Tactics and counter-tactics by Tim Lees

Tactics and counter-tactics by Tim Lees

FOLLOWING ON FROM OUR RECENT INTERVIEW with former Liverpool, Wigan and Watford academy coach Tim Lees, we talk to the young trainer about tactics, formations and countering threats on a football pitch.

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Read Tim Lees: Coaching possession, youth development and the future here

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How would you setup against the modern 4-3-3 side? In particular those that play from the back, whose full backs push high, wingers come inside and play on a rotation in the middle?

“There is no right and wrong way to organise against another system; the success or failure of the setup determines its significance but there are always dozens of ways to combat a tactical problem. Recently I was fortunate enough to coach a youth team alongside an international captain and Premier League defender who was doing his badges. The thing I learned the most from him was how two players at the same level, in the same position, deal with the same situation completely differently but with equal success.

“Nowadays, most teams will play a version of 4-3-3 using principles of central rotation, aggressive full backs on the fourth receiving line and wingers who come late on the inside; these are the most common tactical problems opposing players are faced with. The success of Barcelona has meant that lots of coaches copy this system; the aggressive will play 4-3-3 and the pessimistic will employ a 4-2-3-1.

“The question is difficult to answer given that the different mechanisms of playing against this system will depend on the player profiles of both teams. You could show the opposition into areas where you are strong in the press and where they are weak with the ball or into areas of the pitch where you feel your team could exploit them the most. I always look at the strengths the opposition have and exactly how they want to construct their attacks. Adam Booth, a world-class boxing coach, says that you must first take away the opponent’s strengths and then find a way to deploy your own. One method I feel is applicable against a 4-3-3 is the following:

“The opposition want to play from the back with centre backs splitting, full backs getting high which then prompts the wingers to come inside. They want to rotate centrally by dragging your midfielders apart and creating space for the 9 – or false 9 – to get turned higher. Therefore, I would play a 4-4-2 diamond. The strikers would split 60 yards wide in between the full backs and centre backs allowing the first pass out.

“Their first job then is to block the passing line from centre back to full back (that is where they want to play as the space is out wide against a diamond) and show the centre backs inside the pitch. In central areas, we have a 4v3 that are sitting zonally, not following their midfield three, thus allowing them effectively to rotate into you. Our midfielders are on the front foot in their relative zones ready to press the second pass from the back. The opposition’s full backs will get high with wingers coming inside but if we get good pressure on the second pass out, into central areas, then their wingers effectively become dormant and we are playing 10v8.

“As soon as their centre back plays into our diamond zone, we press together closing the net, preventing circulation, pressing from one side to keep players inside our ‘net’ and showing play into the pressure zone. The pressing triggers and timing to steal in the diamond is imperative as are 1v1 defending techniques to prevent turns. From this position, on the regain we have a 2v2 to counter as their full backs are out of the game and our strikers are playing outside shoulders of centre backs with space.

“If the opposition’s pass has gone into the second line of midfield and we regain, we also ask our number 10 to play in the spaces – he only does this once the ball has gone past the first line and he cannot affect the deep lying player – and get wrong side of their deep-lyer which effectively creates a 3v2 on the turnover.

“The other scenario here is that their centre back begins to drive inside the pitch with the ball as his full back is cut off and he sees a wall centrally. As he does this, our striker presses him whilst still cutting off the line to the full back; effectively our strikers are pressing two players by jumping down the line of the two and three thus creating a defensive overload elsewhere. When the centre back has lost possession, be it playing passes into midfield lines or driving in when pressed by the striker, his decisions then begin to go long. The keys to this system are playing in a medium block, allowing the first pass out, jumping on the second one and understanding roles on the turnover. Once a counter attack happens the opposition will change what they are doing, usually by dropping a full back deeper and now you begin to control the attacking lines of the opposition.

