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 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 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.

Positional Areas

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.

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 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.

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.

Each positional responsibility can be performed differently depending on the tactical roles of the players who play in or near the relevant positional area.

Role Specifications

A player’s role specification refers to how his tactical role enables him to perform positional responsibilities.

The main aspects of role specifications are responsibility classifications, responsibility specialism levels and responsibility focus levels.

Responsibility Classifications

A player’s responsibility classifications are categories that can be used to group positional responsibilities according to the extent to which his tactical role enables him to perform them effectively.

Responsibility Specialism Levels

A player’s responsibility specialism level for a particular positional responsibility refers to the extent to which the player’s tactical role enables him to specialise in the positional responsibility.

Responsibility Focus Levels

A player’s responsibility focus level for a particular positional responsibility refers to the extent to which the player’s tactical role enables him to focus on using playing methods that directly relate to the tactical risk level associated with the positional responsibility.

System Specialisation Levels

A team’s system specialisation level refers to the extent to which the team’s playing system enables players to specialise in positional responsibilities, as opposed to sharing them between each other.

A team can use a more specialised playing system (a higher system specialisation level), a more generalised playing system (a lower system specialisation level) or a balance or mixture of the two. A mixture can include both more specialised aspects and more generalised aspects.

A team implements its system specialisation level by incorporating it into the tactical roles of its players using tactical instructions as appropriate. In particular, a team can implement a system specialisation level through its use of responsibility specialism levels.

More Specialised Playing Systems

A more specialised playing system is a playing system that enables players to specialise in positional responsibilities to a greater extent. It therefore enables nearby players to share positional responsibilities to a lesser extent.

More Generalised Playing Systems

A more generalised playing system is a playing system that enables players to specialise in positional responsibilities to a lesser extent. It therefore enables nearby players to share positional responsibilities to a greater extent.

System Fluidity Levels

A team’s system fluidity level refers to the extent to which the team’s playing system enables nearby players to interchange dissimilar positional responsibilities during a match. Dissimilar in this instance means positional responsibilities that are associated with opposing tactical risk levels.

A team can use a more fluid playing system (a higher system fluidity level), a more structured playing system (a lower system fluidity level) or a balance or mixture of the two. A mixture can include both more fluid aspects and more structured aspects.

A team implements its system fluidity level by incorporating it into the tactical roles of its players using tactical instructions as appropriate. In particular, a team can implement a system fluidity level through its use of responsibility focus levels.

More Fluid Playing Systems

A more fluid playing system is a playing system that enables nearby players to interchange dissimilar positional responsibilities during a match to a greater extent. It therefore enables players to focus less on performing specific positional responsibilities.

More Structured Playing Systems

A more structured playing system is a playing system that enables nearby players to interchange dissimilar positional responsibilities during a match to a lesser extent. It therefore enables players to focus more on performing specific positional responsibilities.

Playing System Balance

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.

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.

A team’s positional structures determine its formation.

Positional Structures

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

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.

Attacking Structures

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.

Responsibility Distribution

A team’s responsibility distribution refers to its assignment of positional responsibilities to its players through its assignment of tactical roles.

Role Categories

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 similar responsibility classifications. 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.

Mentality Systems

A mentality system is a part of a playing system that relates only to attacking mentality or defensive mentality playing methods along with any other particular group of playing methods.

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.

Good tactical organisation enables a team to more effectively use its playing system. A team can take advantage of good tactical organisation (relative to the opposition team’s tactical organisation) to achieve its tactical objectives more effectively. In contrast, the opposition team can take advantage of poor tactical organisation (relative to its own tactical organisation) to achieve its own tactical objectives more effectively. A team should therefore reorganise as necessary throughout a match.

Tactical Transition

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

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 organised and one where it is still 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 organised and one where it is still reorganising.

Attacking Organisation

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

Good attacking organisation enables a team to more effectively use its attacking system. A team can take advantage of good attacking organisation (relative to the opposition team’s defensive organisation) to achieve its attacking objectives more effectively. In contrast, the opposition team can take advantage of poor attacking organisation (relative to its own defensive organisation) to achieve its own defensive objectives more effectively. A team should therefore reorganise as necessary throughout the attacking phases.

Defensive Organisation

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

Good defensive organisation enables a team to more effectively use its defensive system. A team can take advantage of good defensive organisation (relative to the opposition team’s attacking organisation) to achieve its defensive objectives more effectively. In contrast, the opposition team can take advantage of poor defensive organisation (relative to its own attacking organisation) to achieve its own attacking objectives more effectively. A team should therefore reorganise as necessary throughout the defensive phases.

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.