Association Football Q&A for Snooopy

In this Pit thread
Snoopoy made a plea for information about the more complex features of football.

Snoopy, here is your forum. I, and I’m sure Coldy, Ruadh Tomh and the rest of the soccer afficionados, will try our best to explain it to you.

This is also for anyone else who would like to ask a question.
Disclaimer: If you just want to bitch and moan about how “Pansy soccer sux and its just for having a riot afterwards” (RTA, i’m looking in your direction) please save it for another thread.

I’ll stick with something quick and relatively easy to explain

The backpass rule.

The goalkeeper is not allowed to pick up a ball if deliberately passed to him by one of his own players, unless headed back by a teammember. If it is a deflection, they can pick it up. Failure to comply with this rule results in an indirect free kick.


In the context of the original question, Substitutions of an Attacker for a midfielder, usually when a team needs to score goals. The rationale behind it is that a Striker is more able to score goals tan a midfielder or a defender could. so by putting on an extra striker in place of a defender or a Midfielder, and pushing forward, they are increasing their chances of scoring. As a corollary to this, they also leave themselves more vunerable in their defence as a result of attacking hard.

Pushing forward is the equivalent of a full court press in Basketball.

as for the formation questions, I’ll write them up and post in a litte bit, when I have the chance.

One thing that I find makes soccer hard to write about is that individual “plays” can be hard to recognize. I mean, in basketball, I can identify a pick-and-roll or a backdoor cut with no problem. In football, I can identify a sweep or a receiver who runs a “go” pattern down the sideline. In soccer, well, I can identify the occasional give-and-go, but beyond that, I don’t know.

As for the backpass rule, it’s good to attach a name to it.

there are few real “plays” as such in soccer. The most recognisable is the “Offside trap”. This involves the defense all moving forward together to leave the oppositions attack in an offside position. This can be very effective if done correctly. if not, It leaves your goal wide open.

Usually, set plays only occur at Corner kicks and free kicks. They usually do not have any generic names attached to them, as the play will vary from team to team.

Another formation question, while I’m thinking about it: What benefits would a 3-6-1 generate? I remember covering a high school game in which the team used that – their reason was a lack of decent forwards, but it could vary, I imagine.

Maybe they were playing on an exceptionally wide field…

The great thing about football is that there are so few set pieces. It means that the game can be very creative.

A term that you might hear: Route One football/going Route One. This means cutting out the middlemen and hoofing the ball from your own goal area right into the opponent’s penalty box. It’s crude and inelegant, but if you’ve only got a couple of minutes to score it can be effective.

packing the midfield like that can lead to some very boring football. they probably had 2 wingers, one attacking midfielder, 2 central midfielders and one defensive midfielder. No real advantage except for suffocating the oppositions passing abilities. the solution would be to go “Route 1” as Tansu explained.

I think one thing that is confusing when discussing formations, is that postitions are percieved (by those not in the know) to be relatively fixed. For example, 4-4-2 doesn’t mean four defenders standing side by side right behind four midfielders standing side by side, with two strikers holding hands in from of them.
The four defenders may be in a diamond formation, or a sweeper formation. The outside midfielders will most often be seen running down the sidelines in an attempt to cross the ball. A center midfielder may have “free roam” authority form his coach. One striker may stagger back, while another pushes forward. There are still dozens more variations on any one formation.

It should be noted for the sake of Snoooopy that the numerical designation for a given formation has evolved from a fairly simple and easily derived nomenclature to something of an art form. The easy to understand formations, like 2-4-4, 3-3-4, 4-3-3, etc. were based on fairly simple concepts of how various players on the field interacted with eacy other. A fullback, for instance, would most always stay closer to his goal than his teammates; a forward (striker, e.g.) would push up to the front of an attack on the opponent’s goal, and the mid-fielders would roam the area in between.

Now, however, based on evolution of the game starting with the Brazilian teams of the 60’s, and especially as accelerated by the ‘total football’ concept of the Dutch national team in the 70’s, it is naive to think of players having rigid roles on the field, much as American football can no longer count on a rigid role for, say, a half-back or tight-end. So a ‘formation’ becomes more of a generalization about organizational philosophy for a team, rather than a strictly established positional scheme.

Thus, for instance, the 3-6-1 you cited might as easily be considered a 3-4-3, or a 3-4-2-1, or a 3-2-4-1, or any other such combination. By calling it 3-6-1, the team is expressing a philosophy that the only player commited to attacking is the one ‘forward’; the six ‘midfielders’ are all committed to some version of connecting the play at the back with the play ‘up top’ (close to the opponent’s goal, which on a diagram is at the top). But if what they have are two really committed defensive midfielders, you could just as easily consider it an aggressive 5-4-1, with two forward fullbacks.

