Dortmund win again to keep the pressure on league leaders Bayern

Having scored 17 goals in their last 3 games, BVB Dortmund were looking to continue the momentum as they looked to exert pressure on table toppers Bayern who have maintained a 100% record this season. Dortmund’s performance was far from clinical but goals from Aubameyang, Piszczek and Guerreiro ensured all 3 points for the hosts. 



Keeping in mind their Champions League fixture on Tuesday vs Real Madrid, Tuchel decided to rest some players for the game. Guerreiro who has shown to be an important part of Tuchel’s plans this season was kept on the bench. Rode and Marc Bartra were also rested. 

Freiburg’s high press disrupt Dortmund’s build up play

Freiburg started the match with a very aggressive manner by looking to press Dortmund’s build up from the back. With Bartra unavailable for the match, they looked to exploit Ginter’s lack of ball playing skills. Due to the high press, Freiburg forced Dortmund into errors and had some good scoring chances in the first 20 minutes. With an asymmetrical 4-3-3/4-4-2 shape with clear man orientations while pressing, they made ball progression for Dortmund difficult in the first 20 minutes. 

Other than the high pressing, Dortmund’s failure to move the ball into advanced areas was also due to poor access between Weigl and the CMs in Götze and Castro. Götze and Castro were well covered by efficient use of cover shadows by the Freiburg midfielders. 

Weigl could also have positioned himself better in the build up phases. He would position himself in front of the first line of Freiburg pressure. This meant he could not turn and face forward. Ideally he should have positioned himself behind the first wave of Freiburg pressure. This would have been more favourable for Dortmund’s build up. However, his positioning could also have been a ploy by Tuchel to ensure that the opposition cannot exploit Ginter’s poor distribution. By deploying Weigl in front of the first line of opponent pressure, Tuchel ensured that there was more space and time for Ginter to carefully progress play forward. 

Weigl dropping deep into the defensive line during build up attracted Freiburg’s strikers towards him. This enabled Ginter to find more space to calculate his next pass. However, this also meant that Weigl could not be used in progressing the ball from midfield to attack which would have been better for Dortmund.

Ideally this was a better scenario for Dortmund. Weigl just behind the first line of opponent defense enables Dortmund to attack better through the central areas. Also, building through the centre offers greater passing angles compared to wider areas.

Dortmund dominate the late stages of the first half

As SC Freiburg’s pressing decreased after the initial 20 minute burst, Dortmund started making inroads into Freiburg’s half. As always, Dortmund looked to create a 3 chain during the build up with Sokratis, Ginter and Piszczek. With this chain of 3, they looked to get the ball to their dynamic wingers in Emre Mor and Ousmane Dembele. Both wingers however had different functions. Emre Mor functioned like an inverted winger who looked to cut inside from the touchline when he received the ball. To help him do so, Castro would make an advanced run into the channel between the near-side fullback and centre back of SC Freiburg. Castro’s advanced runs meant that he also dragged Freiburg’s CM with him to open up the halfspace for Mor. This helped Mor use the space to get shots in or free other players with diagonal passes. 

Castro making a run between the opposition fullback and centreback. This drags the CM marking him into the backline.

By dragging the CM along with him, this makes space in the centre for Emre Mor to run into.

Dembele on the other hand was given more freedom to vary his runs. The balancing movements were mostly provided by the likes of Götze and Schmelzer. Götze, unlike Castro, did not make advanced runs but looked to keep the ball circulation going by spraying passes around from deeper areas and switching play to underloaded areas in the final third when the situation arose. He even drifted wide when Dembele moved into the half space. Schmelzer also used his intelligence to stabilise Dortmund’s build up and complement Dembele’s runs once the build up was successful. Dembele was lively throughout the game as he attacked the touchline and got crosses in, made inside runs to get shots in on goal and even set up the opener for Aubameyang. 
Götze and Castro occupied wider positions than expected from central midfielders. This worked well for Dortmund as they managed to create overloads in wide areas in an attempt to find the runs of Aubameyang from those areas. This was similar to the triple width system (explained by Istvan Beregi) which Guardiola used at Bayern against teams which used the high press against their stable build up from the back. The passmap below by elftegenelf highlights this:

Gonzalo Castro and Götze occupied wider positions to ensure that Dortmund can bypass Freiburg’s press. They tried to combine in wide areas with their respective near-side wingers in Mor and Dembele.

Good counterpress from Dortmund

As always, Dortmund had a good counterpressing structure for most part of the game. This meant that after one successful build up from the back, they could keep the opponent under pressure inside their own half for long periods. The superior counterpressing structure also enabled them to launch wave after wave of attacks. Due to good staggering while in possession, BVB Dortmund could establish good coverage across the pitch which facilitated their counterpressing as soon as they lost possession. 

However, after scoring the second goal, the pressing levels of BVB dropped which enabled Freiburg to get into the game. It was a late strike from substitute Raphael Guerreiro which sealed all 3 points for the hosts.


Tuchel finally seems to have found the much needed balance in his squad to get the desired results. Having struggled in the first two games, the addition of Guerreiro in central midfield seems to be the most refreshing change in his squad. Guerreiro has been very intelligent in his movements providing stability to Dortmund’s structure. Götze is also gradually settling in. With good depth and mixture of youth and experience in his squad, Tuchel can hope for some silverware if BVB maintain consistency in their performances.

Match analysis

Klopp comes out on Top vs Conte

In a clash between two of this season’s title contenders, Klopp’s Liverpool ended Antonio Conte’s 30 match unbeaten home league record. The Reds were impressive and dominated proceedings for majority of the game which culminated in a 2-1 win. 


Chelsea: Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Luis, Azpilicueta; Kante, Matic, Oscar; Hazard, Willian, Costa

Liverpool: Mignolet;Clyne, Matip,Lovren,Milner;Henderson, Wijnaldum, Lallana;Coutinho, Sturridge, Mane.

Both teams lineup in a 4-3-3 type of shape.

Improved play in possession leads to a dominant game for Liverpool

Having struggled with issues in the possession phase against most teams last season, it seems Liverpool are doing some good work on the training ground. The efforts of their training can be seen on the pitch as they look better both structurally and functionally. Fluid passing with good positional play between the lines leads to a smooth transition from the attacking transition to the attacking organisation phase. Liverpool were very good in getting the ball into players like Coutinho, Sturridge and Mane who excel in playing between the lines. Coutinho and Mane, in particular, have good press resistance which makes them effective in playing between the lines. Another advantage of players being positioned between the opposition lines is that it allows them to exploit the blind side ( read this article by Judah Davies to know more about it) of the opponent midfielders. However, Liverpool have a serious liability in build up phases because of Mignolet’s flawed technique with his feet. There were often times when the Liverpool CBs were pressed by Chelsea. To escape pressure, the CBs had to pass the ball back to Mignolet. Mignolet being the free man should have opened up the field by his body posture but a closed body shape when receiving meant he had no option but to pass it back into the area of pressure putting his CBs in a similar position again. Karius coming into the team may solve this.

