Atletico’s Defensive Struggles this Season

By Stevie Grieve

Last season, Atletico Madrid won La Liga on the back of a strong defensive unit, good individual players and speed in transitions in both attack and defence. After losing GK Courtois, LB Felipe Luis and CF (and talisman) Diego Costa to Chelsea, they have struggled to recreate the attacking transitions that provided so many goals for Diego Costa, while being much less organised in defensive play, particularly in both horizontal and vertical compactness.

In the last 7 games against Atletico, Barcelona have struggled as Atletico’s game plan was simple – reduce space between units, stop Barcelona from being able to get players between the lines to receive and reduce the space on the side of the ball as much as possible. This did not happen.

Good Compactness in a situational 3-4-3


Here, Games is to press and play 1v1 against Messi who plays as a

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Liverpool Improving in Possession

By Stevie Grieve

Since the summer, Liverpool have struggled to get back to the fluid and penetrative style of last season. Losing Luis Suarez was a big blow, and replacing him with 2 immobile strikers instead of a more suitable mobile player or use the rapid and mobile Divock Origi (who stayed on loan at Lille) has caused no end of problems for the team in an attacking sense.

Recently, Brendan Rodgers has found a way to fit in his £25m signing Adam Lallana, talismanic figure Coutinho and potential World Class player Raheem Sterling, by using a system of 3-4-3-0, incorporating a back 3 with Emre Can able to stride into midfield and use his excellent ball playing abilities, with raiding full backs Moreno and Manquillo offering the width on the sides.

The often criticized Joe Allen has found a position similar to the one Busquets made his trademark by dropping between centre backs and operating in front of the oppositions midfield, looking for passes into midfield or attack from a deep position, with Henderson playing ahead of him in a position to press or offer short passes to and from Allen to keep play moving.

Liverpool 3430

Liverpools 3-4-3 is designed to place players between the lines and attack the

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Chelsea’s Centre Backs in Wide Positions

By Stevie Grieve

Jose Mourinho teams have been strong defensively since he took over in his 1st role at Benfica, through from Lieira, Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and again to Chelsea. The backbone of his success has been from a very effective style of play based on not conceding goals, being compact vertically and horizontally, with the 2 centre backs being able to play close together and in front of the goal. In this Chelsea team, although they are the best team in the Premier League and one of the best sides in the Champions League, the lack of pace in the centre of the team is a concern, particularly when Cesc and Oscar and caught high as they are not quick enough to get back and help Matic once the press is beaten.

Another weakness is when Cahill or Terry are drawn wide in possession or to defend 1v1 on the side, Nemanja Matic will cover between the centre backs or in the half space, often leaving a hole in front of the defence due to Cesc or Oscar being too far away to cover the space in front of the back 4.

Against Tottenham, Mauricio Pocchetino had a clear game plan – tempt Chelsea into allowing Terry or Cahill wide in possession then win the ball form high pressing traps in the 4-2-3-1, then attack diagonally towards the far side centre back, with the near side centre back not quick enough to delay the attack. If Matic was to cover the space, this would leave the space in front of the defence exposed and allow for cutbacks is Cesc wasn’t close enough to cover the space Matic leaves.

Tottenham game process;
Allow CB wide possession, tempt FB forward to press, release winger down the side and look for the cutback with Matic between Cahill and Terry


When Spurs win possession, Ivanovic will close down play and leave Kane in front of Cahill who will have been closed down once in a wide area. Kane then takes up the space in front of Cahill to counter attack down the side via the winger, who will attack the space down the side.

If possible, the winger will look for the cutback as Matic fills in between the centre backs as Cahill is in the wide zone.

Looking for the cutback as the space Matic covers is open


As the winger reaches the edge of the box, the cutback is on as Kane plays outside the box and looks to attack the goal directly. In some cases, Eriksen, Chadli or Townsend would find space in this zone with Cahill or Terry in the wide zone covering the full back, drawing Matic between centre-backs.

Terry lured into the wide zone, Spurs pressing trap wins possession


As Terry is very wide in possession, he will struggle to get into a central position is Spurs attack quickly. Here, the trap is made with the pass into Azpi who will have only 1 touch to pass the ball, with the inside option closed off.

Regain in the 2 v 1 zone


Azpi is forced to pass the ball down the line where Townsend and Walker are 2v1 in the wide zone. From here, Spurs will attack between the massive gap between Cahill (out of picture) and Terry.


As Eriksen breaks forward quickly, Terry is unable to delay the attack, as Ivanovic is late in recovering. Matic can’t make a foul to break up the play and Eriksen is against the back line.


As Chadli breaks through, Eriksen releases a pass behind the defence, which hits the post.