“In simple terms, in possession we have a 4v3 centrally to dominate the ball, we get attacking width from the full backs whilst also playing two up front. The four receiving lines in the middle make it very hard for any team to get control of the game. When a four man defence play against a 4-3-3, the 2v1 centrally against our nine makes it hard for us to penetrate – full backs can defend wider than normal allowing the space between them and their centre back to be bigger because they have the security of the 2v1. If you are a full back against a 4-4-2 diamond then you have no winger to mark but you have to offer extra cover inside against two number 9s but also defend late runs from the opposition’s full back and third man runs penetrating centrally from the opposition’s 10. If coached right, the diamond is very difficult to play against. This is only one solution to negate a 4-3-3.”


How do you deal with criticism of your methods or mental challenges as a coach?

“With the accessibility of football now attracting so many ‘experts’ through avenues online for them to voice their ideas, I am very cautious and wary of being accused of the same. If you have an opinion in football then to some people you are arrogant. By doing this interview, I will be perceived by some as arrogant but that is their problem. If you cannot deal with criticism then working in elite football is definitely not for you. Being thick skinned is entry-level criteria.

“When we introduced playing from the back as a philosophy at Wigan, there was a period of time where it was tough as every age group conceded goals, did not get final third entries and had deteriorating results. Collectively as staff, our belief had to be strong and we had to educate players and parents on the long-term returns. The easiest thing in the world is to criticise a coach or player after mistakes.

“People are, for example, often quick to highlight the dangers of playing from the back when goals are conceded but these are the same people who don’t recognise or equally emphasise how many chances, goals and techniques it gives the players for the rest of the games. It’s as if people think that Piqué and Puyol came out of the womb knowing that when a 9 and 10 press you, every yard you take them down the box creates a yard of space for midfielders.

“As a coach, I want my team to have control over what happens and have method behind how we attack with the ball. Imposing our style on the opposition is absolutely imperative for individual and collective development, which coincidentally nearly always leads to positive results long term. If we get the process right then the outcome will take care of itself. Criticism is part of this journey.”


How would you play to break down a side that uses a low block and is more than happy to allow you 70% possession? They use a 4-2-3-1 on paper which, when defending, is more of a 4-4-1-1 formation. I ask this with many away sides using this tactic in the Premier League these days and home teams find it hard to figure out.

“Playing against a low block is one of the most difficult yet prevalent problems in the game. If a team is going to dominate the ball and look to control the game then they need to have knowledge of how to break down a deep lying defence. The two situations go hand in hand and you rarely get one without the other.

“Many teams defend extremely compactly and focus on starving the opposition of space thus it is vital that elite players have years of coaching in, and experience of, breaking down the wall. The best players in the world can play and operate inside the blocks dominating opponents in 1v1 situations and finding ways to play forward and break the lines. If you look at the elite players in the Premier League they all are game changers inside that block and they don’t particularly need the spaces to dominate; practitioners include Hazard, Özil, Sánchez and Coutinho. If a team is setting up to defend deep then generally they are happy to block the middle of the pitch, starve you of space in terms of vertical lines and prioritise showing you wide.

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Eden Hazard

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“There are several important principles that I would encourage against a low block:

Fast circulation: The function of circulation is to drag the opponent to one side in order to switch play quickly to attack where there are fewer players. Slow circulation is completely pointless and counterproductive. When the opposition have shifted their block to one touchline then the team in possession must switch play faster than the opposition can recover to the opposite side. The methods of switching play if done quickly all lead to creating, isolating and dominating 1v1 situations on the weak side.

If the opposition have managed to shift part of their block over in time then a quick overload to break the defensive line is imperative. Here, the full back must overlap if the winger has come inside and underlap if he is tight to the line. As soon as a midfielder receives on the back foot or the pass from the opposite winger goes backwards, the weak side full back begins his forward movement. Teams who circulate slowly have a high percentage possession with little penetration, shots or goals and are vulnerable to counters. Having 1v1 (defender in front) specialists on the sides are of huge importance.

