Managing transitions is a vital component of tactic creation, once you understand the basic concepts and you want to eke out more from your team then you need to start considering how your team handles transitions. Transitions are essentially the changeover from defense to attack or from attack into defense. Its how your team handles different phases of a game. Transitions are easier to understand if you try to create football within an attacking framework. For that one needs to ask themselves the question, is playing with a high dline good or bad. If anyone says its bad, then I feel sorry for them cos they are potentially missing out on some smashing football.
In order to appreciate transitions, one must already have a solid understanding of football and how it can apply to their games. Handling transitions is all about good organisational defense, the right instructions and choosing the players. If you don’t understand the basic concepts you should read a bit more.
When you play with a high line you can camp in the opponents half and you are applying more pressure on the opponents. It was actually the game between Spurs and Arsenal and this very good article at thinkfootball that got the wheels in my head whirring. Arsenal was playing with a high line against a side with electric pace, twas a risk, but it was clearly evident that the defense struggled.
Both Spurs goals came from a throughball behind the defenders. The problem for Arsenal wasn’t because they made a mistake with the high line, it was the poor positioning of their fullbacks that was giving them the problem. The two central defenders had acres to cover and their keeper was never comfortable rushing out to clear the lines. Playing with a high line is possible and can be an effective ploy but you need to get some areas covered first. The mistakes that Arsenal make are the same mistakes people make in Football Manager. Its very easy to play a high line in FM, and one should attempt to do this if they have a team that has a decent attack. So where did Arsenal lose? They lost on the transition, Spurs was too quick in turning defense into attack, but had Arsenal’s positioning been right on the day the result could have been so different.
This is downright obvious and I shouldn’t be talking about it, but so many people on the forums forget. The most vital part in positioning is making sure that your players are going to be around to defend. The engine does a good job of making sure the players are there, its your job to make sure the roles you put out don’t make it even harder to get back. Looking at my 4411 – I tend to set one fullback on attack and another on support which means that I need to make sure their zones are covered when they go forward. For that reason alone I use a cover/defend pair for my central defenders and I make sure I use 2 players who can drop into holes when they are vacated by the fullbacks.
I love heatmaps so I will use this to explain: If you look carefully at the heatmap you will notice the relative positioning of my players its almost perfectly symmetrical. Since there is a big gap that can be exploited between my defenders and my keeper, its absolutely vital that I play a keeper who can rush out and play the pass. So composure and first touch are important as well for my keepers. In a previous post I spoke about how I train my players on ball control and tactics to get this covered. Another thing you want to spot in heatmaps is that it extends into the opponents box, this will show that we spend a good amount of time inside and around their penalty box.
Interceptions are vital for someone playing a high line. Your players especially the central midfielders and even your wingers should be able to break up play in the opponents half. This will allow you to develop transitions, which in my humble opinion are the single biggest source of success for a high dline setup.
Not counting my defenders, I am always looking for interceptions by my midfielders in strategic areas of the pitch. If I am playing a high dline then they need to be winning balls in the opponents half. So how do you put this all together:
Transitioning is all about the players you have, your tactical setup and how well you have put all the puzzles together.
Transitioning from defense to attack ( Your own half)
When you talk about building up play from the back, you want to have pivots in your side who can make the move from defense to attack. You can have as many pivots as you want, but its generally good to have a plan. In my formation, my pivots are essentially the double pivot pair in my MCs, my rampaging fullback on the right. When my lil maradona is available I get another player who can be the transition point. So whenever the ball reaches your pivots, and depending on the kind of player you have and the ppms he has he can switch play, dictate tempo or make a run at defense. They can also play good through balls provided your frontline can move in and out of space well.
When I am playing a high dline ie an attacking tactic, I expect the ball to go from my keeper > my dc > my fullback then to my MC who will create the transition to attack. By the time the ball reaches my MC I should expect to see players who have attacking instructions to move further up the pitch, this could lead to through balls or to overlapping plays. And since I hardly ever use shouts my instructions are hard written into the tactic, via the attacking setup for my fullback (Just leave him on attack) and leaving his winger on support. I know that the transition from attack will always happen if the fullback is in a good position to run down the flank or if my AMC has dropped deep into a false nine hole.
Transitioning from defense to attack (your opponents half)
For me this is the fun part, when you play with a high line, what you want to look out for are interceptions, if interceptions aren’t happening then there are several reasons why:
1. You are not pressurising the keeper (OI him)
2. You players lack concentration and anticipation
3. Lack bravery and acceleration
Its going to be either one or the two, you don’t need to play tight zonal, loose zonal works better if you are in their half and will prevent your players from being skinned too early. What you want to see is your defenders camped in the opponents half with your dcs straddling the halfway line. Any clearance will be handled by them, and your attacking line must be closing down high. The downside of this is that your players are going to get tired fast, but if you have the right preseason then its all good.
Even if your players aren’t great tacklers you need them to have the guts to stick their foot out or close down a player. I find that having pacey wingers who can tackle a godsend.
There are other transitions to look out for, such as those that see your side not carve out a viable striking chance, and they bring the ball back to their own half to build up again, looking for another transition. For these kind of transitions to work, you need players who can run at defenses to pull them apart. When these happen you create other kinds of chances.
If you want to play with a high dline its not hard, its fairly easy, but to make it work you need to make sure that:
1. You play a sweeper keeper
2. Your fullbacks have good anticipation, acceleration and concentration. They are going to leg it a lot
3. As a rule, all my players have good composure, I don’t have any player in my side with less than 12. This means that if they are passing the ball in the opponents half and they come under pressure, they have the composure to play their way out of trouble
4. Conditioning. If you want to play a high dline then you need to make sure your players are fit.
5, Right tactical setup. Make sure, and this is hugely vital, that whenever a transition happens and if it fails you understand why. Transitions can fail spectacularly if a player wins the ball and can’t play the pass, remember Lucas Leiva in his first season with Liverpool? So if you have good ball winners make sure there is always a player who can play the pass for them.
I will probably revisit transitions again, its something that I unconsciously pay attention to, but I thought maybe I should share this.