Rose in the corner of the picture races forward from left back to score the rebound.

Cahill caught in wide zone is exposed in transition


As Spurs win possession, Ivanovic tries to counter-press but is caught out with a fast pass into Kane who is covered by Cahill. The wide pass releases Townsend down the line as Matic needs to cover between Cahill and Terry.



Matic covers the space between Cahill and Terry as Cahill doesn’t engage in 1v1 play against Townsend, giving up space as Townsend moves forward unopposed. As Matic has dropped in, the space between the lines is covered as Cesc is nowhere close to the ball.

Kane scores from a cutback


Kane scores from a cutback after a clever protect turn to evade the pressure from Matic, with Cesc and Ivanovic a long way away from being able to help defensively.

Identical build up leads to another cutback


From an identical build up, Cahill again doesn’t engage in a 1v1 on the side and instead conceded ground as Terry is marking the lone attacker in the centre with Azpi and Matic recovering.

Chadli scores from a cutback


As Cahill doesn’t get close to forcing Townsend into making a decision, Matic gets close to make a 2v1, giving up space in the zone he should be covering, allowing the cutback to Chadli, who takes a touch into space before scoring from the same space and build up as the previous Kane goal.

Overall, Pocchetino’s tactics and game process to identify how to find a space to get shots away from, but using Cahill and Terry’s weaknesses and the movements Matic makes to cover defensively worked perfectly, resulting directly in 2 goals and leading to several other attacks on the day.

By Stevie Grieve. (Follow on Twitter @steviegrieve)  Stevie is also the author Coaching the 4-2-3-1Coaching the 4-2-3-1 Advanced Tactics and From Futsal to Soccer

Using the Channel to Draw the Defense Over

By Stevie Grieve

Traditionally in football, the field was separated into 3 clear areas – wide-centre-wide, meaning the specific positional play in possession was fairly static. With a field around 60m wide, this means that each zone is 20m wide, often resulting in large distances between players, particularly in a traditional 4-4-2 formation.

If we split the field into 5 clear channels, this distances of width of each zone becomes 15m and the 5m reduction of distances help layers cover more ground collectively and individually, so the ‘channel’ has become a key zone in terms of build-up play and in how to penetrate through defences.

Using the channel draws over players to press diagonally, and normally results in space being opened up either behind the inside central midfielder or the wide midfielder, and often a defensive midfielder will come higher up to cover the space, leaving the zone between the lines free to be exploited, often temporarily hurting the vertical compactness of the defensive block.

To me, there has been a debate among British coaches and European coaches around the term ‘halfspace’, which is derived from the word ‘haufbraum’ used in Germany from the 1930s to describe ‘the channel’ as it was the area usually occupied by a ‘halfback’, hence the term, ‘halfspace’

For me, there is a difference between the channel and the halfspace;

  • The channel is a set strip of field down the field, like the wing or the centre
  • The halfspace is a movable space between 2 specific opposition players – wide and centre.

If a player presses out of position to the channel, they press diagonally leaving a space which can be exploited, particularly if the player in possession has 3 clear lines of play ahead of him.


As the ball is switched from channel to channel, the defensive block would need to

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Bayern’s Move from Fixed to Flexible

By Stevie Grieve

Pep Guardiola has evolved the Bayern Munich team over the 18 months he has been in charge so it is almost unrecognisable from the treble winning team and style Jupp Heynckes left behind. The system has changed so much that the fairly rigid positions of each player has been replaced with a solutions to problems based style, and one major change has been the implementation of ‘inverted full backs’ in the manner that they cover 4 positions from 1 zone, almost like an old fashioned ‘halfback’ from the 1930s.

The positioning of this player allows the team to be flexible in the centre and wide areas, in both attack and defence, and in transition phases where the ‘halfbacks’ can drop off to form a back 4, or press high to counter-press with the 2-1 triangle covering behind them (DM & CBs).

Position of the ‘inverted Full Backs / Halfbacks in a 4-3-3



As we can see, the ‘halfback’ is in the position between centre and wide (the channel) between midfield and

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Playing with Inverted Full Backs

By Stevie Grieve

Positioning in modern football is a massive part of the success of a team, particularly in the development of an attacking game but also in ball conservation to defend, while defensive positioning has always been an important factor in a successful defensive unit. With Pep Guardiola (of whom regular blog readers will know I analyse his teams on a regular basis), his tactical innovations are changing the way the game is played and coached across all levels.

Inverted Full Backs to overload the centre and cover several zones with one player


The full backs of Bayern – Alaba and Lahm – can both be played in central midfield and at full back in both attacking and defensive phases. This gives Guardiola so many more options but instead of being a traditional coach and using

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