Playing Systems

A team's playing system is the set of tactical instructions that are assigned to its players. A playing system includes an attacking system, which is the playing system in the attacking phases, and a defensive system, which is the playing system in the defensive phases.

A player's tactical instructions are instructions that give him his playing position and tell him how he should use playing methods. Tactical instructions include attacking instructions, which are tactical instructions in the attacking phases, and defensive instructions, which are tactical instructions in the defensive phases.

A team's playing system therefore instructs its players how to apply the tactical dynamics. As such, it sets out a dynamic framework for the team by defining its tactical shape and establishing the patterns of player movement and ball movement that its players should create.

A team's playing system can be analysed more easily by considering separate positional areas.

A positional area is a relative area of the pitch containing a group of playing positions.

The main distinct positional areas that allow for an effective analysis of a team's playing system are:

Tactical Organisation

A team's tactical organisation refers to how well positioned the team's players are to carry out their tactical instructions regarding tactical shape and player movement. The better a team's tactical organisation is at any point during a match or, in other words, the more tactically organised the team is at that point, the more effectively it can use its playing system.

Tactical Transition

A team's tactical transition is the tactical reorganisation that it undergoes immediately after it wins possession or concedes possession.

A team's attacking transition is its tactical transition after winning possession, in which it tactically reorganises from its defensive system to its attacking system. A team's defensive transition is its tactical transition after conceding possession, in which it tactically reorganises from its attacking system to its defensive system.

Speed of Tactical Transition

The quicker a team's tactical transition is, the earlier it can use its playing system effectively after a change in possession. If a team's tactical transition is relatively quick, compared to that of the opposition team, then it can potentially take advantage of the time during which the opposition team is still tactically reorganising. However, if its tactical transition is relatively slow then the opposition team can potentially take advantage.

To enable quicker tactical transition, the attacking instructions regarding attacking shape and attacking mentality that a team assigns to its players are typically similar to the defensive instructions regarding defensive shape and defensive mentality that it assigns, while there are also usually similarities between attacking instructions and defensive instructions regarding player movement.

Attacking Organisation

A team's attacking organisation is its tactical organisation in the attacking phases.

Defensive Organisation

A team's defensive organisation is its tactical organisation in the defensive phases.

Tactical Roles

A player's tactical role is the set of tactical instructions that he is assigned. A tactical role includes an attacking role, which is the tactical role in the attacking phases, and a defensive role, which is the tactical role in the defensive phases.

A player's tactical role can therefore be broadly described by the playing position that he is given and the extent to which he should use each playing method, relative to the team's other players.

There are essentially an unlimited number of different tactical roles that a team can assign to its players. However, they can be analysed in terms of a limited number of distinct and simplified component role types that can be combined to form more complex combination role types.

Component Role Types

A component role type is a part of a tactical role comprised of a single tactical instruction.

Combination Role Types

A combination role type is a particular combination of component role types.

Auxiliary Playing Position Role Types

An auxiliary playing position role type for a particular playing position is a combination role type that includes a different playing position but instructs movement into or near to the playing position concerned (the auxiliary playing position).

Assignment of Tactical Roles

When assigning tactical roles a team should consider player suitability and playing system balance.

Player Suitability

It is important that a team assigns tactical roles that are suitable for its players.

A player's player suitability for a particular tactical role can be assessed partly from his playing method suitability for the playing methods that the tactical role instructs to be carried out to a relatively greater extent and partly from his role understanding of the tactical role.

A player's role understanding of a tactical role is his understanding of the positional responsibilities that he should perform when playing in the tactical role. The better his role understanding of a tactical role is, the better his decision making is when playing in the tactical role. A player can develop his role understanding by playing in a tactical role over a period of time, preferably from a young age.

Playing System Balance

A team's playing system balance refers to the tactical balance in the team's playing system.

It is important for a team to achieve a good playing system balance in order for it to focus sufficiently on each of the primary tactical objectives in each positional area. A team should therefore distribute playing positions appropriately and take on appropriate levels of tactical risk in its relative use of each playing method between players.

A team can do this by assigning combinations of tactical roles that result in appropriate tactical structures and enable its players to perform the positional responsibilities of each positional area.

Tactical Structures

A team’s tactical structure in a particular positional area is an arrangement formed in that positional area by the typical positioning of the team’s players.