Chelsea pressing the back line of Liverpool. Lovren tries to avoid the press by passing to Mignolet. Mignolet has an open passing lane towards Clyne. He could have opened up the field with a good body position when receiving the pass.

Mignolet’s poor body position when receiving means that he cannot pass the ball to free man Clyne. As a result, he has no option but to pass to Lovren again leading to another wave of Chelsea pressure

Chelsea used a position-oriented zonal marking system which was particularly visible in the area in front of their own penalty box. The main aim of position-oriented zonal marking is to preserve horizontal and vertical compactness at all times. This involved one of the two lines moving close to the other to reduce the space between the lines for the Liverpool players to exploit. To exploit this position-oriented zonal marking system, Liverpool used quick local combinations which aimed at attacking the spaces left behind the line which moved to reduce the space between the two lines. If this was successful, it enabled the likes of Coutinho and Mane to find the runners from deep (Wijnaldum and Lallana) to use their pace to run into the vacant spaces leading to potential 1 v 1 situations. 

Liverpool’s intelligent positioning between the lines. Such positioning ensures pockets of space for the likes of Coutinho to receive the ball in threatening areas. As Chelsea use a space-oriented zonal marking system, a CB (Cahill in this case) steps out of the back line to compress the space available for Coutinho to receive the ball in. Coutinho realises this and tries to solve this problem by trying to find the runs of Lallana or Sturridge who intelligently run into the space vacated by Cahill. Such combinations in the final third can often expose such defensive systems.

Another trend which was noticeable in Liverpool’s build up was the high positions taken up by Milner and Clyne in advanced stages of build up. Because of their high positions, they attracted the likes of Willian into Chelsea’s backline forming a situational back 5 which meant that the halfspaces were free for Henderson and the Liverpool CBs to utilise. Henderson had one of his best games as he was impressive with his distribution. His quick and intricate passing enabled Mane and Coutinho to receive the ball in pockets of space on the blind side of Chelsea’s midfielders. 

The high positioning of Milner makes Willian fall back into Chelsea’s back line forming a situational back 5. This resulted in space for Wijnaldum in the halfspace(circled area).

Chelsea: overreliance on wings and Hazard’s brilliance

One of the major flaws in Chelsea’s game is that they tend to be very one dimensional in their attacks. With the main attacking firepower resting on the wingers, Conte usually looks to get them on the ball. After that, almost everything depends on the individual brilliance of Hazard and Willian to make things click. Thus, most teams try to put two men on those two players. Usually that is enough to shut out Chelsea’s game. Because neither Matic nor Kante are good enough for final third play. Oscar is good on his day but is inconsistent when it comes to putting in 7/10 performances on a regular basis. Fabregas is the player Chelsea need at the moment to bring that incisiveness in the final third from central areas. The Spaniard’s vision will come in handy in central areas which are often left exposed when the opposition remain preoccupied with Hazard. However, Conte does not seem to trust him due to his lack of defensive work rate.  

Thus it was no surprise to see Chelsea going wide early in the buildup. Courtois from deeper areas would often look to pick out Hazard and Willian in the wide areas with an aerial pass. Aerial passes take time to reach the target. This gives time to the opposition to close down the receiver before the latter can control it. With Liverpool’s intense pressing, it was often difficult for Willian and Hazard to control such aerial passes as they were quickly closed down by Milner and Clyne. 

Chelsea’s passmap clearly shows their overemphasis on wide areas. (Thanks to


However, late in the game, as Liverpool’s pressing diminished , Hazard started getting more space to create some good attacks for Chelsea. One such spell of pressure led to Chelsea’s goal. 

Liverpool’s pressing 

No Liverpool analysis can be complete without talking about the gegenpressing. Gegenpressing is the trademark of Klopp’s teams and Liverpool are no exception to this. There was a ball-oriented pressing movement from Liverpool’s front 3 which aimed to create local compactness around the ball carrier so that he could not come out of it. The fullbacks moved up high towards the opponent fullbacks in Azpilicueta and Ivanovic. This further strengthened their pressing structure which left Chelsea’s ball carrier with fewer options to pass towards the wing. Without quality players in central areas, Chelsea could not do much to trouble Liverpool centrally. Moreover, attacking the centre was not part of Chelsea’s gameplan. So this played into Liverpool’s hands. This was validated by the fact that Conte brought on two wingers in Moses and Pedro late on in the game instead of changing the plan of attack. This one-dimensional nature of attack eventually meant defeat for Chelsea.

Chelsea’s passive approach in defending
Chelsea did not display the same amount of urgency in pressing like Liverpool. Their pressing was largely determined by few triggers. One such trigger was underweighed passes which lacked speed. Another trigger was poor body position when receiving(Mignolet suffered throughout because of this). Such triggers when recognised by the ball-near midfielder , led to aggressive attempts by the player to win the ball. Other than these triggers, Chelsea were patient in their approach while defending. They were relying on Liverpool making mistakes in circulation.


“I hate to lose, but for one or two days I suffer a lot after a defeat.”- Conte

Chelsea, after a strong start, are starting to drop points. With 1 point out of a possible 6 from the last two games, Conte will not be the happiest man alive. He will be looking to set things right sooner than later. The addition of Fabregas may bring variety to their currently stale gameplay. 

Klopp, on the other hand, was visibly pleased after the game. 

The beginning was brilliant from my side. We played football like hell!”— Klopp

The movement in the last two matches would have pleased Klopp. However, they need to put in such performances on a regular basis to have a serious shot at the Premier League title.

Match analysis

Feyenoord make it 5 out of 5 as they look to upset Manchester United

Feyenoord ensured a morale boosting win at home against ADO Den Haag in the Eredivisie. The win means Giovanni Bronckhorst’s boys sit on top of the Eredivisie table. 


Team lineups . Red team=Feyenoord Blue=ADO Den Haag

Use of the wings as the main source of chance creation

There was a clear pattern in Feyenoord’s build up. In ADO Den Haag, they had a team who were prepared to play most of the game without the ball. This meant Feyenoord would see a lot of possession (66%) throughout the game. Without needle players who can trouble opposition defenses through the middle, it was not surprising to see Feyenoord use the wings as the main source of chance creation. Moreover, the inclusion of players like Vilhena in midfield justified this strategy. Vilhena is a player who is more comfortable drifting wide from central areas as opposed to moving towards goal. 

To create width, Feyenoord used some movements throughout the game to create space for crosses into the centre for target man Jorgensen and 37 year old veteran Dirk Kuyt to attack. In the left side, they looked to create triangles throughout the game. At all times, regardless of the players occupying such spaces, they ensured that a triangle was formed in the left flank and left halfspace. This attracted the ADO Den Haag defenders to that side which would create gaps  between their back 4 during shifting for Kuyt and Jorgensen to exploit. They tried this throughout the first half. It ultimately led to the first goal with a clever run by Kuyt ending one of such moves with a sleek finish. 