And we won’t even go into the difficulties under the numerical system of properly designating ‘sweepers’ and ‘stoppers’.

The ‘Backpass’ Rule

Correctly stated, this rule prohibits the goalkeeper from handling a ball kicked to him intentionally by a teammate, or thrown to him by a teammate (see Law XII, Laws of Soccer). The infraction results in an indirect free kick from the spot the goalkeeper touches the ball. If a player attempts by subterfuge to pass the ball to a keeper in such a way as to circumvent this rule (for instance, lifting a ball on the ground with his foot into the air so he can head it back, or falling to the ground to ‘knee’ the ball back), the player is penalized by being ‘cautioned’ (yellow card) and the other team gets an indirect free kick from the spot the player attempted his subterfuge. This does not apply to attempts to play the ball to the keeper where the method used results from the natural flow of play (as, say, heading a ball in the air to the keeper).

Soccer 'Plays

This is what we call in soccer ‘tactics’. There are several well-known soccer tactics that you can see occur on the field. Because the play rarely is allowed to start from a standing stop, such tactics are usually not pre-existing designed plays such as you see in American football or even in basketball. It is much more like the simple application of concepts from basketball like screening, pick-and-roll, give-and-go, etc.

Some common soccer tactics you will see include:

  1. The ‘wall pass’, where a player with the ball who is confronted by an opponent will play a ball laterally to a teammate, who immediately returns a pass to the first player beyond the interposed defender. The first player will have sped past the defender, and the effect is similar to having played the ball off a wall to himself.
  2. The give-and-go. This is similar to basketball, you probably recognize this sort of play already.
  3. The crossing pass, where a player on the wing will send a pass across the mouth of the goal, hoping to allow a teammate to re-direct the ball into the goal. English football is filled with such attempts; to watch quality crosses, watch a game by Manchester United with David Beckham on the right wing. Interestingly, England’s national team suffers from the lack of someone to cross from the left, a constant theme of those who are upset with results of the national team.
  4. The overlapping run, where a teammate of the person with the ball runs from behind the one with the ball to a position forward and wide of him. This type of run allows a pass to the overlapping player, who can continue the run down the wing in possession of the ball, hoping to get behind the defense and either steer towards goal or make a cross. Brazil does this all the time, on both sides, and it is a very effective weapon. Of course, it does leave the team vulnerable in back of the ball, in case the opponent obtains possession and starts a quick counter-attack.

There are endless other such ‘plays’, but they consist of application of specific 1v1, 2v1, 2v2, and 3v2 tactics to generalized strategic goals, as played out in infinite variation on the soccer field. The “beautiful game” the Brazilians call it; I hope you enjoy it. :slight_smile:

(Note: confirmed soccer junkie and ten-year referee, seven-year coach here, griping bitterly that his last move deprived him of Fox Sports)

The “wall pass” sounds just like a give-and-go. How are they different?

What situations cause an indirect kick?

Snooooop, by my reckoning, wall-passes and gives-and-goes are essentially the same thing, only one being a little more fluid than the other.

A wall pass is like it sounds - as if the player you’re passing the ball to is a wall. You kick it to him, it comes back at the proper angle.

A give-and-go is inherantly more strategic. You pass the ball to your teammate, you run to a spot, and hopefully your teammate anticipates this and leads you the ball.

Indirect kicks are awarded for rules infringements which aren’t grevious fouls, or intentional fouls, such as off-sides, back pass to the goalie or obstruction. Other fouls such as tripping, intentionally handling the ball with your hands, head-butting, etc. are awarded free kicks.

Just in case you need to know the difference - a direct kick can be played directly into the goal. An indirect kick must first touch another player before going to goal.

Actually John, you misread my original post - it was about why a midfielder might be substituted for an attacker in this situation. It’s too obvious the other way around :slight_smile: The specific example I was thinking of was a Man U game from a while back, I can’t remember who they were playing, but Nicky Butt (not just a midfielder but a defensive midfielder at that!) was brought on in place of Dwight Yorke when United were in desperate need of a goal. The other team was getting the ball away from them far too easily, so Butt was brought on to tighten the midfield, help United keep possession and increase their chances of getting the ball to a player in scoring position (who needn’t necessarily be a striker, especially with a team of Man U’s calibre).

I can’t remember if this tactic worked or not in this instance :wink: but I thought it was a good example of a move that wouldn’t be clear to anyone with only a rudimentary understanding of the game.

Is the term “free kick” a category which encompasses both direct kicks and indirect kicks?

Yes, in my experience “free kick” denotes any kick taken that isn’t a corner or penalty kick(in the box) and isfree of defensive pressure within a 10 meter radius.

