Youth Soccer Tips: How To Watch A Professional Game
With a wide variety of professional games offered these days on television, there will certainly always be a lot of opportunities to witness world-class defending, effecient tactical formations, and spectacular individual moments of brillance by global superstars.
You, your club players, your son or your daughter will no doubt be mesmorized by Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar and what they can do on the pitch, but is this really what you should be focused on for 90 minutes?
The answer is, of course, no.
As tempting as it may be to zone in directly on the superstars, it doesn't do much good for your son, who is a goalkeeper, to be watching Ronaldo do stepovers or Neymar backheeling the ball to a teammate.
Don't get me wrong, superstars are the reason the general public watch the game. But if you want to get the most out of your viewing experience, watch the game from the eyes of your position.
How should you do that? Well that depends on which perspective you have on the game.
If you are coach, whether it be competitive or recreational, watch the game from a withdrawn perspective. Try and pull away from the player that has the ball and look at the positioning of the other 10 players without the ball. If the team is playing a 4-5-1, meaning they have four defenders, five midfielders, and one striker, does the formation shift into a 4-3-3 when attacking? How do the players move to create space for themselves or teammates?
Let's use Bayern Munich as an example. Watching from a withdrawn view, they are a possession oriented team, but with a purpose. They are set up normally in a 3-4-3, which is allows for two holding midfielders and demands the outside midfielders to cover ground both up and back. They play simple, quick passes designed to probe and move the opposition, using Guardiola's philosophy of overloading one side of the pitch to create 1 v 1s or 2 v 1's on the unbalanced side. This leaves Robbin and Ribery, or Shaqiri/Bernat, in a position to run at an isolated defender, deciding whether to cut in or create space for a cross.
Even more importantly than watching the attacking team, watch the team that does not have possession. Take Chelsea for example. In their run to the Champions League title in 2012, they matched up against a superior Barcelona team over two legs in the semi-final. People moaned about their tactical setup, designed to soak up pressure, stay compact, and keep 10 men behind the ball, which frustrated Barcelona.
They called it "anti-football" and complained that Chelsea only wanted to defend or "park the bus". I called it a defensive master class that ultimately led to the blueprint on how to successfully defend Barcelona: Clog the middle of the field, forcing crosses into small targets, allow them meaningless possession in the first 60 yards of the field, and hit them on the counter.
As a coach, watch how the back four (defenders) work as a unit, holding a clear line and staying compact. Watch how the midfield makes its own bank of four, also moving in unison while a defensive midfielder provides cover in the hole. The space is not in between the players, but rather out wide in a less dangerous area. Watch how the forward forces play to one side and dictates how early the pressure starts on the field.
As a player, focus on your position that you play for your team and find the player that plays that position in the game you are watching.
If you are a striker, watch Diego Costa and how he creates space for himself in the box. Watch how he links up with Oscar and Hazzard, who shows for the ball and who creates the threat in behind the opposition. If you are a holding midfielder, watch how Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm look to dictate tempo in the midfield.
When they have possession, watch how they play simple, quick passes and always create angles for their teammates to give them an outlet. If you are central defender, watch John Terry and Gary Cahill and how they slide to cover for each other. Watch how they play out of the back to start attacks and how the position their bodies on crosses. If you are a goalkeeper, watch Manuel Neuer and his positioning. How high is he off of his line and when does he come for crosses? Watch his distribution and how he looks to keep possession in his team, rather than blindly smashing the ball up the field with every ball.
These players are merely good examples of who you should watch. But if Manchester United is playing Everton, pick the players on the field that play your position and watch them.
Watch how they play the game, how they position themselves, and the decisions they make and understand that games are a learning tool for you to improve. Watching high level games is crucial for a young players development. How you watch them will determine just how much the player, or coach, takes from the game and is able to emulate in their own habits and performance.
When you are watching professional games, think about how you are watching them and try to understand why certain things happen.
If Ronaldo scores a goal, could the goalkeeper have done anything differently? Could the defenders have closed him down quicker? Where was the outside midfielder who got caught in possession? Did he track back?
Understanding the game is a powerful tool for young players. With games being shown constantly on television, the opportunity is greater than ever to answer these questions.
You just have to look at the game a little differently to find the answers.