Football's Most Commonly Made Tactical Mistakes
How often in football do you hear the phrase: “The manager got his tactics completely wrong” following a defeat? Quite often, as most losses are almost always preventable and result from some tactical error made on the field of play.
Even Real Madrid head coach Jose Mourinho blamed his own defenders for failing to carry out the pre-match tactical plans put in place to neuter Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski following Wednesday night’s Champions League semi-final first leg at the Westfalenstadion.
And so here we examine some of the more regularly-seen tactical mistakes in football:
Defending from Corners
How many times have you seen it happen, a goal scored from a corner when the opposition fail to put a player(s) on the goal line?
Now, while there may be some debate as to whether a team should simply cover one of the posts as opposed to two, leaving both unguarded in favour of using those extra players as markers in the penalty area is simply asking for trouble.
And, if your players are detailed to mark a post, make sure that is what they end up doing, unlike at Anfield on Sunday when Liverpool midfield player Lucas could not quite make up his mind as to which post he should be on, only to end up covering neither as he was left floundering in no-man’s land as Oscar’s header found its way into the net at the unguarded near post.
Another common mistake when it comes to defending from corners is when a side opts to make a substitution just prior to the taking of the set piece as unless it is injury related, simply wait in the interests of defensive organisation, concentration and solidity.
One Up Front and Five Across Midfield Away from Home
Why is that when managers come to set up their teams to play away from home against a supposedly technically-superior opponent, they will almost always opt for a 4-5-1 formation with one lone striker and five players strung out across the middle of the park so as to flood the midfield?
Invariably, all this achieves is the handing of the immediate momentum and initiative to an already attack-minded home team, while at the same making it even harder for the visitors to sustain any pressure whatsoever on their opponents on the rare occasions that they do finally win back possession due to lack of numbers supporting the isolated front man in attack.
It happens so often in football, whether it be a “small” club visiting a “big” club, or an away fixture in Europe against a so-called continental heavyweight, and with predictable consequences to boot.
However, on the rare occasions that a coach is brave in such situations and decides to go with more than one attacker up top, whether that be in a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2 or whatever formation, then it is remarkable how much harder life suddenly becomes for the supposedly superior outfit.
Zonal V Man-for-Man Marking
It is a commonly-held misbelief that less goals come about from man-to-man marking as opposed to zonal marking in the penalty box, when in actual fact the opposite is true.
Some coaches, mainly British ones, prefer man-for-man marking as they feel more comfortable knowing that their opponents are at least being monitored, while they also like the fact that their defenders are able to take attack the incoming ball far easier, whereas with zonal marking the commonly-heard phrase is: “Have you ever seen space score a goal?”
However, while space has indeed never scored a goal, the marking of certain key areas in the box, as opposed to opposition players, has been statistically proven to be more successful at preventing goals than the more old-school man-for-man marking, although many trainers these days, such as Chelsea interim boss Rafa Benitez for example, actually end up going for a variant of the two.
The Use of a Man Marker
Similarly, it rarely pays to sacrifice one of your 10 outfield players solely to be detailed to man-mark an opposition player, even if that player is a star performer who has the potential to cause your side huge damage if allowed near your goal.
No, the far more sensible plan should always be to instruct your players to firstly be alert when said danger man comes into their area of the field, and to then double up on him at all times while directing him away from the goal by simply passing him on to a teammate to look after in a less threatening area of the pitch.
Why effectively reduce a match to an 11 vs. 10 contest by employing a man-marker, and with it greatly hinder your chances of victory, when there are so many better ways of dealing with a dangerous opposition player?
Lack of Width by Overcompensating in the Middle of the Park
It is an oft-made tactical error by coaches to flood the midfield with bodies, and in so doing neglecting the underused and undervalued wings, especially in modern-day football.
And, when this occurs, all that happens is the centre of the field becomes clogged up, which in turn makes it even harder to penetrate an opposition back line, unless of course you play a Barcelona-style tiki-taka type of football that can break through even the most congested areas of the park.
However, those trainers who are brave enough to go head to head with an opponent with one, or sometimes even two, less players in central midfield so as to be able to operate with two wide man benefit by being able to stretch both the play, and consequently also the opposition’s midfield and defence.
Risking All by Trying to Play Offside at the Wrong Time
How many times have you seen it happen, three defenders push out to play offside but one remains in situ, with disastrous consequences?
And then to compound matters, the one defender who has been caught napping, instead of reacting immediately by chasing back at speed to catch the on-rushing opposition player, simply makes matter even worse by standing still and appealing frantically in vain for an offside flag that he knows deep down will never materialise.
This is also often seen happening at attacking free kicks into the penalty box, with teams playing Russian roulette as they try to rush out to catch the opposition offside, only for every now and again the pre-arranged plan to backfire spectacularly.
Of course, when done well and with everyone in sync, as Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund proved so successfully on numerous occasions against Madrid on Wednesday night, it can be devilishly hard to play against.
Equally, why take the risk?
Proactive, Rather Than Reactive Substitutions
And last, but not least, the much-discussed tactical subject of substitutions, and when exactly to make them.
There is no exact science to this, and often you are damned if you, and damned if you do not, as England head coach Roy Hodgson recently found out to his cost following the Three Lions’ 1-1 in Montenegro in a World Cup qualifier in which the national team manager did not make his one and only change until 12 minutes from a time, a decision that he was roundly criticised for the following day in the national press.
That switch in Podgorica came immediately after the home side had drawn level, unlike his opposite number, who was praised for his trio of proactive tweaks after half-time that had resulted in a noticeable shift in momentum for his side.
And that really is the key when making tactical substitutions: do not wait for something to happen before making a switch, but instead pre-empt events on the field of play by being brave, aggressive and trusting your insticts.