Is Football A Simple Game?

It is often said that football is a simple game. The fact is that most teams fail to make it look simple. The reason for that is because the team has to have a group of very talented individuals who are fit, strong, well organised and working together as a team, covering for each other and all trying to achieve the same things.

If you look at the statistics from successful teams over the years there are common themes throughout the team that each of them do. They are all pretty obvious but it is worth taking a look at them.

In an ‘Insight’ article back in 2000, Andy Grant listed eleven characteristics of a successful team. He defined success over a period of games, not just one-off victories:

1. More possession
Sounds simple, doesn’t it. When you’ve got the ball the opposition can’t score. When you’ve got the ball, you are more likely to score. When you haven’t got the ball you waste energy chasing around trying to win it back.

You will often hear coaches shouting, “keep the ball.” It is so obvious, but players tend to hit long speculative passes or hopeful long balls that might occasionally lead to a goal, but are far more likely to give the ball to the opposition. That is the last thing you want to do.

2. More attempts at goal
Occasionally a team will have one attempt on goal and win the game 1-0. It doesn’t happen very often. It is a fact that the more attempts on goal a team has the more goals they will score.

As they say, “you can’t win the raffle without buying a ticket.”

3. More attacking moves that enter the critical attacking areas
All of the successful teams demonstrate an ability to penetrate the opponent’s defence with more attacks. Some goals are scored from distance but a majority are scored by working the ball into the penalty area.

Getting the ball into those attacking areas also gives the attacking team a chance to regain the ball in good areas if they lose it and the opportunity to create set plays.

4. Attacking through the centre of the field
Teams like to get the ball wide but statistics show that penetrating the opposition through the centre of their defence is far more likely to lead to a goal than penetration in wide areas.

If you can get through the middle, defenders have little time to recover whereas they can regroup and take up good positions if the break through is made in wide areas.

5. Creating scoring chances from possession play and direct play
Being able to score goals both through quick direct passing and through long periods of probing possession are crucial factors in a successful team.

A reliance on only one method of attack will not be successful in the long run.

6. Ability to create goals and attempts from regained possession in defensive half
Counter attacking has been shown time and time again to be one of the most effective ways to score goals.

In Euro 2008 Holland showed this to perfection in their victory against Italy. To win possession of the ball in your own half when the other side are attacking and then to play at speed towards the opponent’s goal will always cause chaos and confusion.

7. Regaining possession of the ball in attacking areas
The work rate of successful teams is always high. The closing down of players on the ball, particularly defenders who may be less comfortable in possession, is an essential ingredient.

Making sure that your attacking players win the ‘second ball’ after a defensive tackle or header is also crucial.

8. Patterns of play taking the ball forward through running, dribbling and passing
Another point that seems obvious, but how many teams do you see going consistently forward? The most successful teams will have longer periods of play whereby they are moving forwards through running, passing and dribbling.

Defenders cannot recover quickly enough if teams are coming at them and the attacking side can create more one-on-one situations.

9. Using crosses to score goals
Having said that attacking down the middle is the most effective method, there will often be times where the defence is so heavily numbered and organised that a team will have difficulty in breaking them down. When that happens then the wide players will come into their own.

The delivery of accurate crosses into the penalty area, particularly hit with pace, and the arrival of runners into the penalty area to meet the cross, remains one of the most effective methods of scoring a goal.

10. Making effective use of set plays
Across all levels of football around 50% of goals are scored from set plays. Does your team make full use of attacking set plays and do they defend other team’s set plays well?

11. Variety of performance over a number of matches
All of the above methods of play will need to be used at various stages of the season. The tactics will change depending on the particular strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.

The successful teams are those that can adapt and use more than one method of playing.

Obviously the original report went into a great deal more detail than I have been able to do here, but I hope you see the message that it sent.

All of the points are obvious and simple. None of it is rocket science. The successful teams do all of the above things almost without thinking about it. They are organised and they work hard in practice on all of these things until it becomes second nature to them. Of course, it helps to have some decent players!

Editor’s Note: More football tactics here….

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