Counterattack against positional attack. Possession of the ball against the control of spaces. The football debate has been put back on the table and Real Madrid and Barcelona, Barcelona and Real Madrid are its star protagonists. LThe tactical versatility of the Whites in which the offensive counterattack game is one of their most used resources, against the tactical rigor of the azulgranas who, since the arrival of Xavi, have tried to recover their style of play staged in the possession attack that was installed at the Camp Nou since the arrival of coach Johan Cruyff.
Ancelotti acts as an Italian. The Real Madrid coach has not hidden in his last appearances before the media that his team feels comfortable in this type of offensive action. “I like the counterattack, I’m Italian. I’m delighted that my team plays on the counterattack. Playing like this is not so easy, it’s not simple. It means playing vertically and having players who give you the passes at just the right time and strikers who attack Real Madrid’s counterattack for the third goal of the victory over Barcelona 3-2 in the Super Cup semi-final was not one against one pass, it was one of four or five low passes, with six players inside the rival area, not one. It wasn’t a long pass for Vinicius’s career. Sometimes I hear this. It was a well-made counterattack. Madrid plays against it, delighted”.
The Italian coach is one of those He defends that in football there is neither the perfect style nor the perfect system. “Everything is fine, there is no magic that makes you win games. The perfect game does not exist. It’s not that if I counterattack I’m going to win every game, it’s not that if I get possession I’m going to win every game. Matches are also won from set pieces and in all forms.”
Xavi, with the ball as a flag. The Barça coach, on the other hand, is absolutely in line with the principles of positional attack that arise from the idea that possession and the ball are basic. “The most important thing, the most beautiful and the most precious thing in football is to have the ball and go on the attack and dominate the game with the ball. In positional attack the most important thing is to widen the field and open it up, make it as open as possible and as deep as possible. You have to look for numerical superiorities in all areas of the field. If the opponent waits for you behind and doesn’t press you up, what you have to do is find solutions to attack that defense in a low block”. A debate that, of course, extends to the rest of the teams in the League and whose analysis with the tools and statistics that are handled, leads us to point out that the League is more a championship of counterattack than of positional attack, but in any case very rich in nuances and variants. In the first section, with their tones and grades, 11 teams can be included: Athletic, Valencia, Espanyol, Osasuna, Mallorca, Getafe, Cádiz, Levante, Granada, Elche and Alavés.
Among them there are those who bet on a more direct game with very fast transitions as is usually the case with Alavés, Cádiz, Getafe, Elche (all four have changed coaches) and Osasuna, who stands out for his advanced defense. Valencia does not represent the traditional direct game of dispute in the rival field and second play, it takes advantage of its fast transitions to be the second team with the highest percentage of long passes and it is also the fourth team with the most orientation changes in the championship. Mallorca, Levante, Espanyol, Granada and Athletic, within this counterattacking style, adapt perfectly to different contexts to the point, especially in the case of Levante (three coaches) and Athletic, that there are no statistical data to support and confirm which are predominantly counter-attacking teams.
With the label of groups with a clear tendency to positional attack, a lot of game initiative, longer possessions and that, in most of the game, want and usually carry the weight of the game are Barcelona, Real Sociedad, Betis and the Celtic. In this group, due to their statistics and sensations, four other examples could also be included: Real Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal and Atlético. In fact, based on their data, these eight clubs are in the top-8 of teams with the most passes per possession, the most game initiative and the highest percentage of long possessions (more than 30 seconds). However, these last four teams, in many phases of the game, are comfortable giving up space to seek the counterattack and exploit the speed of their strikers and the precision to launch this type of fast passes typical of the counterattack. In fact, the four are among the seven who have scored the most goals on the counterattack.
For these characteristics, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal and Atlético could also be integrated into a so-called mixed group, which lives on horseback of the two trends and to which Rayo Vallecano would join, a special team, which likes to take the initiative with a combinative game, but at the same time when they have the opportunity they like to run and assert their intensity, their great value, in the round trip .
The opinion of the technicians. This debate has always been alive among technicians, who never opt for a single game model. Del Bosque proclaims freedom of choice. The former selector, in his experiences with Real Madrid and in the National Team, was more committed to a positional attack, with the ball as the subject of the maneuvers, but at no time did he ignore the pure and simple counterattack. “We could frame ourselves in those who wanted to attack with the ball, but nobody told the players not to launch a counterattack if it was the best option. The counterattack is inherent to what is happening in the game. If you steal a ball, the body and the head can ask you to follow the play quickly. The important thing is that, if the player sees a chance to counter, the first pass is always forward. You also have the option to just retrieve, give a safety pass and that’s when you show that you want to control the immediate action of the game and say now we rule. You can even pass back to secure.”
