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Where Do Long Balls Fit in a Possession Based System?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

At every level in every football culture, many coaches would be aghast if they were described as a "long ball team." It's become on of the most feared labels for a coach but this week we want to take a look at it a little closer and see just where long passes fit into a possession based system. Of course, balance is important, but for the next 7 mins in this week's video, let's move away from the easy 'it depends' answer and instead see where a coach may prioritize variation in their passing game. Does the long ball have to be a desperation attempt to win second balls higher up the pitch, or is it actually a necessity for a team when looking to build against a variety of pressing systems? Do center backs who lack long passing range become more vulnerable in possession and potential limit the attacking prowess of their team.

These new tactical videos are part of the launch of our new eBook: 'Twenty Attacking Tactical Training Session Plans' which you can get your copy here.

For the purposes of the video, I wanted to look at three variations of a 4-3-3 in-possession system against a 4-3-3 press and a 4-1-4-1 block. We also want to look at how different positions can utilize passing ranges in the build-up and the potential pictures that this opens up. One of the most fascinating aspects of this topic for me is the conversations that it could open up around session design with coaching staffs at clubs, particularly youth levels. How many sessions today do you see possession activities being played in small spaces? Nothing particularly wrong with that, but if every exercise is about keeping the ball in compact spaces, do players miss the practice of the long ball, along with the vision to see it. There's a famous quote from Pep Guardiola that I saw this week: "Looking away. The first thing Johan asked us to do was look away, towards Romario." When I reflect on that quote, I wonder if Cruyff's attitude to playing forward helped improve the passing range of center-back Ronaldo Koeman. Below you can see some clips of Koeman's role in Cruyff's Barcelona and how beneficial that would prove to their possession game. Maybe he was a greater admirer of the long ball than we would have believed!!

You can watch the full video with solutions below. If you enjoy it, please subscribe to our YouTube page so you do not miss the next one.

This breakdown was part of the launch of our new MSC eBook: Twenty Attacking Training Sessions, designed to help coaches connect the dots between philosophy, tactical flexibility and session design. The book contains twenty full session plans that are broken down into three phases: build-up, midfield progression, and goal-scoring. Each session will contain three exercises so there are 60 exercises overall! With his experience in the professional game as a coach and an analyst, Gary Curneen has designed these sessions to help bring out intensity, tactical understanding and game-like situations, that are enjoyable for both players and staff. Click here to get your copy.

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