THREE FUNDAMENTAL DEFENSIVE CONCEPTS
Guardiola is considered by many as the best football tactician in the world currently. His teams are famous for the offensive and attractive football as well as for the low number of goals they concede during the season. The following presentation will reveal the secrets behind his success.
One of his main tactical aims: to have his defenders playing close to the centre circle line and, if possible, moving into the opposition's half for as long as they can. He wants his players to close the opposition down in their own area. The aim is to be tightly packed, except the wingers who provide the team with width in the attacking phase, and able to press the opposition, thus cutting off counter attacks.
THE DEFENSIVE LINE
The position of the ball determines where the defensive line is. The defender who is closest to the ball is the one who sets the line, irrespective of whether it's the full-back or the centre-half. If it's the full-back, the nearest central defender needs to watch his back, the second centre-back needs to cover his partner and he, in turn will be covered by the furthest away full-back. Guardiola explains: 'The four need to move constantly like links in a chain to prevent the channels becoming too wide or long. They must prevent it being easy for an attacker or the ball to get through those channels. When one centre-half attacks he ball, that's the precise moment the other centre-back must slot into that vacated space and the pivote must drop in to cover him. The movements must be automatic, instant and always linked.'
THE 15-PASS BUILD-UP
Possession is only a means to an end. It's a tool, not an objective or an end goal. Or, as Pep puts it: 'If there isn't a sequence of 15 passes first, it's impossible to carry out the transition between attack and defence. Impossible. But it's not possession or one-touch passing that matters, but the intention behind it. The percentage of possession a team has or the number of passes that the group or an individual makes is irrelevant in itself. What's crucial is the reason they are doing these things, what they're aiming to achieve and what the team plans to do when they have the ball. That's what matters!'
'Having the ball is important if you are going for 15 consecutive passes in the middle of the field in order to maintain your shape, whilst at the same time upsetting the opposition's organisation. How do you disorganise them? With fast, tight, focused passing as part of this 15-move sequence. You need most of your men working as a unit, although some of them will need to maintain a bit of distance from each other in order to stretch out the rival team. And whilst you make those 15 moves and organise yourselves, your opponents are chasing you all over the park, trying to get the ball from you. In the process, without realising it, they'll have lost all organisation.'
'If you lose the ball, if they get it off you, then the player who takes it will probably be alone and surrounded by your players, who will then get it back easily or, at the very least, ensure that rival team can't manoeuvre quickly. It's these 15 passes that prevent your rival from making any kind of co-ordinated transition.'
MANAGING THE FREE MAN
In football there are basically two propositions: one based on ball possession and the other on managing space on the pitch. 'If you want to win by dominating the ball you have to cover each other and look for free men. The guy who hangs around by your hoop waiting to take a pass and score easily,' says Pep.
He sees four specific ways to defend against such a threat: don't lose the ball in key midfield areas where it's easiest for the opposition to mount a dangerous counter; use 15 passes to make sure that your team is well positioned and close together at the point where a move might break down, so that it's easier to press and win the ball back swiftly; put high, effective pressure on the first opponent (the free man) who receives the ball after your possession breaks down - anticipate who the free man will be and react more quickly than him. In all of this the central defender, and his vigilance, is vital.
Guardiola: 'For a team which wants to dominate the ball and be the game's protagonist, managing the free or open opponent is the principal defensive objective.'