players that one has at disposal.

Most of the successful teams with strong players add at least 1 more forward
in their formation. The most successful formation that doesn't use any extra
forward use 4-2-3-1, that requires however a team very strong in running and
an exceptionally good forward at the top.

On the level I coach it's good to have at least 2 forwards to have a better
offensive play. Personally I am also very fond of the offensive
central midfielder, this player makes it possible to come 3 players in a
triangle with the offensive midfielder holding the ball with 2 options to
pass in particular in quick turns of the game. If the offensive midfielder
is really good at dribbling it now becomes very hard to defend against these
3 players. This is the case even when the defensive is consisting of 4 defenders.
The offensive midfielder can choose to dribble if the defenders focus on cutting
off his passes and he can pass and create a 1-1 situation if 2 players focus
on stopping his dribbling.

In our first selection we placed the third player as a central defender which
meant that we played 4-4-2 with a diamond formation. Playing against a very
strong team this setup had some weaknesses. The main problem happens when
the side midfielders and the offensive midfielders is attacking and is slow
to return to defend. In this case the defense is formed as 4 defenders and
1 defensive central midfielder. This had the unfortunate cause that although
all defending players were strong players, it was very hard to stop the
offensive team from either doing deep passes or simply running very fast
through the defense.

So to handle this it is clear that another defensive midfielder is needed. In
our team we also have a few good players that fit this role very well, so
clearly this is appropriate for our team.

However the issue is of course, which of the 3 players (forward, offensive
midfielder and an extra central defender) to remove. If we remove the forward
we come up with a 4-4-1-1 formation which in our case would not provide
sufficient attacking force to score sufficient amount of goals. If I remove
the offensive central midfielder I come up with the 4-4-2 system which is very
commonly used on this level in soccer. However this also removes a strong attacking
force and requires very stronger scorer. So the remaining
position to remove is the extra central midfielder. This is clearly an unusual
move, but it will create a more balanced 3-2 formation in quick turns of the
game when the other team attacks us and the side midfielders, offensive central
midfielder and the forwards still haven't made it back to the defense yet.
This formation is called 3-4-1-2 and is used by a number of italian teams.

Although this is clearly a more unusual set-up in Sweden where my team plays
we have found it an interesting formation to try. The reason is that in our team
we have quite a few players that run fast and can take care of the side
defender position and side midfielder position. These players became essential
in this formation since the formation relies on that these players can move
quickly back and forth on the field. I also have strong defensive and offensive
central midfielders. Also strong defenders. However to score our team requires a
team effort for it to happen. So by building my attack play on achieving formations
that are difficult to defend against and by creating numerical advantages on
midfield I can achieve goal scoring through a strong team effort. Many teams rely
on one or a few strong goal scorers and in our case we rather focus on making goals
a team effort.

To make a goals as a team effort requires a proper build-up play through many short and
a number of medium long passes. So we want to maintain ball possession.
So our system of play is targeted towards ball possession in the same manner
as Barcelona to move the ball into a dangerous spot. But our goal scoring
tactics is targeted towards passing the ball quickly to find a player that can
make the last run unattacked or at least in a 1-1 attack.

So as usual the 3-4-1-2 formation has to be adapted in the defensive, build-up
play and offensive. In the defensive position the side midfielders will move
down to become 2 extra defenders, thus turning the formation into 5-2-1-2 or even
5-3-2. Our forwards are part of the defense at least part of the way to aggressively
try to win the ball and possibly one of them can stay up in the last defending
position to ensure that the other team cannot move their defenders too high.
In the offensive position the side midfielders provide much of the attacking force
on the side field, the side defenders can move up a bit when attacking is done on
their side, but given that we play with a 3-player they need to be a bit more
cautious than what they can be in a 4-player defense. So something like a
2-3-3-2 is played in the offensive play or even 2-2-4-2 when we get a strong
possession of the ball.

Given that our system of play requires very careful build-up through many passes
we have focused very hard on the passing competence on all players in our team.
We hope this will bring us much of the ball possession even against strong teams
and this is also a good defense since it slows down those teams that often have
a number of very fast players.