Checkmate! Soccer Tactics To Outthink Your Opponent

soccer tactics

You go high! You drop in! YOU STOP KILLING GRASS OUT THERE! Ahh soccer tactics at their finest. There's nothing more satisfying for a coach when he implements a new tactic in a game and it works perfectly, it's like scoring a goal (well not quite).

Such an important part of the game is a coach's ability to understand the game tactically from his teams perspective, his opponents perspective and on the fly as things change from moment to moment.

There's a reason why great players hit a sweet spot from age 27-32 where they are still strong physically, have experience and have this thing called a high soccer IQ.

A high soccer IQ is mainly drawn from their ability to understand and read tactics as it happens in front of them while understanding when to zig or zag with and without the ball.

What Are Soccer Tactics Exactly?

So what are soccer tactics? It’s easy really, think of a tactic as the small steps that make up the bigger picture.

When you tell a player where to stand that is their position, in relation to the team that is the formation and the tactic is when, where and how you want them to move and apply whichever strategy you have in mind for that game. One coach’s tactics can be completely different from the next and the beauty of it is both can have success.

Tactics can include pushing a player inside or outside defensively, a center midfielder going out to wide areas when building out of the back or a goalkeeper playing 30 yards off of their line are all example of tactics that can be used.

Soccer Tactics Explanation Video

What's The Difference Between Soccer
Tactics, Strategies And Formations?

Strategy is long term goal or big picture, tactic is the small steps you take to execute it. For example if you want to high pressure a team, that would be your strategy, we want to press them in a 4-3-3 which is your formation and we want our wingers in the front 3 to push them inside that would be your tactic.

Get it yet? Basically your strategy is your big plan, formation is your set up and tactic is the small steps used to carry out the big plan. Easy enough? Good.

Top 5 Things To Remember About Soccer Tactics

1. Small Things Make Big Things Happen

  • Little tactical adjustments like pushing a player inside or outside can have a large effect on how your team achieves it's goals.
  • The slightest change in tactics can mean all the difference so don't feel like you have no influence on the game when your slight tweak can move mountains.

2. Be Flexible

  • We can't be stuck in our ways when it comes to trying new ideas and new soccer tactics on the pitch.
  • If something is working then of course stick with it but if things aren't working the way you want you have to be courageous enough to step back and try a new approach.
  • The old saying of never stop learning applies here, the game changes and so should your tactical approach, it will only grow your knowledge of the game.

3. Test, Test, Test! Did I Say Test?

  • No tactic you have is right or wrong until you test it out, see the results and only then decide.
  • I know we want to win every game and don't want to sacrifice trying something new all of a sudden but you need to get the data to see if your new tactical idea works or not.
  • Watching it on TV and telling your team to do it isn't enough. Get the idea and try it yourself for a game or two to get the real results that pertain to your situation.

4. Learn From Others

  • I know our competitive drive doesn't allow us to think someone knows a certain part of the game better than us but some do!
  • Put your ego aside and learn form others (on TV or in person) that know a certain aspect of the game you want to improve upon, we all have our niches remember.

5. Use Your Players Attributes

  • The biggest mistake you can make is trying to press like Liverpool when you don't have fast, fit or athletic team or trying to keep the ball like Man City and all you have is direct minded players.
  • Use the attributes of your players to design your tactical game model to best suit them, no the other way around.

Top 5 Things To Avoid About Soccer Tactics

1. Being Stubborn

  • You're letting your team down if you're not open to other ways of doing things, especially if your way isn't working.
  • Ask your fellow coaches, players and anyone you lean on to see how you can improve as a team and individually as a manager.

2. Not Trying New Things

  • Soccer is a game which new answers, solutions and ways of doing things are encouraged.
  • Nothing is set in stone in this game and things are always evolving so no matter the crazy tactical idea you may have give it a shot, tweak it and try it again, you never know what you'll stumble upon.

3. Trying The Same Tactics With Different Players

  • One set of tactics may work for certain players but not others so the true skill of coaching is being able to recognize what you have and choosing the right setup, strategy and tactics that works for them.

4. Changing Tactics Too Frequently

  • Yes of course changing your tactics is an important piece of high level teams and coaches but a couple tactical changes a game will do.
  • Anything above 3 or 4 the players will start looking at your like you're from Mars and say the classic line that every player has said to his coach in their head at least once, "let us f----ing play man!", pardon my French.

