Friday, June 16, 2017



This Positional Play has been the underlying philosophy behind one of the most successful coaches, Pep Guardiola. At the beginning, just to familiarize the readers with this game model, a couple of teams and coaches that used the Positional Play will be outlined.The most successful team in terms of trophies won through using the Positional Play has been FC Barcelona during Pep Guardiola's time.Of course the same style continued in the following years including the latest coach, Luis Enrique. Also, Guardiola's Bayern team played with this concept and now he is using the Positional Play in his current team Manchester City. Furthermore, Tomas Tuchel's Borussia Dortmund played the Positional Play in a modified way in comparison to Pep's teams. Other coaches that use the Positional Play in their teams are Jorge Sampaoli as well as Luis Van Gaal and Marcelo Bielsa. In all of their teams the interpretation of the Positional Play is in many different ways mainly because of the quality of the players and the way the coach prefers his team to play. However, the basic concepts and principles remain the same.

This is an example of FC Barcelona's Positional Play.
The well-organized positioning provides the players to express their individual potential and the collective creativity. Basically, Barcelona plays 4-3-3 with a single pivot (defensive midfielder). This shape gives the team the ability to create triangles of support with short distances between the players, which helps the circulation of the ball and as a result Barcelona always has higher percentage of possession of the ball than the opponents.

The Positional Play is about giving the offense a set of guidelines to play within a structured scheme. The playing field is divided into specific zones with four vertical lines and some horizontal lines.

Example from Pep Guardiola's training pitch.

So, the Positional Play is a model of constructed play and it is found in the attacking phase, when we are in possession of the ball. It is basically trying to play the ball towards the opponent's goal by passing through free players. 
You can create those free players through your better positioning than the opponent. Positioning Play is positioning yourself better to get closer to the opposition goal through finding free man. The basic idea is to progress towards the objective of scoring a goal. We occupy the opponent's half, expanding ourselves into their half of the pitch using width and diagonal balls in order to penetrate through their defensive block. It is an organized play that involves combined passing movements using a large number of passes and very well positioning. Some players are directly involved in the play, whereas others are on the break, creating spaces to ensure that possession is kept and progression is made with the final objective of scoring a goal. The Positional Play needs structure and continuous geometrical formations; triangles, rhombus etc.


A good positional play consists of invading and conquering the space on the pitch by making the pitch as big as possible when in possession. To have the ball in possession for the most of the time the players must put immediate pressure after losing the ball in order to retrieve it as soon as possible, which is making the pitch as small as possible for the opposition when out of possession.
When it comes to this negative transition (transition from attack to defense) a perfect example is Pep Guardiola's 6 second rule.Guardiola employed "The 6 second rule" at Barcelona, which is pressing the opponent in the final third. The notion was that in the scenario that the ball is lost in the opponent's half, the team is most likely to win the ball back within the immediate 6 seconds that followed. The great positional structure allows the players to retrieve the ball very quickly. Not only that the successful pressing relies on the positional system and the possession based ball circulation attitudes, but it also relies on the high line of defence to compact the play and reduce the space. It also relies on the goalkeeper controlling the space in behind the highline of defence.

Training grid

The training grid is an organizational tool. You are teaching your players what lanes you want them to occupy. To keep the team organized.
The players will have specific tasks and responsibilities within these zones depending on the phase of the game. In this concept, the options are predetermined by the position of the ball. If the ball is on the left wing at midfield, then the zones that must be occupied are entirely different then when the ball is on the right half of your own 16m. box. Triangles should be formed in order to maintain short passing combinations. The ball carrier should always have two or three passing options . No more than three players may be in a line horizontally and no more than two players in a line vertically. If a player moves onto the same line as another player in order to offer himself for a pass, the other must switch to another line.The ball possession should be seen as a tool. It is not an end in itself but is designed to move the opponent so that you can get through them with your attacks.Only if that doesn't work you are allowed to circulate the ball for a moment without attempting to attack. You regroup, take shape around the opposition and try again.
On this training grid, the players are trained to make rational occupation on the field. It is different in the first phase of the build up and different in the final third. Moreover, the players are trained to make certain runs, overlaps and occupy certain space on the pitch in reaction to where the ball is at the moment and what the situation is. It is clearly noticeable that the training field for rehearsing the Positional Play is divided into separate zones and all the players have specific duties to carry out within these zones depending on the nature of the play. It could mean to make runs, stay in position, look for a free space between the opposition lines, make over/underlaps all with one objective to maintain superiority over the opponent.


The main principle behind the Positional Play is to always look for superiority on the field. This superiority can be achieved by being positionally, numerically or qualitatively superior.

"The principal idea of positional play is that players pass the ball to each other in close spaces to be able to pass to a wide open man."  - Juan Manuel Lillo
Josep Guardiola and Juan Manuel Lillo

You can see that the Positional Play is a way of playing that takes the movement of the players into account more than the system. You can play 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 3-4-3 but what actually matters is the movement of the players. This method is guided by concepts, not by set positions on the pitch nor formations, as you can develop the same concepts that fit any system. The objective is always to be able to control the game through application of the principles of the game model.

"Formations are just telephon numbers."  - Argentinian coach

In the Positional Play everyone is spread out but the idea of the Positional Play is to keep everyone in their zones across the field. The Positional Play is a very spread out type of shape. And within their zones everyone has little movements where the players are moving within their zones, where they become available for the player who have the ball. So, it is about keeping distances from your teammates and making yourself available to receive the ball. Another crucial concept is to stay between the opponent's shape, receive the ball and progress towards the opposition goal.


The positional system should aim to meet particular playing objectives. The system should offer:
  • Width and depth to enhance ball circulation
  • Both a mobile and fixed structures within the system
  • A maximization of angled passing options (triangles)
  • Maximum coverage of the field's spaces by making the pitch as big as possible when in possession
  • The ability to retain possession with a forward thinking approach
  • The opportunity to outnumber the opposition in defence, attack and during the build up
  • The ability to maximize potential of rehearsed play
  • The ability to switch quickly from an attacking or build up phase towards a defensive one
  • OVERLOADS in as many areas as possible through player movement and the system

These are the three essential questions that the famous coach Marcelo Bielsa asks himself when creating the Positional Play for his teams:
  1. How can I outnumber the opponents whilst building up the play from the back?
  2. How can I outnumber the opposition in key central areas further forward?
  3. How can I look to isolate their defenders to create 1v1 situations in the final third?
I highly recommend his approach and way of thinking to every coach.

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