Forward runs centrally: Midfielders must have the hunger, desire and tactical flexibility to break lines with their movement. Many midfielders in the modern game want to support behind the ball and build play, mainly for fear of the transition. The most valuable midfielders are those who make forward runs to break the low block.

Penetration of the five channels: Teams need to look to penetrate the five vertical channels around the back four through late and explosive movements, with and without the ball. Strikers need to continually look to make movements off the shoulder of defenders playing out of the eye line and players in possession must look to thread passes into the five channels. With no clever movement in behind, teams end up having 80 per cent possession with everything in front of the back line, with a back four against one striker. Defenders want the game in front of them and do not want to constantly be on the turn and facing their own goal.

Dominate pressure behind: Players must be able to dominate opponents with pressure behind as this is the most common 1v1 scenario (80 per cent in Champions League). Taking one opponent out of the game disrupts their balance and cover mechanism centrally.

Change in tempo: The opposition want you to move the ball slowly across the pitch so that they can slide and keep their defensive shape. Playing one and two touch football is easy for them to keep the ball in front of their lines and keep their shape. The team in possession must be able to show a change in tempo in and around the penalty box with quick combinations. Arsenal and Barcelona are the best examples of this.

Change their territorial positioning: If a team wastes time, sits in their block, wants to slow the game down at every opportunity and kicks long waiting for set pieces or a counter attack then one way around this is to change their desired positioning. Rather than pressing high on the first pass and making them go long where their centre backs are on the edge of their box and striker is receiving on the halfway line, setup in a medium block by asking your strikers to drop just outside of the centre circle. This encourages their centre backs to move 20-30m up the pitch thus you now can play more on the counter with space in behind.

Play on transition: As a rule, risk the first pass on the regain by playing through the lines. This may risk a higher loss in possession but as soon as their midfielders get setup 10m in front of their back line, they are comfortable and where they want to be. Look to play through the lines early and get players turned so that their midfielders are running towards their goal. On the turnover of possession, if you penetrate the midfield line then the opposition will look to delay you by showing you wide thus look to play centrally – and stay there – as early as possible.

Movements against the grain: When a team is circulating the ball, the opposition are sliding with it. Movements against the direction of the ball are very affective at finding space as defenders are focused on the ball therefore attackers move out of the eye line for reverse passes.

Disguised and around the corner passes: The defensive lines are reacting to body shape and body language of the opposition in possession. Players in central areas must have the techniques of shaping up to play wide then playing disguised passes through the bank to break the line and also play around corners quickly to disrupt the block.”


Inside forwards are becoming the norm but how would you set up to get the best out of traditional wingers such as Jefferson Montero and Yannick Bolasie? Big teams seem reluctant to play these types of winger from the start these days.

“Recently there was a document released by UEFA that showed the low conversion rate of crosses and it solidified the obsession for many coaches with inverted wingers. It has become a tradition to play wingers on the opposite sides and subsequently wrong foot full backs – because full backs can only tackle with their dominant foot apparently! – to the point where you very rarely see old school wingers. It is only my personal opinion, but no matter where the game goes and how complex defensive systems get, getting the ball wide to players who can deliver a range of crosses with consistency will always be affective.

“I am a huge fan of playing with old school wingers who can go 1v1 on the outside, as long as they are in a system where they are protected. The prominence of inside forwards began years ago when 4-2-3-1 became a formality for most teams; two screeners and effectively three number 10s in the pockets. The wide players became more like ‘forwards’ that had to score goals rather than wingers who went on the outside, primarily because there was a heavy reliance on one striker to score and full backs started to provide height.

“Many managers now perceive dribblers as liabilities as they become more concerned with forward runs from the opposition’s full back. Real Madrid have this problem with Ronaldo which contributed to Mourinho playing him as a lone striker. In fact, it could even be argued that managers would currently be more inclined to convert wingers to full backs. I find it disappointing to see players such as Theo Walcott being used as a Plan B in the last 20 minutes of games when the game is crying out for pace and penetration in wide areas.