Snoooopy, you’re gonna love this site:

Laws of Soccer

And this one:

Q’s & A’s About the Laws of Soccer

Free kicks may be direct or indirect (Law XIII).

Penalty kicks are highly specialized versions of free kicks, but most people don’t include them in the meaning of the special term ‘free kick’ (Law XIV).

A wall pass is similar to a ‘give and go’. Or you can call it a specialized form of ‘give and go’. A true ‘give and go’ involves defensive pressure behind the man to whom the initial pass is made; this is followed by a run by the man making the pass, who may receive a return pass or not depending on whether the player who has his back to the defense prefers in the situation to pass it back or attempt to roll around the defender keeping possession. We see this in basketball all the time with players at the high post, backs to the basket. Since a wall pass involves pressure on the person making the first pass, not the player to whom the pass is made, it is only a ‘give and go’ in the loosest sense.

Do players who share the same position generally share the same kind of athletic makeup? For instance, are the forwards generally the fastest runners? Are the midfielders generally the most endurable? Do goalies generally have big hands?

I was joking about the goalies.

In general, most players at one position share the same basic physical strengths and weaknesses. Size isn’t nearly as important as it is in other sports though. One of the best players of all time, Diego Maradona of Argentina, was about 5’6" or so.


Forwards should be tall and/or fast. Tall so that they have an advantage when heading and fast so that they can outrun defenders. Endurance and passing skills aren’t that important. Bursts of brilliance and speed are what make a dangerous forward.

Midfielders need to be very balanced. Dribbling and passing skills are absolutely crucial. The midfielder needs to assist the defenders and create chances for the forwards. Because they’ll be running up and down the field, good endurance is absolutely essential.

Defenders come in all shapes and sizes. Jaap Stam is gigantic, Roberto Carlos is a gnat; yet they’re quite possibly the two best defenders in the world. That aside, consistent play and the ability to kick accurate long balls are very important.

Goalkeepers need to be at least 5’8" or so. Otherwise they’ll have a tough time catching the ball on crosses and will be susceptible to chips. Agility and good hand-eye coordination always help too.

Most goalkeepers generally have big hands. I played goalie for about four years. Goalkeeping coaches would always comment that my catching fundamentals needed to be extra good because my hands were so small. If your hands are big, you don’t need to worry nearly as much about letting the ball go in between your fingers when catching.

Just to reiterate Lawmill’s point - one of the great things about footie is that anybody of any size can play in any position - so long as they are fit. The game is not about raw size and power - it’s about skill and fitness. Anyone who has seen little Gianfranco Zola skipping past some defensive gorillas or a perfectly timed tackle from Rio Ferdinand taking the ball cleanly from some lumbering striker will know exactly what I am talking about here.

One clarification - I note that noone on this thread has explained what (eg) 4-4-2 actually means (although maybe the implication has become obvious.) To spell it out - the first number refers to the number of defenders that you employ, the second to the number of midfielders and the final number refers to strikers. With that in mind:

Favorite tactic for many years of English teams and not a few Italian ones - most notably AC Milan. Viewed by many as the most flexible system. You have two strong central midfielders to counter the opponent’s two centre-forwards and two defensively strong full-backs (think of them as “defensive wingers”) to counter your opponents attacks down the wing. “Stop the cross and stop the goal” is part of this style of full-back’s philosophy.
The midfield in a classic 4-4-2 will consist of two solid passing midfielders playing in the middle of the park and two speedy wingers looking to get up the right and left hand sides so that they may deliver crosses. However one variation of 4-4-2 is the diamond formation in midfield where you have one defensive and one attacking midfielder playing with two all-purpose guys. This has the advantage of encouraging more free-flowing passing football (as evidenced by (spit) Tottenham Hotspur in the 1980s) but the disadvantage of giving you less width.
The two strikers are traditionally big tall lads who will be useful in the air. However the diamond formation lends itself better to skillful strikers who can beat their man.

There is 3-5-2 and 5-3-2 - but they are basically the same thing with different emphases. You have three (rather than two) centre-backs to stifle your opponents strikers and your full-backs have become “wing-backs” - a kind of full-back/winger combo. Many English teams have tried and failed at this system in recent years - many due to the fact that you need excellent wing-backs to play it properly and they are in short supply. Probably the team that came closest in England was Ruud Gullit’s Chelsea (although they had glaring deficits in other areas) - once Gullit had bought Dan Petrescu of Romania to act as one wing-back and Graeme Le Saux to act as the other.
5-3-2 came to an art form in Inter Milan in the 60s(?) They called their system “catenaccio” (not sure of spelling) - Italian for “padlock” I believe. Under this continental version of 3-5-2 one of the centre-backs acts as a sweeper - playing either in front of or behind the other defenders, depending on the system employed. They were considered almost impossible to break down in their day. These days it is the German sides who tend to employ sweepers with the most effect.
The danger with this system is that the wing-backs will become stifled, resulting in a lack of width up front. Attacks then become very predictable and teams can defend accordingly. Furthermore some would argue that you really only need two centre-backs to defend against two centre-forwards. Some German sides got round this by employing their sweeper in front of the back four so that he could act as an extra midfielder if the need arose - see Lothar Mattheus in about 1994 (I think) as an example.

