Counterattacking: The result of indivisible football

Take into account that during the attacking process, you’re creating future defensive conditions and vice-versa.
— Oscar Cano Moreno

We saw it in the Euro 2016 and we’re witnessing it in this 2018 World Cup; counterattacking football. And the good kind. The type that goes from one end of the pitch to other in a matter of three passes. The kind that electrifies a crowd because they know it might possibly be the best chance of the night. Counterattacking that weaves and glides through open spaces within seconds. This deliberate method of play is one that is deeply misunderstood and is often believed to be a result of some quick players and a cheeky dribble near the goal. Those are elements of counterattacks but that doesn’t tell the whole story. 

One of the most important concepts of positional play is the idea that football is composed of fluid, continuous actions which cannot be separated. Not to be divided into phases with no correlation but instead to be seen as each phase is a part of the next and the one before. I believe using this concept as a starting point to dissect the art counterattacking would be most beneficial in this context.

Read: A Transitioning State of Mind

If we objectively analyse what a counterattack is, it would be defined as the transition period when a team regains possession of the ball and attacks in a way that exploits the space the opponent has opened up. However, in order to do so efficiently the team transitioning from defence to attack must set up the conditions necessary to succeed prior to recovering possession. When in defence recognise spaces to attack and in attack cover spaces to defend. This idea may sound foreign or backwards to some but it’s absolutely necessary if a team is to successfully manage all situations of a match. 

In this 2018 edition of the World Cup, we recently saw Mexico manage these conditions to perfection and Germany fail to do so. Mexico intelligently occupied the spaces Germany vacated when in possession of the ball. This was due to Germany’s desire to resolve the match without any regard for what the opponent was proposing. That is to say, they, especially the wingbacks, left spaces without any consideration of Mexico’s positioning. By contrast, Mexico was not threatened enough to follow every German player joining the attacking onslaught. They believed in their system and were aware of the spaces essential to them upon regaining possession. The result was impressive, constant, and numerically superior counterattacks.

As I’ve mentioned, counterattacking is a result of attacking minded defending and as with all parts of football, it requires constant perception of the space. Approaching football under this belief that football is constant, fluid, and inseparable reinforces the necessity to develop footballers who can carry out their cognitive process alongside impeccable technical execution.

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