As soccer coaches, we need to have a clear - yet simple - idea as to how it is that we want our teams to play. This is what is defined as the teams Style of Play or Playing Style that is so often discussed during coaching courses. In order to develop our own model, we must carefully integrate training principales in all phases of the game; offensive, defensive, both transition moments (when we loose the ball, and when we recover possession), and finally the set-pieces. Once we have a general sense as to what patterns we want our players to produce during those moments, certain training principals are generated that should be mastered in order for our teams to have success and achieve the highest performance possible.
This is the process which starts in a coaches mind as an idea on how the team should play. The movements that players should make in attack, the structure a team must have when defending, what spaces ought to be created, and where a team needs to look for numerical advantages are but a few examples. It is then put into paper by establishing the training principles in each phase of the game. The final and most important step of the process is when it is carried over onto the training pitch. It is here that the message or idea has to be successfully transmitted to the players with a detailed methodical approach. The training principles are the fundamental aspects of a coaches Style of Play. They are created and extracted directly from the game itself. These are - in general terms - the way that a spectator would describe how a team plays if watching from the stands.
Let us have a look at one of the most fundamental training principles within my teams Style of Play: Playing Compact (30m).
The less space that exists between the different lines of the team (defenders, midfielders, and attackers) during both offensive and defensive phases, the greater the possibility there is to have a general dominion in the game. Some call this playing with positional advantage. A team that plays with a great deal of space leaving gaps between the lines is "stretched" and becomes much more vulnerable than a team who plays with the lines closer together and is "compact". Those on the field who are furthest away from where the play is developing are the key to having the team stay compact. During our defensive phase, it will be the attackers who cannot remain in high positions and have to drop back. By contrast during our offensive phase, it is the defenders who will be forced to "shut the lines" in order for the team to stay compact.
In general terms, you would ideally want the lines of your team to play within 15m of one another. This means that the entire squad would be playing within a compacted zone of 30m when attacking and defending. 15m from the defenders to the midfielders and 15m from the midfielders to the attackers. Playing compact will allow you to have a solid defensive structure by allowing minimal spaces inside for the opponent to use. It will also have your players better positioned to recover the ball in case of lost possession when attacking. Soccer is a game that is played mainly on transitions and therefore we have to think about the positioning of the players for when we recover and/or loose the ball. Playing compact will make us more solid as a unit and allow us to play with positional advantage.
Below are two images that will allow you to have a visual example of how teams should apply the principales of playing compact (30m). The first image is during the teams defensive phase. You can clearly see how all of the players are inside an established area leaving minimal space for the attacking team to play inside. In the second image you can visualize how the team adapts a shape with more width giving them greater space to play the ball, but still keeps (approximately) the same space from the defenders up until the attackers allowing the team to stay compact.
Like I stated previously, it is of the upmost importance - when attacking - to think about what happens and where our players need to be positioned in case of loosing the ball (defensive transition). The best way that we can apply this training principle is by making sure that the players who are furthest away from where the action is occurring do not become isolated. It is key that they either drop into defensive positions or shut the lines when the team is attacking.
Guillermo Hamdan Zaragoza