The Relationship of Space and Time to Positions, Formations and Systems of Play

In attempting to make the relationship between space and time more easily understood by young players I have at times used the phrase space = time and in a sense that is true. Space to play in is created by movement of players with and without the ball. Time is a product of individual players technical abilities with the ball. The two are interrelated but are not necessarily "equals", per se.

For many coaches, positions and formations are also an integral part of creating space and time in soccer. In a sense, a players positioning within a formation, even his role within a system of play, are important elements in his ability to create, recognize and utilize space. Formations and positions are also analytical tools in evaluating a players ability to see space, his ability to recognize how to move to create space. How much space is required is determined by the players technical abilities on the ball.

The positioning of players within a formation then should be based on a coach's evaluation of a players technical abilities and how much room that player requires to execute his abilities to the highest degree possible. An attacking system of play should then be designed in a manner that links the technical abilities of players to the fullest extent possible for the team.

Most coaches do their best to ascertain a players best position based on skill sets and natural style of play. That is, a coach will look to position a player to take advantage of his strengths. The system of play a coach utilizes will also be designed to take advantage of a teams strengths. Unfortunately for many coaches this is where the process ends for them. The reliance on direct play in the youth game is testament to this.

Now, I have nothing against direct play in soccer. When executed well it can be a very productive style of play. However, direct play in soccer is often nothing more than relying on big strong players in the back clearing the ball as far upfield as possible for fast aggressive players to run onto. The reality of this is that it by-passes a significant portionof the field that might be utilized to create space and develop time on the ball. It renders the creation and utilzation of space to little more than kicking the ball to an open spot of the pitch for a teammate to (hopefully) run onto. If your team is bigger, stronger and faster than its opponent, this is sound strategy, I suppose.

Let us take a bit different look at the relationship between space, time, formation, positions and how they can be utilized to develop a bit more advanced system of play. One of the basic principles behind this train of thought is the intentional manipulation on a defense for the express purpose of exposing and exploiting its weaknesses.

We will focus on one simple basic aspect of how this can be accomplished. I am hopeful this will give you the impetus to examine your team and develop a style of play that suits individual and collective skill sets to a maximum.

Back to goal or target forward play as a means to facilitate direct play.  With the ever increasing popularity of zonal defenses this can be particularly useful but it can also be used against man marking systems.

We often see diect play as described above - big strong backs kick the ball forward to fast aggressive front runners.  A good zonal defense knows how to deny the "negative" space behind them and in front of the goalkeeper thus rendering this kick and run tactic largely ineffectively.  If those same backs were to play the ball to the feet of a back to goal target forward, how would a defender or collectiv defense respond? The natural response is to step to the ball or the player playing the ball.  When a defender or collective defense does this on a back to goal forward the offenseis creating more space behind the defenders, are they not?  It's just that simple.

The sequence we are talking about is one of the most basic in soccer - pass the ball up, drop it back, send it through. When attackers know this is an established pattern or can recognize when thisoption is on a coordinated attack can be initiated and then executed. As a back is passing the ball forward to a target player other players can bemaking flat runs in front of the remaining backs. When the target player drops the ball back to a midfielder, the natural reaction of defenders will be to step once again opening more space behind them. At that moment the flat runs can be bent forward to run onto the ensuing through ball from the midfielder. So very simple and so very much more effective.

There are any number of ways an attack can manipulate a defense to expose and exploit weaknesses.  What I have described here is a simple basic example.  The challenge to examine your teams individual and collective skill sets then determine how to best utilize them to manipulate the opponents defense thereby enhancing your own strengths.

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