Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Antagonists to Protagonists

Austria have been the antagonist, countering their opponent, and when Türkiye scored in the first minute, they became the protagonist. Uruguay manager Marcelo Bielsa’s description of the mindset of a protagonist highlights why Austria lost.

Marcelo Bielsa, when asked if he has a Plan B to defend rather than attack, translation provided by Juani Jimena:

In general terms, football is about possessing the ball rather than trying to recover it. Our goal is to spend more time with the ball than trying to recover it. Football is also playing on your own pitch or on your opponent’s pitch. Our goal is to play on the opponent’s pitch and not on our own. Usually, those who play on the opponent’s pitch have control of the game. And usually, those who dominate the game increase their chances of scoring and suffer less.

Plan B that you asked me, I understand, refers to not possessing the ball, and playing in our own half of the pitch. I don’t know if your question refers to that, but it is the only option that remains contrary to our plan. In football, you either have the ball or the opponent has it, or you play on your own pitch and make counter-attacks, or you play on the opponent’s pitch. I aspire that the quality of the players I coach will determine whether we will be protagonists or the protagonist will be the rival. In this case, and in all cases, I always choose that my team is the protagonist.

Furthermore, the need to use a Plan B in a game where Uruguay created three times more chances of scoring than its rival and dominates 70/80% of the minutes does not make sense.

In a high-stakes, must-win game, the protagonist needs individuals who can act as talismans. Uruguay has Darwin Nunez, Luis Suarez, Federico Valverde, and Ronald Araujo. High-impact difference makers who can score when the opponent defends deep and the attack is at a standstill. Austria is great when working as a team, but their talismans, Marcel Sabitzer and Christoph Baumgartner, need the team to be in motion to score. When asked to attack Türkiye for eighty-nine minutes, they don’t have the answer. They aren’t going to create something out of nothing or overpower the opponent with their quality.

A team without a high-impact talisman can struggle when they are the protagonist against an equal opponent. Austria have not lost under Ralf Rangnick when they have forty to fifty percent possession, but they lost to Belgium when they had the majority of the ball, fifty-eight percent possession, in European qualification back in October 2023.

Spain has Lamine Yamal, Germany has Jamal Musiala, Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo, France has Kylian Mbappe, the Netherlands has Cody Gakpo, Türkiye has Arda Güler, England has Jude Bellingham, and Switzerland has the same issue as Austria. Who will you look to when your team needs a goal, and do you have several talismans if one is not performing?

Cover photo credit to CONMEBOL Copa América

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