Feyenoord looked to create triangles in the left flank with the LB Woudenberg,LW Toornstra and LCM Vilhena all drifting wide to create overloads in the left halfspace and left wing. This attracted the LCB and LB of ADO Den Haag creating a slight gap in the backline for Kuyt to squeeze through and eventually score from the resulting cross

On the right flank, Berghuis was more direct and looked to use his diagonal dribbling to cut inside and put in inswinging crosses for the strikers. To ensure width, RB would take up a high position early in the buildup. This ensured a situation of numerical superiority or equality at all times giving Berghuis the much needed freedom to isolate the defenders marking him. 

Since the wings are not favourable in terms of passing angles available to the player in possession, Kuyt or Jorgensen often tried to nullify this by providing an extra passing option to the wide player when there was a possibility of the former losing possession. One of Jorgensen or Kuyt would then drift wide to engage the fullback and near sided CB to make more space for the wide man on the ball. At times, they try to link with each other with 1-2 combinations. 


Feyenoord’s waves of attack pushed ADO Den Haag into their own box. A superior structure compared to the visitors ensured that there were not much chances of counter attack. However, the game became open in the second half as Feyenoord pushed more men forward to score more goals. There is usually not much of a problem with men moving forward as long as there is good staggering in the team structure. However without proper staggering, opponents could exploit their weakened structure by bypassing the pressing efforts with one or two passes. This led to some chances on the break in the second half for the visitors. 

However, in the defensive organisation phase, Feyenoord were not tested much because of the inferior quality of opponents. It will be interesting to see how Feyenoord set up against Manchester United in their Europa League clash on Thursday. 


Having won all 5 of their league games, Feyenoord will look to continue their winning streak in the Europa League as well. However, odds against them are much higher as they face one of the favourites for the competition in Manchester United. With better defensive performances, there is no reason why they cannot beat Manchester United. Dirk Kuyt will be key in their encounter with his huge experience coming in handy for an otherwise inexperienced side.

Match analysis

Unai Emery facing serious issues as PSG slip up again

Having lost their previous game against AS Monaco, the pressure was mounting on newly apponted PSG manager Unai Emery to get his side’s campaign back on track. He looked set to get all 3 points till a late strike ensured share of the spoils.


Paris Saint Germain lined up in their 4-3-3 formation which they used to such good effect last season. However, the absences of Cavani and Di Maria from the starting XI was a surprise. It was mainly due to a lack of match fitness due to the two players being heavily involved in international duties for their respective teams. Thiago Motta was deployed in the deep lying playmaker role with Verratti and Matuidi ahead of him to structure the attack better with their efficiency in ball-carrying traits. The front 3 included Moura and new signings Jesé and Harem Ben Arfa. 

Too many men behind the ball in build up hamper PSG’s build up

Looking at the front 3 before the game started, one would have expected a lot of chances for PSG due to the dynamism the front 3 of Ben Arfa, Jesé and Lucas Moura offer. These 3 are very mobile and effective players at switching positions which could have opened up a lot of spaces behind Saint Etienne’s back line. However, PSG struggled to create clear chances for the vast majority of the first half. Saint Etienne employed a bold approach as they looked to suffocate PSG in their deep build up by deploying a high line in a 3-5-1-1 formation to reduce the amount of space available for PSG to exploit between the lines. This ploy was successful as they managed to stop PSG from penetrating their block through the centre. It also forced PSG’s front 3 to drop deep which reduced their chances of penetration.

However,PSG had themselves to blame for struggling throughout the first half. It was common to see the players from the forward and midfield line dropping into the spaces in front of the opponent’s second line. This dropping movement is not a problem as long as it is balanced by another player moving into advanced areas. When this is not done as happened in PSG’s case,it leads to a lack of penetration. In the first half, too many players dropped deep for PSG which led to a lack of connectivity into the final third of the pitch. Without such connectivity PSG were compelled to pass in less dangerous areas in their own half without doing much to disrupt the opponent shape. Verratti with his immense pressing resistance did well to move the ball into final third in the absence of such connectivity. Once Verratti moved the ball into the final third, the movements of Ben Arfa ,Moura and Jese came in handy. Such movements combined with Verratti’s great vision led to a save from Etienne goalkeeper after good movement from Ben Arfa through the channels. 

PSG with build up issues. There is a serious lack of presence between the lines leading to a lack of connectivity towards the final third. This made penetration difficult.

However with many players dropping deep, it is possible to create large gaps between the opponent lines by provoking an opponent press. This disrupts the vertical compactness of the opposition. However, once this has been done, it is necessary for players to get into the spaces created as a result of the opponent press. PSG did well getting the opponents to press them but lacked the movements necessary to exploit the created spaces. (See this article by Judah Davies on Napoli. Jorginho excels in provoking opponent pressure by receiving with a closed body shape. Napoli exploit the created spaces by getting men between the opponent lines). 

Moreover, the absence of a target man like Cavani up front meant that PSG did not have a plan B if their build up failed. PSG were reluctant to use the wings in the first half maybe due to the absence of a target man up front to convert directly from crosses. However, this was a flawed policy because it made their attacking strategy predictable and easy to defend against. Crosses offer a unique way of destabilising a stubborn defense. Once a cross is delivered, it is attacked by the defenders of the opposition team. After clearing the cross, the defenders are not in the best position to defend another attack resulting from winning the second ball. This creates a small time frame for the attacking team to exploit the temporarily unstable  opposition defense. PSG unfortunately were too reliant on attacking through the centre against a packed midfield of Saint Etienne which was always going to be difficult. 

Improved attacking play in the second half

Injury to LB Layvin Kurzawa meant Kimpembe had to slot in there. Motta took his place as a CB alongside Marquinhos with Krychowiak coming in for Kurzawa from the bench. PSG started the second half much better. This was due to greater synchronization in the movements of the forwards and midfielders. Compared to the first half in which there were too many players behind the ball, PSG took up better positions as there were more players behind Etienne’s midfield. This led to better penetration when the deeper players managed to find them with passes. Verratti, in particular, looked to pick out Matuidi’s deep runs with surprise aerial balls against Etienne’s high line. This paid off with Matuidi winning the penalty for PSG’s first goal. The addition of Di Maria added variety to PSG’s attacks. The pacy Argentine adds directness to PSG’s attacks which was useful as gaps opened up in Etienne’s structure. To spice things up further, the addition of Cavani added the targetman which PSG lacked in the first half. The Uruguayan striker is good at bringing runners into play. His presence also meant more space for the likes of Verratti, Krychowiak and Matuidi in midfield. PSG’s circulation improved as a result. However, they failed to see out the game as a late goal against the run of play cost them 2 points.

