Rafa Benítez Blog RSS Rafa Benítez Blog

Jan 2012
16:37 Comments (17)

Football is part of a group of sports which are known as team sports, and as such can be characterized by the relationship between co-operation (between team mates) and opposition (against an opponent). In the development of the game we can consider 3 basic aspects: time-space aspect, demonstrated in the attacking phase by use of the ball individually and collectively to overcome barriers and opponents, and in the defending phase by the creation of barriers to delay and stop movement of the opponents and the ball with the objective of regaining possession; information aspect demonstrated by the creation of doubt in the opponent and confidence in team mates; and the organisational aspect established by the collective plan integrated with individual actions and vice versa.

When we consider coaching in the development groups, we should refer to not just the means available to the player to help him improve his sporting capacity and ability, but also to contributing to his overall sporting education as a person. As coaches, we organise our work taking in to account some aspects which condition our ‘coaching model’; some factors which are player-related (age, psycho-motor development, level of practice etc) and other environmental issues (personal and material resources, club characteristics, parental relationships etc). So we then create a plan of physical and technical content but we also have to organize a programme of content for tactical work, more than just to promote a better understanding of the game, because it is the players who will require a lot of work on the cognitive component, but also so that we help the general education of the young sportsman.

Without going in to debating terms of definition and concept, we should remember the difficulties with separating technical and tactical work; we can think of tactics as the way the players and the team are organised at each moment in the game to achieve a specific objective, and of technique as the resources available to the player to achieve the tactical objectives in the context of the game; however, each action of a player involves 3 basic cognitive processes:

  • Perception or input of information (extraction of the information relevant to the situation).
  • Decision or mental solution of the problem (choosing the best solution possible).
  • Execution or motor solution (actual production of the mental image).

All of which require a high tactical understanding. Many of the errors committed during a game are based on a failure of one or more of these processes.

We should then try to ensure that the player demonstrates a tactical intelligence and therefore address the need to recreate situations where the players are capable of interpreting action, globally, spatially and individually, taken from the general movements within the model of play; we should be able to direct the coaching towards a development of tactical thinking. As we are talking here about the development groups, it’s important to try to ensure that young players acquire the best technico-tactical toolbox possible so that they can respond to the majority of the many problems they will encounter in the future, with the help of a devoted coach, within a specific model of play.

How then can we structure the tactical concepts? The best answer to this question is to organise the concepts and content working from the global to the specific, from the simple to the complex so that they are in a logical progression.

Firstly, work on the principle objectives of the game in each phase, what we should do when we have or don’t have the ball; in attack we talk about keeping possession, progression and finishing; and in defence, regaining possession, stopping progression of the opponent’s attack and defending the goal.

We have talked about defining the phases of the game, which as we said is what happens in the development of the attacking and defending processes so we can conclude:

 Attack  Defence
 Start of phase.  Delay start of phase.
 Construction or progression of the phase.  Delay construction phase.
 Finishing.  Defend the goal (prevent finish).

Next, we have to consider the basic principles of the phases, common to the attacking and defending phases, demonstrated by the principles which direct the behaviour of the players within the context of the phase; the most important of which is to try to create numerical superiority in the area of the ball; if this is not possible, then maintain numerical equality but always avoid numerical inferiority.

The No 10 creates numerical superiority on one side

When these concepts are clear, we can move on to specific principles:

 Attack  Defence
Penetration (creation of an advantage in space and number; attack the goal). Containment (individual marking of the player on the ball to stop or delay opponent’s attack).
Support the attack ( support player with ball; defensive balance). Defensive cover (support for the team mate marking the player on the ball).
Mobility (interchange of positions; occupation and creation of space; create lines of pass; keeping possession; unbalancing opponent’s defensive structure). Balance (covering space and free players and cutting lines of pass).
Space (width and depth in attack). Concentration (deny width and depth in the opponent’s attack).

We can then construct the method or shape of the organisation of the attack (counter-attack, rapid attack or build up play) and of the defence (man to man, zonal or mixed marking) so that we have a wide repertoire on the individual and collective levels to address the different game situations.

Finally, we could extract some basic norms both in attack and defence, general guidelines where we can direct our team and individual efforts:

Attack Defence
Don’t lose the ball, protect it, keep it away from opponents, control the distances, pass quickly and unpredictably, create lines of pass Get as many players behind the ball as possible
Create and occupy free spaces, play wide and deep , fix defenders in a zone and play to another one, channel the attack through the weakest areas of the opponent, alternate between short and long play, direct and indirect play, switch of play Cover and strengthen the central channel forcing opponents to less
Create doubt in the opposition, alternating direct and indirect play, draw opposition to one zone to finish in another, change of tempo, numerical overload, disguise etc Reduce or prevent lines of pass
  Keep defensive cover and occupy spaces

Width, switch of play and depth.

Technico-tactical actions are the basic tools to work on the more complex tactical concepts and it is where we can most intervene in the early years so that errors do not become habits or ‘vices’ which can be difficult to correct in the future and which make the player more susceptible to errors in the attacking and defending processes. In attack we talk about creation and occupation of space, moving away from markers, overlaps, support, switch of play, overloads, delay, change of tempo, defensive balance; in defence we work on marking, delaying, dropping off, cover (position, change positions, defensive balance), pressing.

