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    Harder, better, faster, stronger. Evolution of football tactics and physical preparation.

    Jacek Opałka

    Conditioning Coach

    Do contemporary tactic trends in football change the approach to motor training? Question similar to this one are starting to appear more and more often in the so-called world of media. Does the amount of running performed by a given team during a match differ significantly depending on the formation and therefore the utilised formation changes the approach to fitness training?

    Lech Poznań performance training

    In the second leg of Champions League 1/8 finals, Valencia, which started the match in the
    1-4-4-2 formation, had more possession, made more passes and goal attempts but "ran' 3.4km less than Atalanta (the match ended at 3-4) who used 1-3-5-2 (103.7 vs 107.1 km). Even though these are not extreme distances, this doesn't change the fact that Bergamo players did more work in this aspect. In the first leg, the Italian team also had the advantage in that aspect (132.2 vs 109.5 km) and the confrontation ended at 4-1.

    RB Leipzig, who used a 1-3-4-3 formation against Tottenham (1-4-4-2), covered more
    distance during both home and away match (108.6 vs 105,1 km and (113.6 vs 107.8 km).
    Both matches were won by the German team. A similar situation happened in Lyon. The
    home team, who started the match against Juventus (1-4-3-3) in a 1-3-5-2 formation, had
    worse statistics in terms of possession or goal attempts but covered more distance (118.1 vs
    112.6 km). The match ended at 1-0. Was this aspect decisive for the end results of these
    matches?

    Where is football coming to?

    First of all, let's consider if there are any significant tactic trends at the moment. It depends on what aspect we choose. When it comes to changing formations and playing systems, there haven't been any significant changes in the last 20 years, which is reflected in UEFA and FIFA technical reports developed after each Euro or World Cup. We can basically talk about two systems, i.e. 1-4-4-2 with modifications and 1-3-5-2 with modifications, which boils down to playing with either four or three defenders. Obviously, it's a large simplification because a given system can evolve during a game, depending on its specific phases. These are, however, the two main approaches that we can discuss here.

    During the most recent national conference for licensed UEFA Pro, Elite Youth and A
    coaches, the renowned Italian coach Arrigo Sachi, who was invited to the event by its
    organisers, was asked about future tendencies and directions for the development of football. He replied that even more focus will be put on mastering teamwork, player versatility, swapping positions, and tactic consistency and discipline, which will in turn increase the overall synergy.

    This comes from a man who has been acclaimed as one of the ten coaches worldwide who
    had the biggest influence on the growth of football. You can't really argue with such an
    authority, even though I personally believe that there will always be a place for "football
    artists" who like to think outside the box.

    If, in the light of this statement, there aren't currently any specific trends that we could
    discuss, does it mean that there are absolutely no trends whatsoever? Does it mean that we
    don't notice any changes? Their lack usually causes stagnation and eventually leads to
    regression. Is is the case with football?

    The answer is no.

    Evolution of football

    We've seen some changes happen in recent times, such as changes in the regulations (for
    instance, offside rules were modified in 1990 and two years later goalkeepers were forbidden to catch the ball passed by their teammate; more recently, we saw changes in the goal kick rule or positioning walls before free kicks). Another important change for the coaches, especially from the tactical point of view, is the introduction of new technology such as the VAR system implemented in 2017. All of these changes or modifications may make it necessary to utilise new solutions or player behaviour, both in attack and defence. We can also discuss certain trends in these aspects. But do they affect the approach to fitness training? Will Marek Papszun, the coach of Raków Częstochowa, who is aware of these changes and uses a formation with three defenders, prepare his players in a significantly different way than coaches who happen to use four defenders? As shown by the statistics, the players of Raków Częstochowa run the largest distance during their matches. But is this caused by the formation they use?

    Akademia Piłkarska Reissa & Sonda Sports

    In the time of Jurgen Klopp (even though it’s been almost 5 years), Borussia Dortmund was the most running club in the Bundesliga while utilising 4 defenders. Were the players of the Regions Cup team who won the European competition for amateur teams in 2019 prepared to play in a specific way or use a specific formation? Again, the answer is no.
    In our case, we relied on selecting players based on their skills, fitness and mentality. The
    formation and strategy was adopted to our players and the current opponents. I think it's
    similar with Raków or other European clubs.

    Faster, stronger, tougher

    All coaches would like to have fast, strong and tough players with appropriate skills as well
    as technical and tactical potential, regardless of their position on the field. It's even more
    evident now, where more advanced, high-level teams have less trouble with changing their
    formation, even during the game.

    This doesn't change the fact that we follow certain standards that tell us which players would be the most desirable for particular positions in terms of their technical, tactical, fitness and mental characteristics. Such technical/tactical player profiles exist, for instance in the National Game Model developed by the Polish Football Association in 2016 (below).

    Centre back (4,5) Wing back (2,3) Defensive midfielder (6) Central midfielder (6) Attacking midfielder (10) Winger (7,11) Forward (9)
    1x1 in attack 1 2 2 3 3 3 3
    1x1 in defence 3 3 3 3 2 3 2
    Short passing 3 2 3 3 3 3 3
    Long passing 3 2 3 3 3 1 1
    Attack headers 3 2 2 2 1 1 3
    Defence headers 3 3 2 1 1 2
    Ball control 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
    Long shots 1 1 3 3 3 2 3
    Penalty box shots 1 1 2 3 3 3 3
    Centre pass 1 3 1 1 1 3 1
    Dribbling, ball conduction 2 3 3 3 3 3 3

    Of course, there might be some other models as well. In some clubs, there are coaches who have a preferred system, use a specific formation and select players to match their vision. I believe that this mechanism is used much less often, because it can be afforded by clubs with appropriately sized budgets, such as Manchester City or FC Barcelona. It is much more common that the system, formation or tactic is a result of the currently available human potential as well as work, philosophy and ideas of the coach. Therefore, my answer to the question posed in the title – how (if at all) contemporary tactical trends in football change the approach to motor training – is going to be a little subversive. The development of sports physiology provides coaches with increasingly faster, stronger and tougher footballers who can play way more intensely than in the past. When observing coaches such as Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp or Diego Simeone, we can clearly see that their concepts continuously clash, evolve and influence one another. It goes without saying that footballers with good motor skills will find their way in any of these systems.

    Jacek Opałka

    Conditioning Coach

    The second coach of the team of Lower Silesia, who in 2019 won the UEFA Regions Cup (Amateur European Championship).

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