"You don't have to be skilled to play a high line."
"Arrigo Sacchi's 'shadow football' method didn't use a football just team work and co-ordination."
I've always read about Arrigo Sacchi, both his methods and generally philosophy of the game. His Milan team pressed the opponents in their own half by holding his defense at the level of the half line. Attacking this Milan during that time was difficult. The team was very compact and tight. But after watching Arrigo Sacchi's Milan beat Real Madrid 5-0 at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, they played a slightly different brand of football than they were famous for. They let Real Madrid play the ball out from the back and didn't press them until they played the ball in their own half, they're back four still pushed up to limit the space between their defensive and midfield - in the process catching Real Madrid offside in their own half a handful of times.
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Now apart from Arrigo Sacchi who I respect a lot, Rinus Michels deserves a mention. His book, Team Building: The Road to Success, is a great read for anybody interested in reading a proved successful blueprint that really tells in detail what he expects from his players and the way he believes football should be played -at least if he's in charge. In a lot of ways Sacchi's and Michels' methods are similar, even though the come from different cultures - Italy with their Catenaccio and Holland with their Total Football.
Here are the three levels from Rinus Michels book, Team Building: The Road to Success:
Level 1 - Backs to the wall
Level 2 - Compactness, organisation, and counter-attacking football
Level 3 - Domination, play-making, and circulation football
The most relevant here is........
Level two - Compactness, organisation, and counter-attacking football
When the team has the time to organise, they will fallback on their own half of the field.
When attacking, more players are and will remain behind the ball in comparison to in front of the ball.
There is limited space between the goal and the defensive line.
On your own half, the marking remains aggressive.
The spaces between the defensive, midfield, and forward lines are as limited as possible.
The midfield line acts as the first line of defence.
To be able to defend under the pressure of the opponents.
The emphasis within the build-up of the counter-attack strategy lies in taking advantage of the space.
This demands insight to profit from the game situations. You need to have a few very fast attacking players.
They prefer to win the ball during the build-up of the opponents.
When forced to build-up from the back, a super fast transition is required, good positional play.
Mostly, the fast target player who is good with the ball will be the basis.
With the big spaces around him he remains an important target to play the ball to.
A characteristic is the overlapping midfielders and deep sprinting attackers.
Level two and it's compact, organisational based, counter-attacking football sounds a lot like the type of football Sacchi's Milan played even tho they are remembered mainly for they're hard pressing, high line, off side trap brand of football. That's why I'm going to use Rinus Michels guidelines out of - Team Building: The Road to Success and firstly focus on getting the defensive side right before I worry too much about the attacking side - in matches regularly scoring two to three goals type thing, I what to focus on compactness, organisation, defensive shape and once the ball is won back playing attacking football on the counter. In a nut shell, level 2 football - compactness, organisation, and counter-attacking football, master that first then here we come domination, play-making, and circulation football..................... That means:
• When the team has the time to organize, they will fallback on their own half of the field.
• The spaces between the defensive, midfield, and forward lines are as limited as possible. This is a matter of creating a compact defensive block.
• The midfield line acts as the first line of defense. This midfield line plays close to the defensive line and thus defends on their own half of the field.
During The Build Up
• The emphasis within the build-up of the counter-attack strategy lies in taking advantage of the space behind the defense of the opponents. This demands insight to profit from the game situations. You need to have a few very fast attacking players in your team when playing the counter attack style.
• They prefer to win the ball during the build-up of the opponents.
• When forced to build-up from the back, a super fast transition is required, including good positional play in a fast manner and in a forward direction.
• Mostly, the fast target player who is good with the ball will be the basis. With the big spaces around him he remains an important target to play the ball to. He takes the pressure off his team by being able to quickly receive the long pass.
• A characteristic is the overlapping midfielders and deep sprinting attackers who have a good sense for the tactical spaces and timing.
• Many actions are performed at full speed, which is an added difficulty. The trick is to still get the optimal result out of the counter attack. Usually the finishing on goal is done too hastily.
When it comes to the defensive side of the system, some the most important attributes for all outfield players are:
You need strength in your 'compact defensive block' (the midfield line acts as the first line of defense).
The other attributes that are important (in this order) are:
• Work Rate - A high attribute means making himself available and involved in play as much as possible.
• Teamwork - A high attribute means the player would base decisions on what is best for the team.
• Decisions - Poor decision making is one of the easiest ways to lose football matches.
• Determination - A low determination attribute means a player ‘gives up’ earlier.
Here are some important attributes when it comes to selecting defensive players:
• Marking – How well a player marks an opposition player. It also controls how well a player understands his zone.
• Tackling – Accuracy and timing of a tackle.
• Off The Ball – How well the player utilises space when not in possession of the ball.
• Aggression - How combative a player is, a high attribute means an energetic and forceful player.
Off the ball movement and pressing
The pressing would have to be a mixture of Arrigo Sacchi and Rinus Michels philosophies. Sacchi said they didn’t use man-to-man or zonal, they mixed it up and made the team pass where they wanted them to pass it and Michels players were physically supreme and pressed in zonally extremely high up the pitch but I'd argue that when the team was set up to play - domination, play-making, and circulation football. This is why it's said Sacchi's pressing was more tactical and Michels was more physical. It think after thinking about it, the best way to get a mixture of the two types of pressing for your back four, defensive midfielder and central midfielder to press zonally - then get your wide attacking midfielders and central attacking midfielder to man mark. Get your attacking midfielders to man mark the oppositions attacking fullbacks if they have them, if not their wide midfielders and your central attacking player to man mark one of their central midfielders. Also to get your players off the ball working as one, my guess would be set their closing down all equally or at least fairly close.
AC Milan 5 vs 0 Real Madrid 1989.