Revolutions are very rare in football. Pep Guardiola once summed it up perfectly when he said that in the end, he’s just trying to use existing ideas that he picked up from another team and adjust those ideas to the needs and characteristics of his team. Therefore, I would suggest that we deal with evolutions rather than revolutions in football.
A remarkable evolution of the game could be observed last season at Holstein Kiel. Under coach Tim Walter, the back-four operated with a lot of risk, tried to solve everything playfully and wanted to build up the game from behind. So far so good, this is not yet a real evolution of the way a team tries to build-up. However, the back-four of Tim Walter´s team behaved differently. They did not hold their positions but rather moved fluently and varied the occupation of different spaces constantly.
In order to receive the ball, Kiel´s players dynamically moved in the space in order to receive the ball but then left the space unoccupied again. Even the central defenders took part in these movements. This meant that regularly a central defender would move out of the cover shadow of his opponent after a pass and move into the six-space without the ball. Kiel went so far that sometimes only two players occupied the first line, and these were not always the central defenders, but sometimes the LCB and RB, sometimes LB and RB and once even RM and LB.
The same principles could be seen again and again. At first glance, the game of Tim Walter’s team looked like that of a team that followed the principles of positional play. However, it only looked that way at first glance. Although the usual principles could be seen, Holstein Kiel acted much more dynamically, occupied spaces more flexibly and overloaded some spaces more.
Ultimately, this style was dubbed Walterball by Tactics-Twitter. Which of course does not really describe the style. All in all, it is a dynamic occupation of different spaces.
Since Tim Walter is no longer head coach at either Holstein Kiel or VfB Stuttgart, we need a different team to analyse the different principles and actions. Fortunately, Kiel U19 coach Dominik Glawogger seems to have been influenced by Tim Walter, as many of the classic actions that characterised Holstein Kiel last season can still be observed in the U19 of Holstein Kiel.
Consequently, in this article I would like to take a look at the U19 of Holstein Kiel and explain various principles and actions of the dynamic occupation of different spaces.
Clearing the six-space
In order to occupy spaces dynamically, those spaces have to be unoccupied by both the own team and the opponent. In the case of the U19 from Holstein Kiel, this is primarily the six-space. Although the Kieler structure in possession often resembles a 4-3-3, the defensive midfielder seldom acts in a role as a deep connector, but pushes significantly further forward. This also applies to the two eights who occupy the half spaces, but often act in line with the striker or move between the defence and midfield chain.
Consequently, the opponent has to retreat further, and Holstein Kiel creates a lot of depth. The now open six-space can be occupied again and again by one of the central defenders or the fullbacks. Especially against the 4-4-2, which is regularly used by teams in Germany, this strategy is ideal. In the 4-4-2, the space behind the two strikers is already poorly occupied but is often compensated by a good vertical compactness. Against the Kiel players, however, this does not work in high pressing, because many players of the Störche position themselves further forward. If the opponent does not follow those players, there is a risk that they will be susceptible to quick attacks after a long ball.
The following graphic describes the basic situation of the Kieler build-up. Either the wing players or eights act on the same line as the striker to tie the four-man line. Furthermore, the Störche can always create a free man because the opponent is often forced to play 1v1 in the last line as well as in midfield. Ultimately, it is always a risk for the defending team to defend completely 1vs1 without having an additional player to protect the spaces behind the defensive line.
What makes the Kiel game so dangerous is the use of the goalkeeper. Many teams use the goalkeeper only as a run-through station and support in building up the game. In Kiel, however, he plays a fundamental role, as he is the man who often plays the ball into the free six-space.
Thus, the team from Northern Germany manages to create an 11vs10 advantage in possession. It is also crucial that one of the central defenders is allowed to move into the six-space. If he would not be allowed to do so, but would have to hold his position, the opponent would always have the possibility to create a 1vs1 out of a 2vs1 overload for the team in possession of the ball by using the cover shadow intelligently.
Curls of the opponent – the decisive opening action
Interestingly enough, Kiel is accommodating the new goal kick rule. Since the ball can be received in the box when a kick is taken, the central defenders can already position themselves there. The effect is huge. Firstly, the distances are shorter and the ball can be moved faster. On the other hand, the angles are advantageous, because the GK can already receive the ball in an open position due to the shorter distance.
But much more important is that the opponent can be lured even more strongly. Because the CB is in the box, the striker has to move almost to the baseline to gain access. As a result, the angle is suboptimal for him and he opens the pass line into the centre.
Most teams trying to create a 1v1 out of a 2v1 use the concept of pressing through. In this case the striker starts to press the CB as soon as the ball is on its way to him. However, he does not stop his run once the ball travels back but continues to press the goalkeeper. The idea – by continuing the pressing run, the striker closes the pass to the central defender with his cover shadow while pressing the goalkeeper.
However, Holstein Kiel wants to provoke exactly this action. The CB can then move out of the cover shadow undisturbedly and receive the ball again. The striker did not create equality but took himself out of the game because of his run.
Furthermore, it is important that the defensive midfielder pushes further forward. Why? Think for a moment about how the team’s structure in black would look like if the defensive midfielder would be positioned in the red marked space.
