The concept of passing check list was suggested by Charles Hughes in the book “The Winning Formula”. Before explaining the check list, it is worthy to understand more about his philosophy of how to play football.
Football is a space invasion game. If the team can’t bring the ball forward to invade the space in opponent’s half or defending third, they can’t score. Therefore, his philosophy is that the player should always try to play the ball forward whenever possible. He thought attitude (positive or negative) is the key difference between success and failure. Forward passing is only one of the ways to achieve this goal. For instance, the player can make a shot, dribble or run with the ball to play the ball forward also. He argued direct play embodies a positive attitude and possession play (movements with high numbers of consecutive passes) embodies a negative attitude. The following table briefly summarises his thought in comparing direct play with possession play:
As a result, he made a passing check list to explain his philosophy and give a guideline to players how to play forward whenever possible. The check list is in order of priority from an attacker’s point of view.
Passing Check list:
- A pass into space behind the defence
- A pass to the feet of the most advanced attacker
- A pass beyond at least one defender
- A cross-field pass to switch the line of attacker
- A pass backwards to a supporting player
1. A pass into space behind the defence:
This type of pass is in the top of the priority list because it can cause the defenders more problems. After the pass, the defenders are not facing the ball anymore, they have to turn around and run towards their goal. There are three ways to execute this type of passing.
1.1 between the centre back and the full back – straight pass
- centre forward makes a diagonal forward run
1.2 between the centre back and the full back – diagonal pass
- ball is played diagonally from central position for winger to run into space behind full back
1.3 diagonal pass over the head of defenders
- The aim is to invade the space behind defenders for centre forward or winger making forward runs
2. Passing to feet of the most advanced attacker
- It is played behind most of the opponents in order to make them turn around and retreat
3. Other forward pass (beyond at least one defender)
- The attacker should play the ball past as many opponents as possible (Penetration)
- The defenders have to adjust their positions after that.
4. Switching the attack
If the attack is on one side and there are too many players congested in a tight area, it means there will be space on the other side. The attackers should be ready to exploit it.
5. Passing back – the last resort (to supporting player)
The supporting player should have the time, space and field of vision to play the ball forward
I agree with the theory about the passing check list but I don’t totally agree with his thoughts about direct play and possession play. I don’t think possession play is playing to avoid defeat. Instead, possession play can be used with positive attitude to penetrate the defence of opponent. Possession play can be interpreted as looking for the best chance to attack and they will attack it directly when the opportunity comes. However, some teams do pass the ball around for the sake of keeping the ball but not creating shots. It all depends on the interpretation of the team. A good example is the comparison of Barcelona and Swansea which was claimed to be British football’s Barcelona. Both teams are possession based but the key difference is the penetration in/ into the attacking third. Barcelona is using possession play to attack whenever possible but Swansea is using possession play to contain the opposition which is a defensive measure. For example, in the game v Hull City on Dec 9, 2013, Swansea had 67% of play in the middle third with only 1 shot on target in the first half (Telegraph, 2013). Another example is the stats of action zones from whoscore.com, Swansea have 25% in defending third and 26% in attacking third. On the other hand, Barcelona have 22% in defending third and 31% in attacking third. The stats illustrate the different approaches of both teams even they are both using possession play. There are many posts highlighting the problem of Swansea’s possession play football (e.g. Swansea’s set-up this season, A Breakdown Of Swansea's Away Form In 2012/13, Possession Key To Swansea’s Relative Success, etc).
In conclusion, I don’t think there is a clear line between possession play and direct play. Moreover, there is no contradiction between them. A team can be possession based and play directly to attack the space when the opportunity comes. It is still a positive attitude. On the other hand, if a team keep making long pass directly from the defending third to attacking third with no accuracy when they face pressure, I think it is a negative attitude as they fear to lose the ball in their own third so they just clear the ball (or pass with no accuracy). The passing check list is a good guideline for players no matter which style of play their team use.
HUGHES, C., 1987. Soccer Tactics and Skills. Great Britain: Queen Anne Press
HUGHES, C., 1990. The Winning Formula. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd
SINGH, A., 2012. Possession Key To Swansea’s Relative Success [online][viewed 25 December 2013]. Available from: http://thinkfootball.co.uk/archives/1347
SHUDDERTOTHINK, 2012. A Breakdown Of Swansea's Away Form In 2012/13 [online][viewed 25 December 2013]. Available from: http://bitterandblue.sbnation.com/2012/10/26/3547056/a-breakdown-of-swanseas-away-form-in-2012-13
TELEGRAPH, 2013. Swansea City v Hull City: live [online][viewed 25 December 2013]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/10500392/Swansea-City-v-Hull-City-live.html
THE INSIDER RIGHT, 2013. Swansea’s set-up this season [online][viewed 25 December 2013]. Available from: http://theinsideright.com/swansea-vs-liverpool/