Category Archives: Passing

Football Basics – The passing check list

The concept of passing check list was suggested by Charles Hughes in the book “The Winning Formula”. Before explaining the check list, it is worthy to understand more about his philosophy of how to play football.

Football is a space invasion game. If the team can’t bring the ball forward to invade the space in opponent’s half or defending third, they can’t score. Therefore, his philosophy is that the player should always try to play the ball forward whenever possible. He thought attitude (positive or negative) is the key difference between success and failure. Forward passing is only one of the ways to achieve this goal. For instance, the player can make a shot, dribble or run with the ball to play the ball forward also. He argued direct play embodies a positive attitude and possession play (movements with high numbers of consecutive passes) embodies a negative attitude. The following table briefly summarises his thought in comparing direct play with possession play:

Possession Play

Direct Play

  • Playing to avoid defeat
  • Fear of losing the ball
  • Playing to win
  • Desire to score

As a result, he made a passing check list to explain his philosophy and give a guideline to players how to play forward whenever possible. The check list is in order of priority from an attacker’s point of view.

Passing Check list:

  1. A pass into space behind the defence
  2. A pass to the feet of the most advanced attacker
  3. A pass beyond at least one defender
  4. A cross-field pass to switch the line of attacker
  5. A pass backwards to a supporting player

1. A pass into space behind the defence:

This type of pass is in the top of the priority list because it can cause the defenders more problems. After the pass, the defenders are not facing the ball anymore, they have to turn around and run towards their goal. There are three ways to execute this type of passing.

1.1   between the centre back and the full back – straight pass

straight

  • centre forward makes a diagonal forward run
1.2   between the centre back and the full back – diagonal pass

diagonal

  • ball is played diagonally from central position for winger to run into space behind full back
1.3   diagonal pass over the head of defenders

diagonal over head

  • The aim is to invade the space behind defenders for centre forward or winger making forward runs

2. Passing to feet of the most advanced attacker

  • It is played behind most of the opponents in order to make them turn around and retreat

3. Other forward pass (beyond at least one defender)

  • The attacker should play the ball past as many opponents as possible (Penetration)
  • The defenders have to adjust their positions after that.

4. Switching the attack

If the attack is on one side and there are too many players congested in a tight area, it means there will be space on the other side. The attackers should be ready to exploit it.

5. Passing back – the last resort (to supporting player)

The supporting player should have the time, space and field of vision to play the ball forward

My opinion

I agree with the theory about the passing check list but I don’t totally agree with his thoughts about direct play and possession play. I don’t think possession play is playing to avoid defeat. Instead, possession play can be used with positive attitude to penetrate the defence of opponent. Possession play can be interpreted as looking for the best chance to attack and they will attack it directly when the opportunity comes. However, some teams do pass the ball around for the sake of keeping the ball but not creating shots. It all depends on the interpretation of the team. A good example is the comparison of Barcelona and Swansea which was claimed to be British football’s Barcelona. Both teams are possession based but the key difference is the penetration in/ into the attacking third. Barcelona is using possession play to attack whenever possible but Swansea is using possession play to contain the opposition which is a defensive measure. For example, in the game v Hull City on Dec 9, 2013, Swansea had 67% of play in the middle third with only 1 shot on target in the first half (Telegraph, 2013). Another example is the stats of action zones from whoscore.com, Swansea have 25% in defending third and 26% in attacking third. On the other hand, Barcelona have 22% in defending third and 31% in attacking third. The stats illustrate the different approaches of both teams even they are both using possession play. There are many posts highlighting the problem of Swansea’s possession play football (e.g. Swansea’s set-up this season, A Breakdown Of Swansea’s Away Form In 2012/13, Possession Key To Swansea’s Relative Success, etc).

In conclusion, I don’t think there is a clear line between possession play and direct play. Moreover, there is no contradiction between them. A team can be possession based and play directly to attack the space when the opportunity comes. It is still a positive attitude. On the other hand, if a team keep making long pass directly from the defending third to attacking third with no accuracy when they face pressure, I think it is a negative attitude as they fear to lose the ball in their own third so they just clear the ball (or pass with no accuracy). The passing check list is a good guideline for players no matter which style of play their team use.

Reference:

HUGHES, C., 1987. Soccer Tactics and Skills. Great Britain: Queen Anne Press

HUGHES, C., 1990. The Winning Formula. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd

SINGH, A., 2012. Possession Key To Swansea’s Relative Success [online][viewed 25 December 2013]. Available from: http://thinkfootball.co.uk/archives/1347

SHUDDERTOTHINK, 2012. A Breakdown Of Swansea’s Away Form In 2012/13 [online][viewed 25 December 2013]. Available from: http://bitterandblue.sbnation.com/2012/10/26/3547056/a-breakdown-of-swanseas-away-form-in-2012-13

TELEGRAPH, 2013. Swansea City v Hull City: live [online][viewed 25 December 2013]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/10500392/Swansea-City-v-Hull-City-live.html

THE INSIDER RIGHT, 2013. Swansea’s set-up this season [online][viewed 25 December 2013]. Available from: http://theinsideright.com/swansea-vs-liverpool/

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Football Basics – Lofted pass techniques

Why use lofted pass?

