Turning Games Around With Team Instructions

One of the biggest challenges in the game is recovering from a setback. Sometimes you think a tactic has been playing well and then in the first couple of minutes you find yourself defending an onslaught. How do you turn things around?

The answer lies in whether you got your system right in the first place and whether you understand how team instructions can shift the emphasis of a game. 

Here we are –  a newly promoted side expecting a tough match against Hartlepool in the Vanramma National League.  We started with an adventurous looking 4141DM system that was outrageous in attack, deploying two wingbacks in an attacking setup effectively morphing the system into a 343 in attack. Hartlepool were using a similar formation but it was defensive. Thus far in the league we had been taking advantage of sides attacking us leaving space vacant on the flanks for our overlapping wingbacks to take advantage off. However this time things were going to be different. They weren’t interested in attacking us, they just wanted to hit us on the transition as the ball passed through midfield. That is probably the worst time to lose the ball.

Inside the first 10 minutes we were struggling to complete a pass. Our use of pass into space on a positive mentality was also seeing more direct passes being played out wide that were being swallowed up by Hartlepool’s gravity well. Everything fell for them and they promptly took control  of the match stringing attacks after our insipid clearances were being intercepted.

It didn’t help that our wingbacks were so far forward.

I failed to spot this quickly and it wasn’t long before another easy intercept led to a goal.


A goal down. It was time to take a look at our system. Our defensive shape was fine. We had enough players to defend the midfield tier as this image shows. However with me pushing my wingbacks up with the overlap I was effectively leaving more space behind.  The use of pass into space was also gifting the opposition the ball. 

There was nothing wrong with the roles and duties or with the defensive shape. All i needed to do was make a simple change. Drop pass into space and the overlaps. Bring those adventurous wingbacks back.  We were barely able to keep possession of the ball before this with it hovering around 20-30%. The change worked wonders as we started using the ball intelligently. We took control of midfield and started to exert control in the opponents box. Our use of the ball became more intelligent as the players started to string passes to feet. We got back into the game and finished with a point.

The close support my players are offering are a function of the roles I have chosen so I was happy to see that passing options were now being used. A simple fix using team instructions allowed us to regain control of the game and allowed us to score an equaliser.

Team Instructions give us plenty of options to change the focus of a game . And there can be plenty of combinations. Perhaps one of the simplest ones is how we can combine pass into space with hit early crosses. It is a simple combination, and it works against sides that give us plenty of space. However like in our case, we needed to remove pass into space because we were playing against a team that was sitting back.

Understanding defensive shape and knowing which players are in which zones is also important.  Who operates in your defensive third is a function of how you set up your defensive line and line of engagement. Setting it correctly protects you from balls over the top, and knowing when a side is leaving space behind allows you to take advantage of certain team instructions that attack space.

The next time you face a challenge, step back and think about how team instructions can help you exert control. Sometimes all it takes is a simple fix.



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