PSG’s changes in the second half led to better attacking chances in the second half. Cavani added depth to PSG’s game which pushed Saint Etienne’s centre backs behind creating more space in midfield for PSG’s midfielders. Di Maria’s directness and runs-in behind the opposition back line also pushed Saint Etienne’s CBs behind. Moreover, there was greater presence between the lines after half time leading to better penetration. However, poor finishing meant they could not kill the game off.

Transition issues

PSG looked to build up through the central areas. Etienne were well organised in the central areas. This meant that PSG were vulnerable to losing possession in deeper areas. It was a cause of concern in some occasions as Saint Etienne could exploit the gaps PSG’s fullbacks left in the build up phase. This led to some chances for them which should have been converted. However, due to 62% possession in favour of PSG, chances were few for St Etienne. 


With Arsenal to play against in the Champions League in midweek, PSG need to make sure they sort out their issues soon. PSG will be boosted by the return of ball playing centre back Thiago Silva. His distribution will ensure that PSG’s midfielders can push up more into the attacking third. However, without sorting out their positional issues, PSG will struggle to get the right result against Arsenal. Only time will tell if Unai Emery is good enough to handle their issues after a rocky start.

Tactical theory

Pressing Resistance: the new tactical buzzword

Regarded as one of the antidotes to Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing, pressing resistance is the new tactical buzzword that has been doing the rounds in football discussions across twitter. From the average fan to pundits alike, the term is becoming a part of common football terminology as the seasons come and go. Thus, it is no surprise that huge amount of money is being paid to get such players in the transfer market. In this article, I will try to analyze what goes into the making of a press resistant player. 

Press resistance: what does it mean?

The term press resistance is self explanatory, ie, the ability to resist high pressure from the opposition when in possession. This requires skill to retain the ball in tight spaces. 

“If you have the ball you must make the field as big as possible, and if you don’t have the ball you must make it as small as possible.” –Johan Cruyff 

As Cruyff points out, when teams do not have the ball, they often resort to making the pitch small for the opposition players to play in by 

  • Using a high defensive line. 
  • Being compact as a unit with very less space between the lines. 
  • Applying high pressure in the opponent half.

This decreases the time period for the player on the ball to make his next move successfully. As a result, most players tend to lose possession when facing such pressure. However the rare few who stand out manage to evade such pressure on a consistent basis. This enables them to pull their team out from a pressure situation in their own half to a dominant situation in the opposition half in a matter of seconds. The players who manage to do this form the basis of this article,ie, the ‘press resistant’ players.

The need of the hour?

“I want players who can make decisive moves in small spaces”

-– Johan Cruyff

Cruyff was arguably the greatest thinker football has ever known. Both as a player and a coach, he incorporated a style of play in his teams which inspired generations of coaches even years after he took a break from football. This quote exemplifies how much he valued press-resistant players. He was well aware that a team will always face situations in a game when the players are not best placed positionally. It is in these moments that a press resistant player will take them out of pressure and orchestrate the next move. Pep Guardiola would do this for Cruyff in his dream team. Today, a bunch of players fit this criteria across various leagues, Busquets in La Liga, Julian Weigl and Thiago Alcantara in the Bundesliga, Leandro Paredes in Italian Serie A, Marco Verratti in Ligue 1 and Paul Pogba in the Premier League to name a few. 

There are four phases in the game shown below:

Four phases of the game (image courtesy 

Adin Osmanbasic)

It is in the offensive transition phase(transition from defense to attack) that the likes of Busquets,Pogba, Verratti, Modric and the others in the list of press-resistant players make a significant difference that makes them invaluable to their respective teams. It is in these vulnerable moments when no side seems to be in any real control of the game that their actions ,maybe a small body feint, maybe a slight flick, maybe a simple-looking pass, put their teams in a dominant situation. In football terms, their action in that transition moment changes the phase of the game from one of offensive transition to that of offensive organisation. That one bit of brilliance which seldom gets recorded in the statistics section which enables their team to reach the final third from a vulnerable position near their own penalty box. This is what makes them special. This is what makes them worth all the cash clubs are ready to pay for their services. 

These players provide a plan B when teams fail to build up properly using the patterns they prepare before a game. When the patterns fail, it is these special breed of players who can take matters into their own hands(feet in this case) and drive into the opposition half. Real Madrid for example are a club who struggle when it comes to building up play from their backline. It is players like Modric and Kroos who often drop deep to ensure that they can advance play from their own half. Both of them make the best decisions in the smallest amount of spaces. While Modric excels in quick combinations before accelerating into open space in front of him, Kroos relies on his passes and subtle changes in his body posture to make the best decisions in areas of the field where most players panic. If Real Madrid ever have to go into a game without either of these two in their XI, one can be sure they will struggle to create the amount of chances that they normally do in a game. 

See the video below to see what they offer Real Madrid. (Thanks to analyst Istvan Beregi for uploading these clips)

Toni Kroos 

Types of press resistance

If one were to classify press resistance, there would be two types: 

  1. Collective press resistance: This mainly deals with the overall team structure during the moment of transition. It is mainly concerned with generating overloads which make it easier for the team in possession to retain the ball and progress play to the final third. The overloads, if used appropriately make it possible. Bayern and Borussia Dortmund in the season 2015-16 were the best teams I have watched when I think of a strong collective structure. Here is an example from analyst Istvan yet again. You can go through his twitter account to get more such videos. 
  2. Individual pressing resistance: This is what we are concerned with in this article. Read on to know more.

The good versus the great

What is it that defines greatness on a football field? Is it the winning goal in a World Cup final? Is it the assist that led to a late winner in a World Cup final? Is it the save that stopped a certain goal late in a World Cup final to take the match to penalties and eventually win it? Or is it the pass that preceded the assist in the winning goal? Ask any football fan or analyst about the scorer of the winning goal in the World Cup final and he will answer it spontaneously. Then ask him to name the player who assisted the winning goal and it is likely that he may fumble before giving the answer. Next ask him to name the one who assisted the assister(seems like a tongue twister,right? ) and it is highly likely he won’t be able to give that answer. What exactly does this highlight? Not enough value is given to the good work done before the 2-3 actions that eventually lead to a goal. This leads to undermining the work the press resistant players do few seconds before the assist that creates the goal. Such actions go unnoticed because goals are what people come to watch football for. In a way,it’s understandable as the quote below shows:

“That is what makes football special, and what makes football what it is. It takes so much effort to score that each goal is celebrated that little bit more joyously. Any one goal,at any time in the game, can be the difference between delight and despair. The goal is football’s beauty and she is a rare and reluctant beauty indeed.” — quote from The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally.

So one cannot blame the fans for neglecting those little aspects which happen 5-6 seconds prior to the goal, the actions that play a pivotal role in the goal itself. 

So, it is no surprise that you will never see the likes of Pirlo, Xavi, Busquets, Modric or Kroos winning the Ballon D’ Or. Cruyff used to call the Ballon D’ Or a ‘media circus’. But there is something that these players do on a football field which is gaining lot of popularity across social media and post match discussions nowadays. The work they do is dominating the field of football analysis. They have some peculiar traits which separate them from average players. This is what I will look at in the following sections.