And? Exactly, the ballfar striker would probably drop deeper and would block the spaces as well as the passing lane to the defensive midfielder. Or one of the midfielders would push forward to pick-up Kiel´s number six. All in all, the red marked space would be better occupied, hence, the forward moving CB could be pressed easily once he receives the ball. Therefore, the risk of this action would tremendously increase while the positive effects of the simple one-two combination would diminish.
Whoever controls the centre controls the game
In the graphic above, you can clearly see how the central defender is moving out of the cover shadow and hence can receive the ball. Interestingly enough, many teams react after a certain time in such a way that the ballfar striker is positioned a bit more central and is supposed to intercept passes of the goalkeeper. Consequently, Kiel´s other centre-back has more time on the ball. A consequence of the consistent use of the goalkeeper to create an overload.
But if the pass is now played to the advancing central defender, the opponent is faced with a challenge. Who will now move out in time. This has to be clearly coordinated, because one should already press when the ball is still on the way. If the defender leaves his position too late, he won´t be able to press the advancing CB who consequently can play a quick pass to one of his teammates in midfield.
However, this also shows the weakness and especially the risk of Kiel´s build-up. Firstly, the goalkeeper has to play the pass to the central defender regularly, because due to the pressing mechanisms the forward will usually press the goalkeeper. Consequently, either the six player close to the ball or even better the wing player can move into the hole early and press the central defender from Kiel. Accordingly, there are often quite tight situations in which the CB is involved in a direct duel.
Secondly, the risk is of course high, because a turnover in this zone will probably lead to a good chance for the opponent. Interestingly enough, this happens rarely. Tim Walter’s team in Stuttgart or in Kiel conceded goals more often because of the poor protection once the ball is lost high-up the pitch and the opponent managed to overcome the counterpressing, rather than because of a mistake in the build-up.
Accordingly, Kiel regularly take this risk, also in the U19. The calmness and courage to solve situations under pressure is particularly impressive for the young central defenders.
This is of enormous importance, because the possibilities, which result from the dynamic occupation of the six-man area, are very valuable for the team. This has to do with the angle of vision and the positioning of the players in the higher lines.
The example here is very simplified because there was simply no player moving out to press the central defender. Consequently, Kiel have the great advantage that they can use their presence in the high zones to quickly advance from the build-up into the last third.
The exciting aspect of the central defender’s dynamic occupation of the six-zone is the advantage of the angle of vision that results. This is because the central defender receives the ball in an open position due to the advancing movement. Accordingly, he can pass the ball to a team-mate with two contacts or even with the first touch.
If we think about a „normal“ game structure with a central six that occupies the space marked in red, there is always the problem that the defensive midfielder receives the ball with its back to the opposing goal. Consequently, the third man principle has to be used and a good circulation is necessary to create a free man by either passing the ball to the free CB or the six-man who can turn with the ball. However, this will probably slow down the build-up of the game and the central defender will only receive the ball in a deeper zone in an open position
Positional play principles help
If the ball now reaches the central defender in the six-space as mentioned, the various principles of positional play help Kiel to get the most out of such situations.
Because of the open position of the receiver, the Störche create pressure and force the opponent to press. Now it is crucial that the offensive players aren´t positioned in the cover shadow and offer passing options to advance.
The Kiel players benefit from the fact that certain principles of positional play in possession of the ball are implemented by the team. Among other things, the various vertical zones are very cleanly occupied by the midfielders.
Dominik Glawogger’s team regularly succeeds in creating overloads. This is due to the positioning of the offensive players. Although the wing players often start in a wide position, they can regularly leave their position at the sideline and occupy the space between CB and FB. Together with the striker, they can occupy the whole back-four, hence, creating numerical superiority in the centre.
As a result, the central and defensive midfielders can detach themselves without major problems and turn around when the ball is passed to them. Along with the principles of positional play, the Störche generate pressure (red) in one space, thus space opens somewhere else. Especially here the players regularly try to find a diagonal solution so that the receiver of the pass is immediately in an open position again.
Especially, when the DM of the opponent steps up to press, Kiel looks for the halfspace switch because the other defensive midfielder will most likely focus on Kiel´s DM, hence, the CM is the free man. However, in those situations, Kiel is very flexible and tries to create problems by constantly using vertical movements.
In the end, the only thing left to do is to react to the opponent’s decision, as there must definitely be a free pass.
Of course, it always depends on the shape of the opponent in pressing, but the midfielders of Kiel usually have many passing options because of their overload in the centre.
For example, one can observe more often how quickly the ball is shifted to the advancing AV. Due to the pressure generated in the centre, there is more space on the wings and the Kiel players can quickly gain a lot of space and push diagonally into the centre.
All in all, the risky variant in the build-up game with the advancing central defender or a full-back who dynamically occupies the six-space serves the purpose of fast ball advance. Here the Kiel team acts very similar to the teams of Maurizio Sarri or Borussia M’Gladbach under Marco Rose.
Basically, it’s all about attracting the opponent by a deeper circulation in order to use the resulting space by means of fast combinations. One could, therefore, speak of a counterattack without a transitional moment.