“If people want to use Spain as the model then they must really put La Liga under the microscope instead of copying the tiki-taka disciples. For all of their intricate technicians, some of La Liga’s most effective players in recent years were exponents of speed on the outside: Di María, Neymar, Sánchez, Navas, Pedro, Bale, Joaquín and Ronaldo to name a few. Football goes in cycles and wingers will come back into fashion. Whether it be Stanley Matthews in the 50s, George Best in the ’60s, John Robertson in the ’70s, John Barnes in the ’80s, Ryan Giggs in the ’90s or Gareth Bale more recently, old school wingers will always have a place in the game.”


Can a fluid, passing side effectively play with a target man upfront? 

“If you are Barcelona and have a freak like Messi, you don’t need a target nine. You don’t need a player who allows you to get up the pitch through hold up play because these players are technically so superior to other teams and they get into the final third regardless. However not every team is Barcelona and not every team has Messi, therefore the profile of the number 9 has to be different.

“It’s hard to distinguish a ‘target player’ because when does one fall into this category and when do they not? Andy Carroll is your obvious old school type target player who West Ham play very early and direct to but he was surplus to demand at Liverpool in Rodgers’ philosophy. Depending on a person’s categorisation, though, it could be argued that three years later they have replaced him with another ‘target player’ in Benteke.

Ibrahimović could be branded a target player but technically is outstanding and plays in possession dominating teams, as does Lewandowski at Bayern. Target men became popular in the last decade due to the prominence of 4-2-3-1. The target man allowed the three creative players to play off him, to have freedom of rotation and to run in behind. A strong, back-to goal-player who helps his team to get positioning high up the pitch will always have a place in any philosophy. The better the team keeps possession and the higher the level, the more demand of technique from the target player.”


In your opinion, how important are defensive midfielders in modern football? In the previous interview you said you wanted your sides to have 65% possession, so would you use one? 

“This area of the pitch is the heartbeat, requiring a player to dictate the rhythm, both with and without the ball. Every successful team has at least one defensive midfielder who is responsible for the orchestration of defensive movements and synchronisation of attacks – not necessarily a ball winner as such.

“Chelsea were very good last season for various reasons, but Matić alone earned them over a dozen points in my opinion with his discipline, breaking up of play and consistently accurate positioning. Whether teams play with one defensive pivot and two energetic, more advanced ones who can press, or they play with a double pivot, you will not find a successful team who doesn’t have an intelligent deep-lyer.

“Having a defensive midfielder of this type allows for fluidity, rotation and interchange higher up whilst maintaining structure and shape on the transition. The defensive midfielder has to have incredible intelligence and tactical flexibility recognising the rhythms and shapes within the game. For example, if the opposition are playing in a medium block, the average centre midfielders will go and drop in between the centre backs in front of the opposition’s striker where the game is easy and they have time and space. These players are ‘pretenders’ who want to look good popping the ball sidewards and backwards to full backs and centre backs rather than receiving higher thus functioning better for the team.

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cropped_4655820Bastian Schweinsteiger

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“I find these players very frustrating, however there are a few at the top level stealing a living doing it. With the increasing demand on full backs to contribute in the final third, defensive midfielders allow them to be aggressive and brave with their positioning. Take Arsenal at the moment – they have the most talented squad in the league but are completely devoid of defensive discipline centrally; the phrase ‘If there is a hole in the boat, the whole thing sinks’ is extremely applicable.

“Manchester United have had a poor start to the season but they have the ingredients to be outstanding. If, for example, they played with Schneiderlin/Carrick and Schweinsteiger as a double pivot, it would allow Rooney, Mata and Depay to rotate off a 9. Instead, their shape looks disorganised and open because there is added responsibility for the front four to recover, and they receive too deeply.