What makes a press resistant player?

1. Checking shoulders and taking in lots     of input in a short span of time                                                                                             This is a trait which is common among the players who excel in bringing the ball out from deep situations. Xavi is probably the best example of this type of player. Within a fraction of seconds, he is able to take in a lot of input about the game scenario just by checking his shoulders. By gazing over his shoulder, he makes sure that at all times he knows where the spaces are that can be exploited. He also takes into account the positioning of his teammates (he even knew where his teammates would be a few seconds after he received the ball) and his opponents. This is what made him one of the best players to control a game. His ability to take in so much input in a fraction of milliseconds is what made Xavi one of the best press resistant players.  The quote below perfectly defines him. 

“Xavi laid down a style for the national team and marked an era. He was an expert at moving the ball on with one or two touches but when he had to hold on to it, he did that too. When it came to dictating the pace of a game, studying matches, he was a maestro. Teams would drop deep and wait and he would always find the solution, patiently. In 10 minutes, he knew the team in front of him perfectly. He was a leader.” — Vicente Del Bosque

2. Ability to see the bigger picture(and       game intelligence)
When one watches players like Sergio Busquets, it seems that they have eyes at the back of their head and more time compared to other teammates. It makes one wonder what is it they have that the others don’t? There is no answer as simple as the one I am going to give you now. They have an incredible amount of game intelligence. They know exactly what the manager wants from the team. Every movement they make, every pass they make is an attempt to make sure that their team is able to create a favourable scenario to score. Busquets is a player who comes to mind immediately when it comes to manipulating opponents with his body movements. He is a master at disguised passes. Busquets often positions his body in such a way that makes it seem that he is going to pass to a wide player. As a result, the opposition winger tries to prepare for the pass to Barcelona’s wide man by drifting sideways. This slight movement from the winger is enough for Busquets to thread a pass through to a player like Messi between the opposition lines.  WM formation on twitter can give you a collection of such videos. Scroll through his account to see more game clips of Busquets’ game intelligence. 

Busquets pretending to pass to RB Sergi Roberto. His body position acts as a trigger for the opposition winger to close down Sergi Roberto. This also forces the near side CM to cover for the winger who has drifted wide. Passing lane between Messi and Busquets opens up as a result of this.

Busquets passing to Messi through the lane he opened up with his clever disguise.

3. Body position when receiving

This is the technical aspect which separates the average players from the rest. The best press resistant players need fewer touches to open up the whole field to make their next move while the others struggle. The small details like receiving on the back foot or the foot which is further away from the player marking him,a low centre of gravity and ability to shield the ball effectively play a big part in a player’s ability to evade pressure. Toni Kroos of Real Madrid is one of the best players to watch when it comes to body position while receiving. The way he uses his body to shield the ball is also something that must be taught to young players at an early age. It is no surprise that he hardly loses the ball in a game. Playing usually in the halfspaces, unless there is an opponent coming to pressurise him from his blind side, he always takes the touch on his farthest foot(right foot if he is playing in the left halfspace and vice versa). This enables him to switch flanks easily while also giving him the opportunity to play on the near side if the situation demands. On the other hand, if the opponent approaches him from the blind side, he receives the ball on the other foot while using his body to keep the ball away from the player marking him. Such small details go a long way in deciding the flow of a game. Thus, it is no surprise that Kroos is so highly rated. The basics look simple but hard to execute under pressure.Kroos(see the video that I shared earlier again) does it time and time again which makes him a great player. 

Another point to note is that some teams use poor body position as a pressing trigger. Once they see a player receiving with his back to goal in his own half, they exert a huge deal of pressure which makes it difficult for the receiving player to retain possession. This has been mentioned in this article by Judah Davies.

4.Ability to combine in small spaces and progress upfield through those small spaces

If you have to use just one criteria to include a player into the category of press resistance, then this is the criteria you should use,ie, combining in tight spaces to advance play forward. Two players I can think of who do this on a consistent basis are Marco Verratti and Luka Modric. They have a very low centre of gravity(Modric and Verratti helped by their small frame) which helps them in tight situations. They attract 2-3 opponents towards them which frees up space for their teammates. Normally it is difficult for ordinary players to withstand such pressure without losing possession. However, the skillsets(superior ball-carrying attributes, perfect weight on their passing) of these three players enables them to come out of such situations and create dangerous chances for their respective teams. In this excellent analysis of Luka Modric (by Tristan Thomas), we see how pivotal a role he plays in offensive organisation phases for Real Madrid. Because of weak positional structure(see the analysis again and observe the lack of Real Madrid players between the opposition lines), Modric is often faced with lack of progressive passing options. He is then forced to take the initiative in dribbling the ball into the final third. With his dribbling and quick 1-2s he is able to create avenues for progressing the ball upfield which is otherwise not possible with Madrid’s poor positional structure.This makes him an irreplaceable member of the Real Madrid team. Without him, they seriously struggle in build up. Modric committing his future to Real Madrid should come as a relief to his coach and fans alike. 

Marco Verratti is also a similar type of player. However unlike Modric, he enjoys a good positional structure around him which means he does not have to initiate attacks on his own. One or two decisive turns in areas where he is surrounded by opponents followed by a pass to a free man like Di Maria or Matuidi preferably between the lines is enough to help his team launch attacks. Like Modric, he adds a great deal of balance to the PSG side. In his absence, PSG got knocked out of the Champions League against a side they should have beaten had Verratti been fit. However, fate had other plans as a late Kevin De Bruyne winner in the second leg was enough to knock them out. 

This is the type of situation Verratti finds himself in during some games. He attracts three players towards him and unlike most players has the skills to beat them and release others with a pass.

Watch Verratti wriggle his way out of such situations without the slightest bit of discomfort. Such situations go unnoticed in the game due to the beauty of some goals PSG manage to score. The maker of the video has done a good job compiling the clips.

5. The art of diagonal dribbling

This is an aspect which is seldom brought up in post-match football discussions. When Messi beats 3-4 players enroute to a goal, there is something about the mechanics of his movements with the ball that enables him to gain so much ground with the ball,something which is rarely brought up by pundits after a game. However thanks to Spielverlagerung analyst Tom Payne, people now have access to the uniqueness in Messi’s dribbling. What makes it successful is the diagonal nature of his dribbling. Diagonal dribbling is useful because it enables a player to bypass defenders without actually having to confront them. Moreover, by dribbling diagonally, it is possible for a player to shift from a packed zone of opponent defenders to a zone where the defensive structure is weak;all this being done without actually beating all the defenders (watch David Silva in the build up to this goal) in the packed zone. Thus, diagonal dribbling can lead to overloads in an underloaded area if it becomes successful. The free man due to the overload created can be decisive in the final outcome of the attack.

