Sometimes a series of short passes seem like a waste of time to the uninitiated soccer fan. Some of those fans might say, why not just pump the ball forward and gain more real estate and then start to play those short passes? Why risk losing the ball in the back, near your goal?
But take a look at Spain in Euro 2008, they were the team that played beautiful possession soccer, a sort of ‘passing carousel’, as Alex Ferguson called Barcelona’s style of play in the Champions League. Spain constantly rotated the ball from one end to the other in a horizontal manner, and didn’t take a direct vertical route. The truth is though they’d pick and choose the times they went forward and wore out their opponents as they kept possession of the ball for most of the game.
Ideally however, the best style of soccer includes a bit of the short game as well as the long ball. When the moment calls for it sometimes you just have to ‘hard kick’ the ball up the field now and again to escape pressure, there’s not need to mess around with the ball when you’re close to your own goal.
Plus, the long ball is at times a smart tactical move, a way to escape pressure and a way to counter attack. This is what Spain did in their game versus Sweden. It was probably the only long ball they played in the entire game by the Spaniards. And it was this clearance – a solid kick down the line, that David Villa latched on to and proceeded to beat two defenders and score in the dying minutes of the game. It was the game winner. Both teams were tired, and David Villa read the play and chased down the ball. He was making the run to off support for his defender. If he doesn’t make the run, the ball is just a clearance to escape pressure.
So the best bet is to play a bit of both styles, keep the ball, but when you have to, or when the time calls for it, don’t be afraid to pump the ball down field. Even the best teams do it now and again with good results, like Spain.
Matt Doyle is joined by special guest Greg Lalas to analyze the defensive breakdown that occurs when a team scores from a long ball.