“The key to being a defensive midfielder, though, is being able to play a ‘double position’ during the game. This refers to having the tactical flexibility to recognise underloads and disorganisation of shape – filling in for full backs, dropping in to make a back three or becoming the second centre back. Think of the best players in the world in this position and they have this flexibility: Lahm, Alonso and Busquets to name three.”


There is a lot of criticism of the FA for not aiding the production of world-class English players. Do you agree with this?

“Players signed to professional clubs spend three nights a week, in addition to day release hours and weekend matches, at their respective clubs. The academy manager, lead phase and age group coaches are responsible for the education of players at their club. I acknowledge that the FA have an influence over the education of coaches but they are not accountable on a weekly basis. Many people blame the education of the coaches, which has some valid argument but is not the whole story at all. Criticism can be levelled; I paid £5,000 for my ‘A’ Licence where on the opening evening we had a presentation on Barcelona and the statistics of a passing philosophy only to go out on the pitch and practice long throw-in routines for an hour. The contrast and irrelevance was alarming as we were literally, throwing it long to the big man in the box.

“There seems to be a dichotomy at the heart of the FA. There are genuinely some brilliant coach educators at the FA that have influenced my thinking and practice a lot, and they are doing some great work. On the flip side, there are also some people there that are so embedded deep in an old school culture, it’s too far to recover. It’s ‘our way or no way’. As someone once said, ‘you can build a spaceship but if you put dinosaurs in it, isn’t going anywhere’.

“In my opinion, the reason this country does not produce world-class players is due to the education they receive between 9-21 years. Players must be fostered and nurtured in a specific environment for years where everyone at that club is on the same page, or, more accurately, pages. Unfortunately, you often have people in charge whose minds have been closed for years and don’t understand the process of how to create a development driven philosophy. They, therefore, don’t even try. Many academy managers and youth coaches are results driven and focus on this Sunday’s result with kids instead of the first team’s performance ten years down the line. Robert Martínez was utterly dismissive when I asked him about the importance of results with younger teams.

“There has to be a vision and a relentless driving force behind every academy, instead of coaches making sessions up in the car on the way to training. Too many academies are driven by the principles of the individual coach – it means from age group to age group the style of football changes. The F.A. can spend as much money as they want on St. George’s Park, new DNA model or skills coaches in schools but until clubs stop employing dinosaurs to oversee their youth setup, absolutely nothing will change.

“What we will have is a brilliant facility for coaching qualifications, a fancy glossy document and players going to high school with a Cruyff turn in the locker. If you go to any ‘English’ game from the Championship to non-league or an under-18s professional academy, watch what the crowd appreciate. They love the 50-50s, they complement the thunderous tackle and they applaud the player who wins the header. Believe it or not, most fans still praise the full back who hooks balls on and sticks the ball in a general area of a striker.

“This is not taking responsibility and requires no bravery or class whatsoever. The Secret Footballer’s book had a great excerpt on this subject: ‘Winning the header for the sake of it is a coward’s way to play football; it does not take responsibility in any way and the turnover of possession is high. Barcelona never get credit for the amount of times they head aerial balls to teammates as passes. A ball dropping out of the air is an opportunity to retain possession and build an attack, and should not be viewed as an opportunity to clean somebody out and make yourself look good in the process.’

“Give three players a ball on a park in England and they will kick lumps out of each other and stick one person in goal. Do the same in Spain and watch how they practice their technique. The culture in England will take a long time to change and there will be no magic wand to change it.”


In possession do you use receiving lines?

“I know some first team managers who use the line markings on the pitch as reference points for movement and request the grass to be cut in specific ways to aid the players visually. Personally, I view the pitch in layers both vertically and horizontally, the latter carrying the biggest significance. In general, most teams defend on three or four lines; 4-2-3-1 (four lines), 4-3-3 (four lines) and 4-4-2 (three lines) thus I want my teams to find the spaces around the opposition’s shape in order to shift, move and isolate specific parts of it. My personal philosophy is based around four receiving lines.