Picture taken from Tom Payne’s excellent analysis on 

Borussia Dortmund

Picture from the analysis on

Borussia Dortmund. Another feature Tom Payne talks about in his article is how diagonal dribbling can completely demolish a team that relies on man orientations during defensive phases. Diagonal dribbling, if successful can lead to a free man who can then create dangerous situations up front. Gündogan was effective last season for Borussia Dortmund because he offered them an alternative route when building up from deeper areas due to his diagonal dribbling skills. He is one of the best box to box midfielders when fit and this partly explains the reason why Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was so keen on getting him. It is in games where Manchester City will face a high press (namely Liverpool and Tottenham) this season that Gündogan may well be the key for them. These teams are likely to trouble Manchester City’s passing game by suffocating them in the build up phase. Guardiola will look to get his team to bypass that press and get the ball circulating behind their opponents’ midfield line to get players like Silva and Agüero in dangerous positions. Gündogan will come in handy because of the amazing level of press resistance he possesses. Below is a scenario which Man City may encounter against teams like Liverpool this season.

Probable scenario when Liverpool and Man City go head to head this season. Liverpool trying to disrupt Man City’s build up with a high pressing game. Stones being the free man has the ball and he tries to find Gündogan with a simple pass. Gündogan drops deep to help the build up and is closely followed by Coutinho.

Gündogan uses his skills and gets past Coutinho. He now has acres of space to attack. This is the advantage a press resistant player gives a team.

Gündogan has a lot of space to attack as well as options in all sides.

6. The Vision to release the ball at the          right time

There are several characteristics which go into the making of a successful pass. 

“Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1000 times. Anyone can do that by practicing. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your team mate.”— Johan Cruyff

As Cruyff puts it, a successful pass is one which is delivered at the right speed, right time and at the correct foot of the teammate. Marcelo Bielsa was also known to teach his players in training about the various ways of communicating through a pass. Bielsa researched and found some 36 ways of communicating through a pass. 

There are some players who excel in the timing of their passes. They know when to play one touch football and when to delay the passes. Xavi was one of the masters at this. This enabled him to dictate the tempo of the game according to his will. Sometimes, he will release the ball faster to get runners free. At other times, he will wait an extra second or two to make sure his teammate is in the best possible situation to receive the pass. By delaying the pass, he would bring more players towards him which will free up space for another player in more advanced areas. Sometimes, the delay in passing was to ensure that his teammate is in the right position to receive the pass. At other times, he will release wingers or fullbacks with early balls. This variation in timing of passes is crucial in the retention of possession. Depending on the situation, the best press resistant players in the modern game are able to make the best decisions for their team. 

Xavi has the ball and is looking to find Iniesta in space. Iniesta is not accessible to Xavi because the #10 of the red team is blocking him with his cover shadow. So Xavi delays his pass to allow Iniesta to reposition himself.

Xavi’s delay in the pass enabled Iniesta to get into a good position for a Xavi pass. Xavi finds him with the pass.

7. The use of body feints to create favourable scenarios for ball retention

When faced with a situation in which there are no progressive passing options for the ball carrier due to efficient use of cover shadows by the opposition, some players can manage to create a passing option by using body feints. The use of body feints leads to a temporary change of opponent body posture. This creates a small window of opportunity for the ball carrier to pick out a pass to a teammate who was previously marked by the opponent using cover shadows. The pass can be easily picked out by players like Julian Weigl. By pulling off such passes, they put their team in a strong position from a position of uncertainty, thereby highlighting the importance of a press resistant player in deeper phases of build up. 


Gone are the days when young kids used to play street football for hours and hours. This can be attributed to the growing influence of technology. Kids nowadays spend more hours playing games on a PlayStation or Xbox. This has led to a lack of technical players who have the skillset similar to the likes of Bergkamp, Zidane, Pirlo, Ronaldinho and the numerous names who graced football in the years gone by. There is a struggle to create such players today. The KNVB recommend playing mini games of 4 v 4 in the early years of a child to help him develop the technical traits early. Without street football, the emphasis is more on coaching. Coaches must find solutions quickly because the breed of press resistant players are dying. However, there is hope even in despair as this Rinus Michels’ quote suggests 

There will always be talented players. They occur and they are not the result of hard training”


Build up in a proactive system and its increasing importance in today’s football

A few days back, I was walking down the street when I came across two fans  discussing about their team’s last match. 

Fan 1: We played so pathetic. We failed to create chances today. Our CBs were shit.

Fan 2: I agree,mate. Worst game we have played this season. The *build up* was pathetic. 

Fan 1: Absolutely mate. Our build up was a disgrace. I wonder what the players do in training if they cannot even bring the ball to the final third.

This was a conversation taking place between two 15 year old kids. I went back in time as I was watching these kids. 10 years back when I started watching football, goals and assists were the only thing people used to talk about. If one used terms like gegenpressing, you would have been called a lunatic. Fast forward 10 years and we now have a wide range of football terminology for almost any XYZ event on a football field (no one mocks you when you use gegenpressing anymore) and an increasing desire to learn and explain the cause-and-effect of things which happen on a football field. One of the most studied cause-and-effect phenomenon in today’s football is Build up play especially in a proactive system. 

“Everything is much easier when the first progression of the ball is clean”- Juan Manuel Lillo.

Juan Manuel Lillo was a mentor for Pep Guardiola when the latter was at Mexico to see out his playing career. Pep and Lillo would spend hours discussing about the tactical aspects of the game. Thus, the above quote was maybe a ‘hence proved’ moment of one of the many conversation these two great thinkers had together in Mexico. For the casual football fan, this quote does not need much introspection. But as an analyst, many questions may come up as one reads the quote over and over again. What does everything include? How do we progress the ball forward when facing different teams? What do you mean by a clean progression? In this article, I will try my best to explain the various aspects of build up from my limited knowledge of the game for which I have to thank all the Spielvercom analysts. 

The basic idea behind build up

“All I do is look at the footage of our opponents and then try to work out how to demolish them”— Pep Guardiola

With the huge range of technological tools available with clubs across the world, a huge emphasis is being placed on video analysis. Coaches like Roberto Martinez have video analysis equipment set up at their home. Guardiola has confessed to locking himself up in his office room for hours watching videos of his opponents till the ‘Eureka’ moment arrives which he says “makes sense of his job”. Former Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa would spend 14 hours during his Christmas holidays watching videos(2 hours of exercise). 

By now, you must be wondering why am I talking about video analysis when I was supposed to be writing about build up? This leads me back to the point. From the video footage, top coaches find out weak points in the opposition structure or weak players in the opposition lineup they can put under pressure during a game. The clubs which have no access to video footage may send scouts to watch games or the manager may go watch live games of their opposition to pick up such weaknesses. For example, a fullback may be weak in one on one situations. Or a team may leave lots of space behind the midfield line while pressing. Or a team may play a high defensive line without applying high pressure.