4-3-3 and 4-2-4
When you see these formations you are normally seeing an attempt at “total football”, of which the Dutch sides of the late seventies and late eighties were masters. A free-flowing system that really requires quality and ability to play anywhere on the pitch throughout the team. A nightmare to play against and a nightmare to play for, due to the difficulty of knowing who will be where and when. You need midfielders who are superb and defending and defenders who can pass as well as any midfielder. Can be a joy to watch - can be an utter disaster.

Of course it helps to have Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Bastern in your team.

4-3-2-1, or “Christmas Tree”
Most famously in England tried by Terry Venables in his England team. The aim is to stifle the opponents with two layers of midfield. You need an extremely good front man who’s job as well as scoring will be to hold the ball up, giving time for the midfielders to get into attacking positions. It can be exciting, but English sides normally make it as boring as hell. 4-5-1 is an even more tedious version of this system, without even the excitement of the two attacking midfielders. I suppose that 4-5-1 can give you the width that 4-3-2-1 lacks, but personally I hate it since it so often seems to end up purely as an attempt to throttle the game.

There. I hope that this helps. Obviously I am no authority on the game, so I fully expect corrections and gasps of amazement at my lack of grasp of football history to come flooding in ("Mattheus? Are you mad, man?).


kabbes, this is the meaty stuff I was hoping to get. Very interesting read. Thanks.

Can someone tell me about Gary Lineker? When I visited England lo these many years ago, I seem to remember reading that he committed some hideous mistake in a really big game – like an own goal in a World Cup match or something. Anyone know what I’m referring to (or if my memory is just whacked)?

Can’t think of an obvious error that Saint Gary actually made, but I can think of an arguable error that invloved him.

England played Sweden in the 1992 European Cup. They needed to win to proceed. In the second half the England manager substituted Linekar for Alan Smith of Arsenal (from memory). Linekar was one goal away from being England’s highest ever goalscorer, it was his last game (I think - his last big game anyway) and of course England failed to score. The manager (Graeme Taylor) got slaughtered in the press, called a turnip (“Swedes 1 Turnips 0”) and lots of people still don’t forgive him.

Taylor went on to fail to qualify for the 1994 world cup, due to a disasterous loss to Norway and (from an England perspective) some dodgy refereeing in the game against Holland (Ronald Koeman should have been sent off and England given a penalty. Instead it was a yellow card and England got a free kick just outside the box, which they didn’t score from. Koeman went on to score the equaliser).

In 1990 England had made it to the WC semi-finals. Norway and Sweden at the time were considered also-ran sides. He lost his post not long afterwards.

In mitigation I’d offer the following:[ul][li]It turned out that the two Scandinavian sides were not also-rans. Sweden subsequently made it to the semi-finals of WC 1994. Norway have sinced proved themselves to be a consistently pretty good side over the last 8 years. These defeats would not be seen in the same light today.[/li][li]Most of the WC 1990 team were either retired or over the hill by the time Taylor got to EC 1992. Linekar himself was past his prime. More crucially, Linekar was the kind of striker that lived or died on the service he got - the consumate goal poacher. THe EC 1992 side really had no guile, so he wasn’t getting the service that he needed. He was ineffectual in that game and to be honest it was really only rose-tinted nostalgia that led to people demanding he be left on. Alan Smith probably was a better choice for that team. If it had worked, Taylor would have been a hero. As it was his reign was tainted from the start[/li][li]He really was unlucky in the WC 1994 qualifying campaign. We outplayed Norway, only to have an amazing equaliser scored against us in the last minute. Then there was that Holland game. Allied to this - England really had the worst set of players to choose from for years. Carlton Palmer and Barry Venison for god’s sake.[/ul]So there it is. That is probably the mistake that you are thinking of.[/li]
As a postscript, Taylor now manages Watford (Very successfully) and England are about to appoint the Swedish Sven Goran Eriksson as their manager. In a recent match against Manchester United, the United fans sang to Taylor (to the tune of “She’ll be coming round the mountain”):

“We’d rather have a turnip than a Swede”

I guess what goes around really does come around.