5. Trying Tactics You've Never Trained Or Discussed

  • If you're going to implement a new tactical approach make sure you've at a minimum sat down and explained to the player exactly what you want prior to the match.
  • In a perfect world you've explained it them, showed them it on video and created a training session around it.

Which Coaches & Teams Have Some Of The Best Soccer Tactics In The World

Atletico Madrid & Diego Simeone

  • Nobody has done more in attack and defence with a 442 like this man.

Liverpool & Jurgen Klopp

  • Their high pressure defensive system is the best in the business.

Inter Milan/Tottenham & Antonio Conte

  • Nobody can play a back 3 like this man's teams.

Roma & Jose Mourinho

  • Flexibility with and without the ball is second to none.

Manchester City & Pep Guardiola

  • False 9, inverted full backs and anything else you can name.

What Are Some Of The Best Ways To Show And Explain Soccer Tactics To Your Team?

1. Video, Video & More Video

  • Some players no matter how many times you say it need to see it and the best way to see it is through video.
  • Players will respond best if you not only show them executing it properly but even better if you can find a professional team or players that does it.
  • You will establish instant credibility and they will believe you because pro's are doing it.

2. Walkthrough

  • An explanation before, during or after practice where you show them and move them and other players around the field to paint the picture of the tactical approach you want them to understand can be effective.
  • Some people are intimidating in a large group setting so if it just pertains to one specific player or even two do it one on one or in small groups for an even greater affect. 

3. Tactic Board

  • Moving pieces around a tactics board can be an easy and quick way to show players what you want from them.
  • You can get the big stationary ones or the portable ones to convey your point in an office or on the go.
  • Just having one in the change room will start creating a culture of players and coaches asking questions and talking tactics around the clock.

4. Whiteboard

  • Nothing like a good illustration to get your point across. Classroom style can do the trick while you mark up the whiteboard explaining every move.
  • Try not to block the whiteboard so they can't see what you're drawing, otherwise a whiteboard can be such a powerful teaching tool.

5. Talk It Out & Have Them Show YOU!

  • Sometimes all they need is you to clearly talk it out with them. Explain to them in plain English what they need to be doing in all the different situations of the game.
  • Tactics may be this scary word sometimes but if you sit the player down and break it down to them nice and simple you have a good chance of getting on the same page.

Is It Better To Be An Attacking Team Or A Defensive Team Tactically?

A team’s strategy goes hand and hand or foot and foot should I say with its tactics. What came first the chicken or the egg? This is an age-old argument that really depends on who you ask. Some will say defence wins championships, others will say if we attack and have the ball the whole game then the other team can’t score.

So who’s right here? Both! Sayy what? Your tactic in terms of when to attack and when to defend can change game to game based on your opponent, conditions and situation. Whichever type of team you may be every team needs to be strong in both areas to truly excel.

What About Barcelona All They Do Is Attack? Do They Have Their Own Set Of Soccer Tactics?

You may look at a team like Barcelona and think, man they are so attacking minded and keep the ball the whole game not giving the other team a chance to do anything.

This is true, their tactics clearly work for them but other things go un-noticed by the untrained eye about them.

They are very defensively sound and tactically aware. Next time you watch them play, watch the teams tactical decision when they lose the ball, they are pressuring the ball as a collective unit the second they lose the ball.

That’s a tactical choice that has worked for them to give the opponent minimal chance to create something and get settled in.

Where Can I Learn Soccer Tactics?

There are coaching licenses from D to A and others that help a coach learn about the tactics and strategies of the game.

These courses can range in price but are extremely valuable tools in your development as a coach and expand your knowledge of the game in several areas.

The USSF and NCSAA are the two most popular and recognized organizations that run such coaching courses. Almost every A License coach you meet in North America has gone through one of these organizations to get their certification. 

Other ways which may be obvious but include books, watching others and of course YouTube. Search any team, coach or specific tactic you want and increase your tactical knowledge daily.

Who Decides the Tactics for a Team?

To put it simply, the coaching staff decides and trains a team to perform certain tactics in a match. Some teams have difficult styles to match up against for many different reasons.

Some teams are just strong in all areas and it’s difficult to find weaknesses so adjusting your team’s specific soccer tactics for that match may prove to be difficult.

Other times you just don’t have the personnel to accomplish what you want from a tactical standpoint and that proves to be a challenge at times.

Soccer tactics are always up for debate and no matter how much you know about the game your knowledge of strategy and tactics will change game to game and season to season so having a versatile side that can adapt to several situations is key. Good luck Mourinho.