After the weaknesses have been explored, the next stage in a coach’s plans is how to exploit those weaknesses. This brings us to the idea behind build up. The build up is the first step to ensure that the opponent’s weaknesses are exploited. For the casual fan, build up means a way of accessing the weak areas and then exploiting those areas in the best way possible to create scoring chances while minimising the probability of getting counter attacked. This involves manipulation of the opponent’s defensive organisation in such a way that their weak spots are exposed which can be exploited by the best players of the attacking team. For example, the fullback who is weak in 1 v 1 situations can be exploited by a winger who is good at take ons. The space behind the midfield line may be best used by a CAM who is good in decision making and has quick feet in the final third. Likewise the team which uses a high line without good pressing can be turned to shreds by long vertical passes from deep playmakers behind their defensive line. Thus, the selection of players is of paramount importance to ensure that the end product of a good build up is fruitful. 

Structuring the movements in build up to expose the weak points of opposition

“You wouldn’t attack in the same way from a mountain top than from a wide open countryside”—Garry Kasparov

Just like in a battle, where the plan of attack is never the same for two different scenarios, in a game of football no two opponents are the same. This forces managers to contemplate different schemes of build up to exploit the weak areas in the opposition structure. I will try to break down the patterns based on the areas we want to exploit into three basic categories:

  1.  The wings or wide areas
  2. The ten space or zone 14
  3. The space between the opponent back line and the opponent Goalkeeper

What makes a good buildup? A good build up according to a manager is one which creates the best possible scenario for attacking the opponent’s vulnerable areas while at the same time having the balance needed to stop counterattacks.

  1. For exploiting the wings

    Often teams which stay compact leave a lot of space on the wings. Teams like Atletico Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen defend quite narrow. Thus, teams often try to exploit the wings against them. Overload-to-isolate is a common strategy used against them. In this strategy, the idea is to use the ball as a magnet to draw opponents towards the ball. Once the opponents are attracted towards the ball, a free player switches the ball to the free player on the opposite side. Xabi Alonso’s switches to Douglas Costa are perfect examples of this. With this tactic, the winger can isolate the opponent fullback in a 1 v 1 situation to create good chances. It helps using an inverted winger when using this because it helps the winger to cut inside towards goal in contrast to a conventional winger whose natural instinct is to attack the byline and away from goal.

    Another way of opening up the wings is by using inverted fullbacks.Instead of going towards the wing,these inverted fullbacks enter the halfspaces in possession. This movement pulls the opponent winger inside which creates space out wide for the winger to isolate the opponent fullback.

    If the wingers in a team are better in the halfspaces(players with good close control are better when used between the lines) than the wings,then they tuck inside between the opponent fullback and the opponent near-side winger. This creates space out wide which can be occupied by the fullback of the attacking team. This can be an effective mechanism of getting crosses into the box. 

    2. For exploiting the 10 space

    This is a better area in terms of the strategic benefits it provides compared to the wings. From this area, the availability of passing angles is more compared to the wings which are mostly used to isolate the better players of a team against a defender of the opposition team. However, the ten space is harder to access because of many layers of defense in front of it. Also, on receiving the ball in this space, the ball receiver has very little time to decide his next move. So playing in the ten space is demanding and requires very skilful players. The main aim of build up when trying to access this space is to create more time for the receiver so that he can make better decisions about his next move. This is done by drawing opponent midfielders and forwards to press high when building up which opens up a lot of space behind the midfield line thereby creating more space and most importantly time for the players in the 10 space to decide their next move. Barcelona are masters of this tactic. They build up deep inside their half which encourages opponents to press their defenders. This creates a big disconnect between the opponent midfield and defense line. Barcelona have press resistant players in the form of Pique, Mascherano,recent signing Umtiti and Busquets who can bypass the pressure and get the ball into the 10 space for the likes of Messi,Suarez and Neymar. The goalkeeper is a crucial part when using this type of build up pattern. Thus, it is no surprise seeing Barcelona buy keepers who are better with their feet than at saving shots(seems ridiculous but it seems true when you count the low number of shots they have to save every game). Goalkeepers serve as the escape route during ball circulation when others in the team are marked. GKs are the only players who are free from marking and have a full view of the whole pitch. Thus, they can direct the build up from deeper areas. Marc Andre ter Stegen was superb in the game played recently against Athletic Bilbao (excellent analysis by Judah Davies). 

    Another factor which favours the access to the ten space is the use of players who are willing to stay wide almost hugging the touchline. These wide players force the opponent to shift horizontally which can lead to opening up of spaces in the centre. The central areas then open up for the attacking team to exploit. Thierry Henry was subbed off despite scoring for Barcelona in a game because he had violated Guardiola’s instructions.(He spoke about this in an MNF episode). Louis van Gaal also likes his teams to stretch the pitch wide during the build up phases. His Ajax team which won the Champions League then were one of the most entertaining teams during the 1990s. His philosophy was one of horizontal circulation of the ball from one side to the other till a gap opened up in the central areas for them to penetrate. 

    3. For exploiting the spaces between the opponent defense and the opponent GK (teams which use a high line)

    This tactic is mainly used by teams which use a low block when defending. The low block would invite the opponents to put more bodies forward into the attacking half leaving a huge space between their back line and the GK. The team using the low block will attempt to exploit this space with quick combinations as soon as they win the ball. Leicester City were masters at this last season. Jamie Vardy’s runs into such areas and subsequent goals led him to win the Premier League as well as the golden boot for the season 2015-16. Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen also use this tactic quite often. For this tactic to work, the defensive foundations must be very strong as the team may be exposed to relentless waves of attack against a superior team. Thus, it is not surprising that the teams I have mentioned are the teams which boast of having the best defense in the league.

    Factors influencing build up

    It is one thing to plan how to start a build up and another thing to implement it to perfection on a football field. Theoretically speaking, for a good build up, all that is needed is one man more than the opponent in deeper areas. Because of the goalkeeper, there is always an extra man for the team which is looking to build up. Unfortunately, very few teams look to use this extra man for smooth progression of the ball from the back. As a result, very few teams can build up smoothly on a consistent basis. 

    The idea is basically to create numerical superiority in deeper areas. This means having more people in one area compared to that of the opposition. For example, former Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa would always switch between a back 2,3 and 4 depending on the number of opposition forwards who press them. He would use a back 2 if the opponent had 1 forward in their ranks, 3 defenders if there were 2 forwards and likewise. The extra defender is deployed to provide cover and a safe passing option in case of a high press from the opposition. 

    However, merely having numerical superiority is not enough if the players up front are not available for the passes from the Centre backs, the goalkeeper and the deep-lying playmaker. This can very often happen when all passing lanes to a player by good usage of cover shadows from the defending team. Here comes the need for off the ball movement. 

    Off the ball movement leads to opening up of passing lanes that help to progress play forward in a smooth way. The more the passing lanes, the better will be the build up. Pep Guardiola, when he was at Bayern Munich had a special training ground marked by some vertical and horizontal lines. The players had to position themselves using those lines as reference in those training games. With time, they began to pick up Pep’s positional ideas and were comfortable enough on the field even without those lines on match days. 

