Tactical Football Trends

Within just the past decade the game has evolved without question. Professional team keep possession for longer periods, with longer passing sequences.  The completion rate of passing is higher. Counter attacking is more influencial in tactics.  More goals are scored from central areas of the field. Teams are able to control game tempo more effectively.  In additional several equipment changes (balls, boots, etc) and playing services have also evolved.
Where does this take us next and how do we develop tactics given these trends?

 

Trends Identified in the Modern Game

Below we discuss some of the more significant trends in modern professional football.

Central Area Penetration

There has been a significant trend in an increased number of goals being scored from central areas of the field.  A 2009 UEFA technical report stated "Approximately one third of open play goals came from central area penetration.”  In Euro 2000, 50% of all the goals scored by France were created from this central area.  However, this isnt suprising given the trend in playing systems of play with more central players (i.e. 4-4-2 box midfield, 4-2-3-1, 4-5-1).

Methods to Penetrate the defensive block

Game Speed (Time on the ball)

Across professional leagues the average ball contact time was appox 2.7 secs.  The number of touches in possession was 2.1.  An increase in one touch passing and more goals being generated from limited touch football.  

How to beat the defensive block

The below numbers shown the trends in how teams are able to break through a defensive block:

Methods to Penetrate the defensive block

Positional Trends

The most noticable individual positional trend of the last decade is the preference of managers to play 'wrong' footed players on opposite flanks so they have a tendency to cut into central areas of the field when in the attacking phase.  Noticable examples of this would be; Messi, Henry,Robben, and Ronaldo.  Also the development of 'free role' players such as Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney with increased adaptability.

Tactical Trends

Possession based strategy has become the forerunner in team tactics.  Teams are employing short passing tactics with more frequent passing and minimal touches.  Counter attacking has become the top topic in the academies at clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea FC, etc.  There is increased variability in the methods used to acheive penetration into the penalty area.  Teams are now employing a holding midfield player to screen the defense and balls into the forwards feet.  There is a focus on immediately setting up defensive blocks with deeper defending lines.  On set plays there has been a shift made towards zonal defending and away from man marking tactics.

Teams have been exploiting the concept of formations with 4 lines, such as the 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-2-1-2 (opposed to the tradictional 3, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, etc).  These formations also allow players the ability to interchange (total football concept) easier with more cover is possession is lost.

Rigid systems of play are disappearing.  Players are given more freedom to interchange.  Players without excellent quality technical ability regardless of position are not considered for selection.  Traditional wingers and playmakers are not part of current systems.  The aerial game has become less of an attacking preference with the movement away from delivery from the wide areas.

Physical Capabilities

Modern players have the aerobic and anaerobic capacity of 25% more than players 15 years ago.  Players are covering greater distances during games and making more sprints than ever before.  Athletisism of players continues to evolve.  With rigorous training programs players have increased agility, speed, strength, acceleration and endurance.

 

Preparing Our Players and Teams for the Future

As coaching staff it is important to be aware of the trends within the game.  As our opponents adapt, so must we.  Future considerations in training programs should be given to at least the following topics:

  • Improved athletisism with well rounded players. 
  • High levels of technical mastery.
  • Adaption to a short passing and possession based style.
  • Need for increased creativity in the final third.
  • Varied tempo matches with teams contolling the pace of the game.
  • Increased individuality and character to beat sophisticated zonal block defenses.
  • Ability to penetrate the penalty area in a variety of ways.
  • Total football concept with rotating and interchangable positions.
  • Preference of teams to adopt counter attacking styles.
  • Defending deep with patience and the ability to defend a lead.
  • Development of tactical astute and intelligent players.