It is in the older development ages when we would include more elaborate tactical concepts, like the general tactical models to attack (direct attack, build up or counter-attack) or to defend (organized or situational) because they require a deeper knowledge of the game and establishing understanding between team mates and reading the opposition.

ANTÓN, J. L. (2004): Balonmano: fundamentos y etapas del aprendizaje. Madrid: Gymnos
CASÁIS, L.; LAGO, C. y DOMINGUEZ. E. (2009). Fútbol Base: El entrenamiento en categorías de formación. Tomo I y II. Madrid: Editorial Deportiva MC Sports  
CASTELO, J. F. (1999): Fútbol. Estructura y dinámica del juego. Barcelona: INDE
D´OTTAVIO, S. (2001): El rendimiento del joven futbolista. Barcelona: Paidotribo
GRAÇA, A. y OLIVEIRA, J. (1997): La enseñanza de los juegos deportivos. Barcelona: Paidotribo.
GRÉHAIGNE, J. F. (2001): La organización del juego en el fútbol. Barcelona: INDE
MOMBAERTS, E. (2000): Fútbol. Del análisis del juego a la formación del jugador. Barcelona: INDE.
QUEIROZ, C. M. (1983): Para uma teoría do ensino/treino do futebol. Ludens, 1 (8): 25-44.

17 Comments Send us your opinions
31/01/12 at 14:43:40 #1
Keir Howard
I've always wondered how much input coaches have on teams responses to different scorelines. The choices of how to attack and defend a situation after going a goal up may be more contained and safe that if they have gone a goal down.
31/01/12 at 14:52:59 #2
Darron Davis
Great article, i realise alot of player movements off the ball
31/01/12 at 14:55:18 #3
Darron Davis
Do you have any articles on goalkeepers[tactics]?


Hello Darron, we are preparing some articles about keepers. Thanks.
31/01/12 at 16:03:23 #4
This SYSTEM of tactical thinking is exactly what our players in South Africa need. Simply by off the ball poitioning and running the passing a team can keep posession and advance...hmmm sounds like Barcelona!:-)

Seriously RAFA I find LIVERPOOL are far from the type of possession, pass & advance football they played under you. What is very worrying is how the forward midfieders & striker(s) do not pressurize opponents faster when LFC lose posession.Most notebaly around the MID 3RD of field.So it seems that even LFC can be plagued by basic tactical errors!
You can go to RM on loan RAFA but know Anfield is your home! :-)
31/01/12 at 18:39:20 #5
Great article. I would like to read more about defending tactics.

By the way Rafa, how good are you at FM? Is it a good simulation of being a manager?


Sorry I don't use these games.
01/02/12 at 05:43:00 #6
Hi Rafa,

When coaching the development groups (youth soccer) are there differences in the amount of pratice time, tactical development of the game at elite clubs between England, Italy and Spain? And also why has the
Barcelona youth system been so effective in developing the best player finally are aware of
the emerging research on differential learning vs traditional reptition-oriented approach and if so do you think the advantages of differential learning can be used
in youth soccer to develop players to their full potential.

Thanks Dee


Hello Dee. I think the differences between Spain, England and Italy are related to their own football styles, as we said in this blog before (link a... Blending traditions and trends, y... Is La Liga better than the Premier League?). The most important thing for us as coaches is to try to give our players as many tools and resources as we can to improve their understanding of the game, so they can find better solutions to different tasks; in my opinion, some approaches (differential learning, meaningfulness learning) are very useful when we are coaching young players. Eduardo.
01/02/12 at 09:04:03 #7
Conrad Lodziak
To DANGERDOUG I don't agree. The recent game against Man City at Anfield saw LFC pressurising quickly after losing possession. I admit that some players, eg Bellamy and Kuyt are more alert to this need and more capable than more slow-headed team mates. I agree that it has yet to be instilled in all of them - not like Barcelona.
01/02/12 at 14:11:33 #8
Tim Walker
Hi Eduardo,

in a players development it is obviously preferable to integrate tactical knowledge early on e.g. look for/move into space to offer a team-mate options for a pass, whilst the main focus is on the players enjoyment, participation and technical development. At what stage would the focus be on tactics rather than technique and is there a point where technique is not worked on?


Tim Walker


Hello Tim. I think that we can't separate tactic from technique as independent blocks, in fact we speak about 'technico-tactical actions', so for me we are always training both factors; the thing is what do we want to emphasize? In my opinion, in the early stages until 12-13 years, we would be focused on the technical improvement of the players using tasks where we ask the players for different tactical solutions, avoiding the early specialization on just one position. Once they have enough knowledge of the game to understand complicated tactical concepts (which is related to the improvement of the abstraction ability and other complex mental process) we would introduce more complex concepts like zonal marking, offside, etc.
07/02/12 at 06:42:46 #9
This is a great introduction and shows the importance of players with great movement between the lines. Those players can add numerical advantage in phases of the game both in attack and defense.
Does this then mean movement can be coached into the whole team? How?
07/02/12 at 16:47:12 #10
Hi Rafa

Im a Big fan of you and Madrid and im expecting you here in one or two years too.

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