    Guardiola’s training ground at Bayern Munich(picture from this excellent piece on Pep’s philosophy by Adin Osmanbasic)

    Here we analyze some common movements we see during build ups:

    1. The formation of a chain of 3 in the           first line. 

    This chain of 3 helps provide width in the first line. This creation of width helps in two ways:

    • the opposition forwards pressing the first line have to cover a large distance horizontally.
    • By dragging the opponent wingers and forwards wide, it creates space for the midfielders in the lines up front to receive and force play forwards.

      Blue team is in possession. The amount of space that the front line of the red team have to cover is less. Space available for the blue team’s midfielders is very less

      Because of the chain of 3 formed across the width of the pitch in the first line, the forwards of the red team have to cover a lot of distance laterally. Moreover the 3 chain creates space in the middle for the central midfielders. Compared to the situation in the earlier image, the central midfielders have a better chance this time of building play forward

      How can this chain of 3 be created? Normally two patterns are observed when creating this chain of 3 in the build up.

      • Having the defensive midfielder drop between the two centre backs who spread out wide. This is more common compared to the second pattern described below.
      • The two centre backs do not move wide but stay in their normal position. To create this chain of 3, the near side fullback stays wide and deep while the far sided fullback moves up the field to provide passing options to build up play into forward areas.

        Creation of the 3 chain without the presence of the defensive midfielder in the first line

        2. The central midfielders moving diagonally into the halfspaces instead of occupying the centre (more on this by current U18 assistant coach of RB Salzburg Rene Maric). The halfspaces are strategically one of the most important areas in a football field. They provide a 270° field of vision to a player receiving the ball in that space. They enable the receiving player to connect to the near side wing or the centre which have different advantages with regard to construction of attacks. Thus, it is no surprise that managers these days are using their central midfielders (usually the central mids have the best first touch when it comes to controlling a football). Moreover, with the right body position when receiving in the halfspaces, the first touch tends to direct the ball forward towards goal. This can be attributed to the fact that the passes received in such zones from deeper centre backs are of a diagonal nature. Diagonal passes lead one towards goal compared to vertical passes which are difficult to direct towards goal. Diagonal passes are also easier to control compared to vertical passes. (This concept has been dealt with in more detail by analyst Tom Payne).  

        As the central midfielders move diagonally into the halfspaces, they may drag their marker away from the centre. This leads to opening up of a vertical passing lane between a CB and the CAM or CF. With a good vertical pass,it is possible to break two opposition lines,all this being made possible by the halfspace orientation of the central midfielders.

        The defensive midfielder drifts into the halfspace taking his marker alongwith him. This opens up a vertical passing lane for the RCB to pass to the CF

        RCB finds the CF with a vertical pass after the passing lane is opened up due to intelligent movement from the CDM of blue team. The CF then can choose to combine with the winger or the CAM or turn with the ball.

        3. The false or inverted fullback concept

        Early in the build up phase, the fullbacks instead of going wide decide to come inside towards the halfspaces alongside the defensive midfielder as the central midfielders push up to create overloads behind the opponent midfielders. The fullbacks then become situational central midfielders. The fullback pulls the near-side opposition winger alongwith him to the centre thereby opening up a diagonal passing lane to the wings for the near side CB.

        The RB moves inside towards the halfspaces. This catches the attention of the near side winger of the opposition who comes narrower.

        As the opposition winger comes towards the centre, the wing becomes isolated thereby opening up the diagonal passing lane for the CB. CB then finds his winger with a pass. Winger can then create isolations against the fullback

        4. Vertically opposite movement(István Beregi is a big fan of this type of movement)

        This movement is usually effective against teams which use clear man orientations when defending. A striker may drop deep while a central midfielder may engage the backline. This helps escape man marking to a certain extent.

        The red team are defending with clear man orientations in midfield. The CM is marked by the CDM making it difficult for him to receive and face play. So he makes a movement towards the opponent backline while the CF drops back to take his place. The CB marking the CF initially does not follow him because doing so will completely expose the backline.

        Here we see the CF receiving the ball in a clear pocket of space due to well executed vertically opposite movement

        These are the basic movements which we commonly encounter during a stable build up. As stated earlier, the goal of these movements is to open up passing lanes so that the team in possession can get their best players on the ball.

        Football is a game we play with 22 men and 1 ball. Thus, without the ball, games cannot be won. This brings us to one of the most important(if not the most important) part of  build up namely ball circulation. 

         “Louis Van Gaal’s idea is one of continuous circulation, one side to the other, until the moment that, when you change direction, and space opens up inside and you go through it. So, he provokes the opponent with horizontal circulation of the ball, until the moment that the opponent will start to pressure out of despair. What I believe in is to challenge the rival by driving the ball into him. At this time of ultra-low defensive block teams, you will have to learn how to provoke them with the ball. It’s the ball they want, so you have to defy them using the ball as a carrot.”— Former Chelsea manager Andre Vilas Boas (taken from article by

        Tiki tactic)

         Ball circulation involves various aspects. The timing of the pass, the speed at which it is delivered, the idea behind a pass (see are aspects which often escape normal football fans. However, these can be the major factors responsible for deciding outcome of games. (See this article by edAfootball to know more). Off-the-ball movements for example can only open up passing lanes but if the circulation is poor,then these movements are worthless. This takes me back to the discussion the two fans were having (see the start of this article). One of them was saying that his team was unable to bring the ball to the final third effectively. So maybe sluggish ball circulation was the main issue for his team. This raises another question in my mind. What was the cause for the sluggish ball circulation? This can have two answers: 

        • Lack of training: this is highly unlikely in a professional club.
        • Lack of proper technical players.

        This brings me to the final aspect of factors influencing the build up, ie., the players. Without the right players for build up, one cannot expect it to be successful. This is probably the reason why coaches like Guardiola and Bielsa use defensive midfielders as centre backs in their team. Having played as DMs, players like Javi Martinez and Mascherano have superior skills on the ball than a conventional centre back. Thus, they add a great deal of security in the build up. Moreover, Guardiola and Bielsa teams play with a high line. This gives a greater degree of confidence to such players as they play far away from the goal line unlike a traiditional centre back. Players with the right attributes (good ball skills, proper body position when receiving, press resistance,right weight on the passes, good game intelligence and good attitude) are the criteria scouts look for when they search for players who will fit into their team’s system. Some clubs like Ajax, Barcelona also invest a lot in their academies to ensure a good production line of talent. Ajax is renowned for its TIPS model which ensures that the club always have quality players who can come into the first team from the academy to fill in for players who leave the club to join other clubs. 


        The build up can therefore determine a team’s outcome on the football field. Although a lot of theoretical aspects are involved in a buildup, eventually the whole thing depends on the players. The manager can only give the ideas but eventually it is up to the players to deliver. As the late Johan Cruyff states :

         “Tactics are useless without technique. Can’t dominate the ball, it matters little if your teammates are well positioned tactically.”