Two particular types of tactical structures are positional structures and attacking structures.

Positional structures are tactical structures formed by a team’s tactical shape, before the effects of player movement.

Attacking structures are tactical structures formed by a team’s attacking shape and attacking movement. A team has separate attacking structures for when each individual player is on the ball that take into account each player’s on the ball movement.

An analysis of a team’s tactical structures can show whether the team’s playing system enables it to retain compactness effectively. An analysis of a team's positional structures is particularly useful for assessing a team’s compactness in the defensive phases and the start of the attacking transition phase. An analysis of a team's attacking structures is particularly useful for assessing a team’s compactness in the attacking phase.

Positional Responsibilities

The positional responsibilities in a particular positional area are the tasks that must be carried out in that positional area by a team's players in order to help the team to achieve its tactical objectives.

A player's tactical role tells him how he should perform positional responsibilities.

Typically, each positional responsibility in a positional area is performed to a relatively greater extent by one or more players who are assigned a tactical role that includes a playing position in that positional area and appropriate tactical instructions regarding the use of playing methods, with other players also performing the positional responsibility to some extent when in or near the positional area.

Formations

A team's formation is the combination of its positional structures in all positional areas. It provides the structural basis of the team's playing system.

Formations are typically described with reference to the number of playing positions included in each of the following groups:

The goalkeeper playing position is ignored because it is a requirement of all formations.

For example, a formation that includes two centre back, two full back, two centre midfielder, two wide midfielder and two striker playing positions can be referred to as a 4-4-2 formation.

As explained in the Tactical Organisation guide, a player's attacking instructions and defensive instructions regarding tactical shape are usually similar. Therefore, a team typically uses the same formation in the both the attacking and the defensive phases. However, the formation may not always be apparent, especially in the attacking phases, due to player movement.

System Fluidity

Positional responsibilities can be shared between a team's players to a greater or lesser extent according to the team's system fluidity.

A team's system fluidity refers to the extent to which the team's playing system involves players in different playing positions sharing positional responsibilities.

A team implements its system fluidity by incorporating it into the tactical roles of its players using tactical instructions as appropriate.

Types of system fluidity include more structured, more fluid and balanced.

More Structured Playing Systems

A more structured playing system is a playing system that involves players sharing positional responsibilities to a lesser extent.

More Fluid Playing Systems

A more fluid playing system is a playing system that involves players sharing positional responsibilities to a greater extent.

Balanced Playing Systems

A balanced playing system is a playing system that involves players sharing positional responsibilities to a moderate extent.

Bilateral Roles

As an alternative to assigning tactical roles such that two opposing positional responsibilities are fulfilled to different extents by two players, a team may assign a pair of bilateral roles so that the two positional responsibilities are shared equally by the two players without adversely affecting tactical balance.

Secondary Playing Systems

A team's secondary playing system is a part of its playing system that is related to a particular group of playing methods.

It is comprised of the tactical instructions that are assigned to each player regarding tactical positions (in other words, playing positions and attacking shape and defensive shape playing methods) and the particular group of playing methods concerned.

A team therefore implements a secondary playing system by incorporating it into the tactical roles of its players using such tactical instructions as appropriate.

Notable secondary playing systems include mentality systems, off the ball directness systems and passing range systems.

Mentality Systems

A team's mentality system is the part of its playing system that is related to attacking mentality attacking methods and defensive mentality defensive methods.

Passing Range Systems

A team's passing range system is the part of its attacking system that is related to passing range attacking methods.

General types of passing range system include more direct, more progressive and balanced.

Player Behaviour

A team's tactic is never carried out perfectly by its players. Therefore, it is important to analyse how players behave in practice.

Player Decision Making

A player's decision making refers to his choices regarding the use of playing methods. A player's decision making is affected primarily by his tactical instructions, but is also affected by various other factors.

Different decisions by a player carry different levels of tactical risk. This is largely because a player's decisions relate to the use of playing methods and different playing methods carry different levels of tactical risk.

Player Mistakes

A mistake by a player is an inefficient choice or performance of a playing method by the player that makes it more difficult for his team to achieve one or more of its tactical objectives.

An attacking mistake by a player is a mistake by a player in the attacking phases and a defensive mistake by a player is a mistake by a player in the defensive phases.

Factors that affect the likelihood of players making mistakes include their abilities, their player suitability and their decision making.