“I first introduced receiving lines into my methodology and practice when ‘the document of Brendan Rodgers’ was leaked five years ago about how his Swansea team plays on seven lines and each line had a specific profile description. I tried to implement it but found that it confused players. Trying to isolate seven horizontal layers became difficult for players to recognise. The document, supposedly by Rodgers, showed seven lines beginning from the goal kick and leading right up to the opposition’s box.

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Brendan Rodgers

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“In reality, with most teams defending one half only, I questioned how it would be possible for a team to play out with the opposition’s defensive line on the edge of their own box, a scenario I have never seen in my life as it means the distance between defence and striker would be 90m. Therefore, as I experimented with various zones, I found four receiving lines to be the most realistic and productive.

“If I am a centre back and I receive on line one, it is realistic for me to quickly analyse which line we have overloaded the opposition on and it is easy to give feedback during games. For example, if our centre backs keep playing into line 2 and the opposition are in a 4-2-3-1 ready to press, it is easy to get a message to the player to look into lines 3 and 4. If the opposition are pressing high then I will ask the centre backs to drop line one deeper.

“Also, for a team to play on seven receiving lines would mean that they are extremely open on the defensive transition, four receiving lines allows for recovery and pressing in units smoothly, from my personal experience. It’s just a way of creating verticality and penetration with the ball.

“In terms of vertical columns, I split the pitch into six different zones to establish specific principles of rotation. The wider two, on each side, relate predominantly to the position of the winger and full back. They can never be in the same vertical column; if, for example, a centre back is in possession, he looks up and none of the two are ever blocking each other’s passing line.

“If the winger comes inside into the narrower channel then the full back provides the width, and vice versa. This also encourages overlaps and underlaps from the deeper player, creates overloads and drags the opposition’s block. The central area of the pitch is then split into two wider columns and gives midfielders an indication of playing on opposite movements to disrupt the shape of the opposition’s midfield – ‘never be in the same column’. The striker also often plays on the opposite column to the ball to create penetration and drags the back line deeper with the 10 roaming where he can find the space.

“These are all general rules worked on in training with relevant zones, as opposed to black and white instructions. The specific movements and rotations within these columns are developed in training and too elaborate to list in an article. For example, when a right back plays back to his centre back, who then opens up back foot, the far side central midfielder begins to drop into the second widest channel on the weak side.

“As the left centre back receives the pass in circulation, the midfielder now drops to receive on the angle where the full back was. This gives aggressive height for the full back and allows the winger to overload centrally as a floating 10. This is one example of the use of the vertical columns. The above terminology is merely for the coaches though; the key is making it simple for the players.”


Would you always coach a team to play to one philosophy or do you think that players need to be able to adapt to different ones?

“In a technical based philosophy aiming to dominate the ball, the technical returns cannot be argued against. However, every team and individual will go through times when they have to defend deep and compact, and show discipline without the ball. Whether you have a lead that you need to protect late on with fatiguing players, perhaps had a player sent off, or are just playing an opposition that are better than you, every player will have to show how good they are without the ball at some point.

“Knowledge and practice of defending behind the ball and playing on the counter attack is a must for youth players. I learned this the hard way a few years ago when I was coaching a youth team. The player who had dominated every game since under-14 got a loan move to a club who played direct in a 4-4-2 where he struggled to impact the games. He said to me ‘I can’t play central midfield in a two, I don’t understand it’. At this point, I realised that playing him as a number ten in a 4-4-2 diamond and 4-2-3-1 had set him up for a fall.

“Generally, 4-3-3 will create deep lying midfielders who want to sit behind the ball constantly and never run forward, whereas 4-2-3-1 will create a load of number 10s who cannot play any other position and find themselves sat on benches for the rest of their career as the ‘luxury player’. I was discussing systems with Roberto Martínez a few years ago and he said: ‘Any time the players are comfortable, change the system, change the depth of the block, tell them they have to defend deep for 15 minutes, tell them they are defending with five players for 10 minutes; I want players who are tactically flexible with game management’.

