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 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 positional areas that allow for an effective analysis of a team’s playing system are:
- Goalkeeper – includes the goalkeeper playing position.
- Central defence – includes the sweeper and centre back playing positions.
- Central midfield – includes the defensive midfielder and centre midfielder playing positions.
- The flanks – includes the full back, wing back, wing midfielder and wing forward playing positions on each flank (each side of the pitch). Analysis of the flanks in this guide should be interpreted as applying to both the left flank and right flank independently rather than both flanks as a whole.
- Wide defence – includes the full back playing positions.
- Wide midfield – includes the wing back and wing midfielder playing positions.
- Wide attack – includes the wing forward playing positions.
- The deep wing halves – includes the deep wide playing positions (full back and wing back).
- The advanced wing halves – includes the advanced wide playing positions (wing midfielder and wing forward).
- Central attack – includes the attacking midfielder and centre forward playing positions.
Other significant positional areas include:
- Defence – includes central defence and wide defence.
- Midfield – includes central midfield and wide midfield.
- Attack – includes wide attack and central attack.
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 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 composited to form more complex composite role types.
Some composite role types can be used as auxiliary playing position role types, which instruct movement into a different positional area.
Component Role Types
A component role type is a part of a tactical role comprised of a single tactical instruction that relates to the use of a single playing method. For example, a particular playing position is essentially a component role type, as is a tactical instruction to make forward runs to a greater extent relative to other players.
Composite Role Types
A composite role type is a particular composite of two or more component role types.
Auxiliary Playing Position Role Types
An auxiliary playing position role type for a particular playing position is a composite role type that includes a different playing position (the assigned playing position) but instructs movement into or near to the playing position concerned (the auxiliary playing position). It therefore indirectly instructs a player to play in or near the auxiliary playing position.
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 appropriate component role types and instructs them to play in or near the positional area concerned.
A team’s system fluidity refers to the extent to which the team’s playing system enables players to share positional responsibilities.
A team implements its system fluidity by incorporating it into the tactical roles of its players using tactical instructions as appropriate.
Levels of system fluidity include more structured, more fluid and flexible.
More Structured Playing Systems
A more structured playing system is a playing system that enables players to share positional responsibilities to a lesser extent.
More Fluid Playing Systems
A more fluid playing system is a playing system that enables players to share positional responsibilities to a greater extent.
Flexible Playing Systems
A flexible playing system is a playing system that enables players to share positional responsibilities to a moderate extent.
A team’s playing system balance refers to the tactical balance in the team’s playing system in each positional area.
It is important for a team to achieve a good playing system balance in order for it to effectively achieve each of its 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 tactical roles that result in appropriate tactical structures, an appropriate responsibility distribution and appropriate mentality systems.
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.
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.
Attacking structures are tactical structures formed by a team’s attacking shape, off the ball movement and on the ball movement. A team has separate attacking structures for when each individual player is on the ball that take into account the nature of each player’s individual on the ball movement.
A team’s responsibility distribution refers to its assignment of positional responsibilities through its assignment of tactical roles.
Tactical roles can be grouped into various role categories that can be used to analyse responsibility distribution.
A role category is a group of theoretical tactical roles that share a similar role specialisation. Types of role categories include primary role categories and secondary role categories.
A primary role category is a role category that is typically used by a team for at least one player in order to achieve an appropriate responsibility distribution, as per the analysis in the Positional Responsibilities and Responsibility Distribution guides. A secondary role category is a role category that may be used by a team for an alternative purpose, such as to help to implement a particular playing style.
A team implements its mentality systems by incorporating them into the tactical roles of its players using tactical instructions as appropriate.
Notable mentality systems include vertical movement systems and passing range systems.
Vertical Movement Systems
A team’s vertical movement system is a mentality system that relates to attacking mentality and off the ball directness attacking methods.
Passing Range Systems
A team’s passing range system is a mentality system that relates to attacking mentality and passing range attacking methods.
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.
A team’s tactical transition is the tactical reorganisation that is necessary as a result of it winning possession or conceding 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 (in particular, equivalent attacking and defensive methods are typically used to a similar extent), while there are also usually similarities between attacking instructions and defensive instructions regarding player movement.
Phases of Play
The phases of play are the cyclical stages of possession and tactical organisation that a team moves through during the course of a match.
As explained for Tactical Objectives, when a team has possession it is in the attacking phases and when a team does not have possession it is in the defensive phases.
The Attacking Phases
The need for attacking transition means that a team moves between two main attacking phases after winning possession, one where it is tactically organised and one where it is still tactically reorganising.
The Defensive Phases
The need for defensive transition means that a team moves between two main defensive phases after conceding possession, one where it is tactically organised and one where it is still tactically reorganising.
A team’s attacking organisation is its tactical organisation in the attacking phases.
A team’s defensive organisation is its tactical organisation in the defensive phases.
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.
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.