Although ground passes are easier for the receiver to control the ball, there are some occasions that the only way to exploit space behind opponents is to loft the ball over defenders’ head. For example, if the back four defend well like a wall in front of the goal, then the only way to attack the space behind the back four is to loft the ball into the penalty area. Moreover, a good lofted pass can attack the space quickly. A good example was Dennis Bergkamp’s goal vs. Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. The long lofted pass was made by Frank De Boer.

Which basic techniques can be used?

There are three basic techniques: lofted drive, volley and chip. The following organisation charts shows the details of the techniques.

Air pass organisation chartFigure 1. Organisation charts showing the basic techniques of lofted pass

The following tables summarise the advantages and disadvantages of different types of techniques:

Lofted Drive:

Contact surface & approach Advantages Disadvantages
1. Instep – slightly angled  approach
  • > 40 yards
  • With considerable pace, giving little chance to recover
  • Ball not rise steeply, difficult to clear defenders nearby (<10 yards)
2. Instep – wided-angled approach

wide angle

  • >40 yards
  • Not difficult to control
  • Possible to put backspin
  • Steeper trajectory
  • Can’t be hit with as much pace as some other methods. Therefore, defenders have more time to adjust position when the ball is in flight
3. Outside of the foot

outside

  • >40 yards
  • With pace
  • Can be swerved away from defenders, making interceptions more difficult
  • Difficult to control
  • Not rise steeply
  • The ball will continue to roll away after pitching, difficult to judge the pace of the pass into space
4. Inside of the foot

inside

  • >40 yards
  • With pace
  • Be swerved away from defenders
  • Be swerved into path of attacker
  • Easy to control
  • Rise reasonably steeply
  • The ball will continue to roll away after pitching, difficult to judge the pace of the pass into space

Volley Pass:

Contact surface & approach Advantages Disadvantages
1. Straight approach

volley straight

  • Over the heads of opponents who are a few yards from the ball
  • Played early
  • Long distances
  • With pace
  • Can be “dipped” by imparting topspin to the ball
  •  Difficult to control accuracy
  • Difficult to control pace
2. Sideway approach

volley sideway

  • Over the heads of opponents who are a few yards from  the ball
  • Long distances
  • With pace
  • Played early
  • Even more difficult to control accuracy
  • Difficult to control pace

Chip Pass:

Contact surface & approach Advantages Disadvantages
1. Straight approach

chip

  • Because of the backspin, the ball will rise very steeply.
  • Able to clear the heads of opponents only 5,6 yards from the ball
  • Possible to stop the ball in a small space because of backspin
  • Only 20-25 yards
  • Players running on to the pass may find the ball difficult to control as they would be moving against the spin

Reference:

Netherlands – Argentina: Bergkamp Goal 1998 (HD), 2010 [online video]. By Frank de Jong. [viewed 23 December 2013]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsZkCFoqSBs

HUGHES, C., 1987. Soccer Tactics and Skills. Great Britain: Queen Anne Press

HUGHES, C., 1990. The Winning Formula. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd

Football Basics – Ground pass techniques

There are five basic techniques could be used to execute a ground pass. The following table summarises the advantages and disadvantages of different types of techniques:

Type Advantages Disadvantages
1. Inside of the foot – Pushpush
  • Offers the best accuracy because of the large surface of the boo presented to the ball
  • Easy for defenders to predict
  • Difficult to generate power so it is unsuitable for long passing
  • Difficult to execute on the run because it is impossible to position correctly without interrupting the stride pattern
2. Instep (laces)instep
  • Easy to disguise intentions
  • Possible to add power and pace to make it available both for long passing and shooting
  • Can be made while running
  • It is a difficult technique to be executed
3. Outside of the foot – flickoutside flick
  • To be made with the minimum of the foot movement and maximum of disguise
  • Only be used over short distances
4. Outside of the foot – swerveoutside swerve
  • To be used to bend the ball around an opponent
  • Over long distance so it is a valuable shooting technique
  • Be used when running
  • Draw the ball away from the goalkeeper when crossed from a flank
  • The more swerve required, the more difficult it is to execute this technique
5. Inside of the foot – swerveinside
  • Bent around an opponent
  • Be used over short and long distances
  • The ball can easily be lifted a few inches over a defender’s outstretch legs
  • Great deal of swerve can be imparted
  • Draw the ball away from goalkeeper when crossed from the flank
  • Never go straight, always be spinning, possibly making control more difficult

The best footage I can think of to show the execution of the ground passes to create a goal is the second goal of Argentina vs. Serbia & Montenegro at the 2006 World Cup. Most of the passes involved were ground passes and some of the techniques they used are not covered in these 5 basic techniques (e.g. back heel pass).