“Equally, an international defender once advised me on the mentality of pressing. He said that in the first ten minutes of games when teams allowed him the ball, he gained confidence and took more touches, and his mind got used to having time on the ball promoting laziness. After ten minutes the opposing team’s front line then went full press out of nowhere and it caught him out. He reiterated how your mind gets used to a certain rhythm in a game and being challenged with something completely different made him make mistakes, when for the previous ten minutes he had looked like Beckenbauer (his words not mine!). Tactical flexibility and playing in diverse strategies has to be a huge focus of any periodised youth programme.”


What system do you prefer playing?

“Whichever suits the best players. The most important thing is to impose our principles on the opposition rather than focus on one specific system. If you teach players specific roles within one system then you are setting them up for failure. When they leave that group as an individual (first team, on loan, older age group, transfer etc.) then you must have provided them with the tactical flexibility to adapt to different circumstances, formations and situations.

“The system can definitely help a team to get the best out of their players and dominate an opponent but the principles are more important. Dominating the ball for 65% of the time, playing with width and depth, rotation, interchange, receiving lines, getting the opposition deep in their half and being aggressive without the ball; these are the focus for every session and game.

“In the topic of systems, I began playing 4-3-3 then 4-2-3-1 at Watford which was very flexible and interchangeable. At Wigan, every team operated with a back three in a 3-5-2 and 3-4-2-1 system to mirror the first team but after Roberto left we changed to a 4-diamond-2 to accommodate the profile of players we got through the door who were all very similar.

“They were very good technically but lacked the physical explosiveness and speed of the elite clubs, therefore we had to adapt to compete. More recently at Liverpool, the system was flexible around the players but had a prominence of 3-diamond-3 which was extremely aggressive with and without the ball. Pep Lljinders and Alex Inglethorpe were excellent in educating staff on the intricacies of this system, which was heavily influenced by Ajax in the 90s. No matter what system you play, there is always space somewhere and it is down to the coach to decide where that space is best vacated/exploited for each opposition.”


Do you have specific player profiles for each position?

“I think it is very dangerous to profile positions. With the ever increasing analysis microscope being focused on the game, people look to make football as objective as possible, and although profiles and stats have their place, it will never be a completely objective game.

“Take, for example, the full back position. For many years it was notoriously the position that wingers and central midfielders converted to, paid the lowest wages, was seen as the least important position on the pitch and generally demanded the lowest transfer fees. Clubs very rarely had their marquee signing as a full back. However, in the last few seasons – mainly due to Bielsa and Guardiola – the profile of a full back has completely changed, with clubs paying in excess of £30 million for players such as Luke Shaw, Fabio Coentrao and Danilo.

“For decades, full backs earned their crust by stopping the opposing winger from effecting the game, whereas in the modern game they are often judged more on their productivity in the final third. With a heavier focus on pivot midfielders filling in and protecting the centre backs, the profile of a full back has evolved, with transfer fees and wages reflecting this.

“If I am an academy manager mapping out a ten year cycle for a central midfielder from the age of 10, then it is dangerous to create one specific type of midfielder with the same profile. Central midfielders have diverse traits, strengths and weaknesses tactically, technically and physically. If I select some of the best midfielders in the last decade – Modric, Scholes, Matic, Pirlo, Gerrard and Rooney – they all have completely different profiles yet played in the same position. Yet, you would not complain if any of them came through your youth system.

“Also, some coaches like specific things in players that others don’t. For example, I absolutely hate it when a full back or centre back is under pressure from the winger running towards his own goal and he kicks the ball out for a throw in instead of finding a way to retain. For these reasons, I stay away from trying to profile a position and focus more on polishing the individual.”

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Purchase Tim’s excellent book, Developing an Elite Coaching Philosophy: In Possession here

Follow him on Twitter @timlees10

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By Sam McGuire. Follow @SamMcGuire90

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