Tactical Inflexibility

by Erik Imler

April 2016 I wrote an article called “Sweeper-Keeper” in which I referred to the large areas of space behind the back line of teams. Many times, these teams are pressed up so high leaving 30-40 yards of space in behind their team.  They must be thinking one of two things:

  1. They are confident in their ability to re-gain possession
  2. They are not aware of all the space in behind their back line

I saw many games this weekend. Most games our teams were on their back feet – being dominated by the opponent who was bigger and more athletic than us.  When the score of the game began to get lopsided, I made the commitment to trying to change the game completely. The only way this was going to happen was by our team making the other team uncomfortable and trying to pounce on their mistake(s).

In order to do this, one must first understand that going toe to toe, trying to compete against the opponent by attempting to build out of the back, through midfield and expecting something clever and attractive in the final third was NOT going to happen. Once that thought was established, we could then move onto something more realistic (Plan B).

Plan B was giving to the ball to the opponent as deep in their half of the field as possible. We wanted their defenders to have to run back towards their own goal to receive the ball. Then our team was going to immediately apply pressure. All we were going to try to do was make it uncomfortable for them to pass the ball out of their end of the field. Our team’s contribution to the game – ENERGY.

If we worked tirelessly to make it uncomfortable for our opponent to play the game they wanted to play, maybe we would have a fighting chance. I can honestly say that this approach proved very beneficial for some groups this weekend – even though it might not have shown in the final score line. The interest level of our team in the game rose through forcing mistakes by our opponents near their own goal. Those moments filled our players with desire, confidence and a sense of hope.

For other teams, the recognition never took place. I don’t believe the tactic was ever addressed at halftime of a lopsided game. The teams kept trying to play through their opponents with very limited success.

My question…

“Does your team have the ability to shift their tactical approach based on the game they are playing?  Or does your team try impose the style they adopt from the opening kick of the ball until the final whistle?

Watch here how Dortmund exploits the space in behind Bayern Munich’s high defensive line with one kick of the ball.

We (most coaches) are so fixed on our teams passing the ball out of the back and through the lines that we sometimes fail to see the forest through the trees. The understanding of what we would like our teams to do vs. what our teams are capable of doing are often times miles apart. Sometimes we need to be able to abandon the aesthetics of a game and resort to something more direct to find success.

As a spectator, it was so obvious to recognize.

Unfortunately, not so obvious for those who could affect the outcome of the game. Lopsided result at halftime.  Lopsided result after 90 minutes.

Opportunity lost!

About Erik Imler

A Retired Professional Player, NCAA Champion (1989,1991,1992), and 1992 U.S. Olympic Team (Barcelona, Spain)who is dis-satisfied with the status quo of youth soccer development in the United States and motivated to create a youth program that addresses the most prominent technical deficiencies in many youth players - passing & receiving.

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