Winning the Ball Starts the Attack

Choosing an attacking style

Before you get into the details about attacking play such as passing, dribbling, shooting, overlaps and so on it helps to keep two things in mind;

  1. Possession begins where you win the ball. Winning the ball on the edge of your penalty area is different then winning it on the edge of the opponents.
  2. Everyone has to be on the same page about what to do.


Since you cannot attack without the ball your attacking play begins with how and where you plan on winning the ball back. The defensive plan has to accomodate the attacking plan. Generally, there are two different styles of "Attacking" play, the playmaking and counter attacking styles. Both start with the same premise, "We’ll defend here because it suits the situation. We’ll be building our attacks from this area of the field." It’s the "Here" that seperates them.

  1. Playmaking style. The entire team is committed to playing the game in the opponents half of the field. It is a high risk, high pressure game requiring better qualities then the opponents offer. In 11v11 the 3-4-3, takes you to, in possession is one example of how tactics and style are related. Holland vs. Argentina, WC ’74, takes you to YouTube, provides some good examples of the playmaking style. It looks as if the entire Dutch team is playing in the Argentinians back third. (Note how Holland defends against the Argentine freekick.) Here, takes you to YouTube, is a look at the risks of the playmaking style. Slovenia employs the counter attacking game against Hollands playmaking style.
  2. Counter attacking style. This is a safety first approach. Only a limited number of players have real attacking roles, the rest support the attack from behind the ball. Also the team looks for opportunities to get forward instead of trying to create them. Here, takes you to YouTube, Liverpool gives a classic example of counterattacking soccer. They’re thinking "You’re corner, our attack" and with only 7 touches in 14 seconds they go from their own end line to win a penalty. (The game is also reduced from 11v11 to 2v2 in the same amount of time.)

Even in small sided games like 1v1 and 2v2 players and teams have to understand the difference between these two styles. What factors contribute to the choice? When is one style preferable to the other? What skill sets are necessary for each?

It’s rare that teams play in only one style. Instead, teams must constantly move between the two. When things go well you’re able to mostly play in the style of your choice.

What to do - Two choices

When you regain possession everyone has to come to the same decision about what to do. They need to coordinate their actions to the situation to execute their plan. It helps to reduce the decision to two choices, to build up the play, e.g. hold the ball and play for possession, or look for the quick counter attack. This either/or way of thinking is based on the situation that they players face.

Small sided games provide dozens of situations where players are confronted with this choice in a very short period of time. They provide players with many opportunities to read and answer the question, "Do we build up or counter" in elementary forms. The constant repetition of this moment makes 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 games an ideal training environment for the players concentration. Drills do not address this basic aspect of the game.