Commenting that half of the teams in the League bet on the counterattack, Vicente reflects. “It always has to do with the capacity of the teams. There is no single way to attack. You don’t have the ball all the time. You always have to take into account where you want to get the ball back. The sauce or substance of the counterattack is to steal the ball and reach the opponent’s goal quickly. You can steal it on their field or yours. If you steal it forward, it takes less time, it’s a shorter, but more immediate counter. If you fall back and steal it back, it takes longer. big teams dominate the matches and are more prone to positional attack, also influenced by the opponent’s withdrawal. Real Madrid does both alternatives well. When they carry the weight of the game they have a lot of movement, a lot of agility with the ball and when it’s a counterattack they play it perfectly”.
Irureta ‘sucked’ the counterattack at Atlético. If you had to choose a Spanish team that has traditionally been characterized by exploiting counterattack play, Atlético de Madrid would be the best candidate. Its first references date back to the 1950s with Helenio Herrera on the bench and continued successfully until the early 1970s with Marcel Domingo and Max Merkel. Luis Aragonés was inspired by them, who was an outstanding figure in the matter. After a few years of alternation, Diego Pablo Simeone recovered the idea and Atlético has been the living example of the team that prefers space to the ball.
Javier Irureta, 14 years as a player and 24 as a coach, drank directly from the sources of the counterattack when he played for Atlético and was imbued with them for his later stage as coach. His Deportivo League and Cup champion was a living example of that trend. “I recognize that I like that style of withdrawing, recovering, going out quickly and catching the opponent the more disorganized, the better. It is important that he does not have time to come back. Marcel Domingo and Luis were two masters. They stressed that it was very important that The last line didn’t sink too far back. The striker or the two strikers, in the semi-circle and the midfielders close to the defenders. It’s a very effective style of play that will never die and I don’t think using it now sounds old.”
Jabo remembers his champion Deportivo. “With Makaay up, who was very fast, or Tristán or Pandiani; Valerón behind, Víctor and Fran on the wings, Valerón and two midfielders like Mauro Silva and Flavio or later Sergio, we had a good start assured. It is true that the counterattack It requires a high level of physical fitness because you exploit a lot of speed and wear yourself out a lot in recovery”.
If Atlético has led the armor of the counterattack in Spanish football, Inter has been its best defender in European football with its two European Cups and two consecutive Intercontinental Cups (1964 and 65). Luis Suárez, the only male Golden Ball in the history of Spanish football, was the master key to that game. “Helenio Herrera had it very clear, he was signing players to play that way. First he took me, who was ideal to take advantage of the speed above Mazzola or Jair, then it was Peiró, who was a fast greyhound. Corso and I we were the pitchers of the team. In the European Cup we always played against each other. In Italy, at home, we had to attack out of obligation because the teams closed in on us, but as soon as we got ahead in the scoring, we fell back. The goat shot to the mountain”.
Luis, from Milan where he continues to live, analyzes all the Barça matches for Cadena SER and disagrees that the Barça team always wants to play the same when they don’t have the players to do so. “With Xavi, Iniesta, Messi… it’s normal that you want to attack from possession and control of the match. But Xavi wants to do it now and he doesn’t have the players for it yet. And I say still because the youngsters are progressing a lot and they can reach to mature and they can get to play that way, but not everyone will succeed. Some will stay. Without players for it, you can’t defend an idea for defending it”.
Positional attack is understood as that in which the team with possession of the ball carries out its offense from a prolonged possession in which it seeks to overcome the rival with long plays and with the participation of a large number of players. Preferably it is usually executed with short passes that try to attract opponents to that area of the field and then be able to attack the defensive spaces most unprotected by the rival. Width and depth are key in this type of attack. The ball is the tool to disarm the rival, create free zones and occupy them.
The main objective of the counterattack is to catch the opposing team off guard. It is an offensive tactical principle where the team that steals the ball moves quickly towards the goal with the aim of surprising the rival and scoring the goal. Speed is a vital factor in this type of offensive action, both for the team that proposes it and for the one that tries to defend it. When the opponent loses possession in midfield or in attack, the defenders are usually far from their usual zone, this being the right time to initiate a counterattack.