What is the position game?

December 23, 2021

The position game is a term that is heard in every press conference of Xavi Hernandez. It is, basically, the name that identifies a way of playing, a style, a philosophy. The one of the Barça now.

But it is much more complex than that. The ball (depending on where it is and who has it) is the element that determines everything: the distribution, occupation and movement of the players. Poetically said, it is the journey of a team with the ball through the field to the rival goal. Therefore, it is not a specific tactical system, although the initial location of the players starts from a certain area. The most common is a 4-3-3 scheme. The will to possess the ball to have the initiative of the game implicitly entails a offensive spirit. This means that there must be several players in front of the ball.

It starts from a 4-3-3 scheme but the position of the players depends on where the ball is.

The position of the players on the pitch is marked or should be marked the position of the ball. It is about that, wherever the ball is, the team has more troops than the rival: to play it with an advantage when they have possession and to recover it immediately when it is lost. The so-called numerical superiority, to which the coach of Barça usually alludes, of his own players that it is convenient to have in each area where it is played.

Everyone’s goal: to score

The incessant movement of the ball forces the constant and organized movement of the players, who cannot be at the same height and on the same plane, but rather in different positions, so that the teammate who has the ball has options to pass it. This is how you advance on the field with the purpose, the objective, the same for all teams: to score goals. That does not change.

“You don’t play to pass the ball to pass it; it happens with an intention, ”says Pep Guardiola.

“You don’t play to pass the ball to pass it; it happens with an intention, “he says Pep Guardiola, Who is accused of being obsessed with possession of the ball. The game of passing by which is pejoratively called the ‘get ready’. In reality, the circulation of the ball is intended to move the opposing defense, to the rival, through the ball, to unbalance it and arrive with an advantage to create scoring opportunities.

“The most important thing in a team is to have a game model, a set of principles that gives organization to the team ”. It is a phrase from Jose Mourinho, that he is neither a practitioner nor a devotee of the position game.

A 30-year legacy

Yes Xavi is, in a legacy he left Johan Cruyff in his time as a coach (1988-96) after having known him as a footballer in his origins in Holland, and which they perpetuated at Barça Louis van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard, Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique. Each one with its different contributions and nuances. It is what Xavi has known since childhood, what he dominates, and what he tries to give back to the Barça team.

Mourinho’s model is another. It can be a direct style, passing from defense to front without elaboration or chain passes. Or it can be counterattack, defensive, to attract the opposing team and surprise them on the counterattack. It all depends, for Xavi, for Mourinho, for whoever, on the virtues of the players in his squad.

The importance of the extremes is so that their location on the band creates more spaces in the central zone.

Breadth and depth

What characterizes the position game? For example, the advance through the field with the ball from pass to pass, which implies that the players are located different heights and axes. Faced with the opposition of ten opposing footballers, it is important that there are players who give amplitude (stand near the sidelines, which was the mission of Dembélé and Abde against Sevilla) Y depth (to lengthen the field as much as possible as it has done Ferran Jutglà in his appearances). In this way, they force their markers to be next to them and there is more free space in the central areas to advance. That is the reason why Xavi asks open ends, They have to be quick and skillful: if the ball reaches them, they only have one opponent to beat.

Xavi often refers to the ‘third man’, which is to use a teammate to get the ball to another.

The difficulty of this game idea, or one of them, is the complexity of its development. The success of the implementation on the pitch requires the preparation of a series of synergies and a chain of actions of several players depending on the variables that occur and those caused by the rival.

“It is strange that there are Barça players who do not understand the positional game,” said Xavi, that he declared himself “surprised” that some of his pupils find it difficult to understand the springs of such an ingrained style. Concepts for example that look before receiving or using the third man, which consists of a player receiving the ball after the keeper has used a teammate, usually further away, to get it to him.

The model is characterized by the execution of the four Ps: position, possession, pressure and perception.

The four Ps

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Xavi’s perplexity is also based on the fact that he knows that at Barça there is a treatise on positional play. A document of scientific category prepared by the contributions of Paco Seirulo and Joan Vilà.

In it, by way of example, it is established that it is founded on four Pes: the possession of the ball to advance on the field and to defend oneself, taking the initiative away from the rival; the Pressure to recover the ball as soon as possible; the position so that the movements facilitate passing lines to the opponent’s back and the perception: the ability to see your partner, your rival, your team and your opponent AND the sense of knowing when to do things and when not.