Reference:

Argentina 25 passes goal, 2006 [online video]. By kwanbis. [viewed 23 December 2013]. Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5W6vBI3mGE

HUGHES, C., 1987. Soccer Tactics and Skills. Great Britain: Queen Anne Press

HUGHES, C., 1990. The Winning Formula. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd

Football Basics – Passing

In the role of a football performance analyst, IT skill is one of the necessary skills in the skill set. However, it shouldn’t be over-emphasised. If what you are doing everyday is video tagging to clip and code the game footage, and then produce individual clips for individual players and coaches (e.g. putting all the shot clips together for the striker). Can you consider yourself as an analyst? Are you really analysing the game? It is a topic covered by some posts (e.g. Video Editor v Performance Analyst). My view is that a football performance analyst should do much more than that to analyse the game. For example, performance analyst should have some knowledge about data management and statistical analysis in my opinion. However, in order to analyse the game, should the analyst have some basic football knowledge also? Some posts have covered the overlapping area between the coach and the analyst (e.g. Should all coaches be analysts?). I firmly believe a football coach has a higher potential to be a better performance analyst because of the football knowledge. Therefore, I have decided to set up a new category called “Basics” in the website. “Basics” means football basics and my aim is to cover football knowledge about various techniques, principles of play and tactical knowledge, system of play (formation), etc. Apart from using text, I will use lots of diagrams and videos to explain the technical points in football.

Why passing is so important?

The first topic I choose for this new category is passing because it is very important in a football game. It is one of the two techniques used most frequently – controlling and passing the ball. When a player receives the ball, over 80% of occasions he will pass the ball to a teammate and on other occasions he will either shoot or dribble (Hughes, 1987). The FA emphasised the importance of passing by considering the technical demands of the game in the book “The Future Game” (FA Learning, 2010).

the-future-game

These are some key statistics mentioned in the book about passing:

  • More teams at the highest level now value the retention of possession, with leading teams often dominating possession in the ratio of approximately two to one (or 65% to 35%)
  • Players regularly reach 80% pass success, with some players in the world class level having pass success rates of 90% and above
  • 20% more passing and receiving situation during games comparing with 2002
  • One-touch passing: Champions League teams are creating as many as 50% of their goals with one touch passing sequences before the final strike at goal

To know more about passing, we can refer to the technical definition from the academic study (Ford et al, 2004):

Pass: player in possession sends the ball to a teammate (e.g. using the foot, thigh or chest; using various techniques such as ground, lofted, chip, flick or volley; over short or long distances)

There are different views to identify what a successful pass is. Some people said as long as a teammate has a touch of the ball then it is a successful pass (even the touch is bad and they lose possession). Another view suggests that the pass is successful if possession is retained (Carling et al., 2005). I prefer the latter definition.

Regarding the distance of the pass, Hughes (1987) suggested that short passes are 30 yards or less and long passes are more than 30 yards.

Generally, I divide passing techniques into two groups: ground pass and loft pass. There are many technical points to cover in these two passing techniques so I will leave it to next week. In conclusion, it is just a starting point of the new category. I will keep writing posts in other categories also. If you want me to talk about any particular topic, please feel free to leave the comment.

Reference:

CARLING, C., WILLIAMS, A.M., & REILLY, T., 2005. Handbook of Soccer Match Analysis. London: Routledge

Carroll, R., 2012. Should All Coaches Be Analysts? [online][viewed 6 November 2012]. Available from: http://thevideoanalyst.com/should-all-coaches-be-analysts/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+thevideoanalyst+%28thevideoanalyst.com%29

Carroll, R., 2013. Video Editor v Performance Analyst [online][viewed 12 September 2013]. Available from: http://thevideoanalyst.com/video-editor-v-performance-analyst/

FA LEARNING, 2010. The Future Game. Great Britain: FA Learning

FORD, P., WILLIAMS, M., & BATE, D., 2004. A quantitative analysis of counter attacks from the defensive third. Insight, 7(3), 29-32

HUGHES, C., 1987. Soccer Tactics and Skills. Great Britain: Queen Anne Press

OXFORDSHIRE FA, 2013. The-future-game [digital image][viewed 12 November 2013]. Available from: http://www.oxfordshirefa.com/~/media/countysites/oxfordshirefa/images/boxes%20300×290/the-future-game.ashx?w=300&h=290

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