You’ve got your soccer team, you’ve got your soccer formation: now it’s time to talk soccer tactics. Tactics in soccer is a term sometimes used interchangeably with formation on the soccer field, but for this article we’ll take it to mean aspects of play put into action by the players on the pitch who already have a football formation to adhere to.
Soccer coaches talk tactics a lot, and it’s clear to see why. A team may have trouble getting the ball into the oppositions’ goal area for any number of reasons, and as such a change of tactics may be required to do the trick. Tactics can also be changed during the game and worked on in training for an element of surprise. Below we’ll look at four common tactical set-ups and when they might be employed.
Route One – The Long Ball Game: Soccer fans tend to groan when they hear about long ball tactics, as it is considered a boring and unsophisticated style of play. Yet when it works, and results in a goal, these same supporters will be on their feet cheering! The long ball seeks to bypass much of the opposition by thumping the ball up from the defense right to the attackers. Obviously, for this to work you need a strong, usually tall, and certainly very commanding striker who can jump for the ball in the air, bring it to the ground, and then either pass it off to his partner forward or run at the defense. This is ideal against smaller defenders and if you have a tall, strong attacker, known as the ‘target man’, at your disposal – not to mention a defender who can really kick it the length of the field.
Wing play: Wing play is generally the opposite of the long ball game, but a target man can also be employed here. Rather than bypassing the midfield, the ball will travel much of the length of the field on the ground, being dribbled forward by a full-back or, more commonly, a wide midfielder or winger. This requires swift, usually short, skilful players with a low centre of gravity who can easily run with the ball and fox defenders. When they hit the edge of the opponent’s goal area they can ‘cross’ the ball into the box high or low for the attackers to score with, or cut inside themselves and take a shot on goal.
The offside trap: This defensive tactic is risky, but a well-trained, well-drilled team can make it invaluable. The idea is to take advantage of soccer’s “offside” rules by making all defenders – usually all four, in a 4-4-2 – time a run forward so that the opposing attacker is left in an offside position when the ball is played to him. If one defender gets his timing wrong the striker can go free one-on-one with the goalkeeper, so don’t try this one without a long time of working on soccer drills and defensive training. Once you get it working, though, it’s very effective, and really frustrates the opposition.