Gerard Houllier, former coach of Lyon, Liverpool and Aston Villa says that “The most important moment in the modern game is when the ball is won or lost.” Houllier is referring to the moment of interception of a pass, a goalkeeper’s save, a tackle in free play, or the ball going out of bounds. The reason this moment has become so critical is that defenses are so well organized that many teams can only be scored upon when they are attacked before they get into their defensive shape.
The Dutch FA highlight the four main moments in the game;
- We have the ball.
- We lose the ball.
- They have the ball.
- They lose the ball.
Moments 2 and 4 are vital moments. Some teams have a counter attacking strategy which involves player positioning, forcing opponents into predictable areas of the field etc. I hope to examine "Strategic Transitional Play" in upcoming blogs. There are incidents, however, which happen in a game when a transitional situation develops just by the sheer flow of the game. Here is an incident from an EPL game in which a ball is miscontrolled and the white team take full advantage of the blunder by the reds. This sequence is what I would call “Incidental Transitional Play” as the action begins from an unforced error which the white team pounces on. All teams should be trained to recognize those moments where the opposition commit an error and leave themselves exposed for an immediate counter attack. The key here is that the white team swarm forward as a collective unit and get bodies in the box before the defending team can recover. Lightning strikes from unforced errors should be in the mindset of a team and should be constantly coached in training. I know by experience, and from asking the question at scores of coaching schools, that few coaches train their teams to deal with a counter attack of this nature.
Below is an exercise to help in the development of this mind set. This is a two versus two game on a long and narrow field which encourages looking forward and making vertical passes. The goals are four yards wide. The two players MUST play the ball to their target players who are standing outside of the goal the opponents are defending. These target players rebound the ball back to their team mates for a goal to be scored. In addition there are side players whose responsibility is to feed balls in immediately, when a ball has gone out of bounds. When done at a high pace the exercise can last for 90 seconds before the players in the middle begin to experience fatigue. The objective of the exercise is for the players to realize when the ball is about to turn over and use every means they can to catch the opposition flatfooted with a penetrating pass which is quickly supported.