Analyzing the concept of ‘Positional Structure’ in the possession phase

We often see the concept called ‘Positional Structure’, although I think have never seen or read a comprehensive analysis about it before. That’s why I decided to take this concept as the main topic of this analysis.

Positional structure is basically how a team’s players are positioned in a given sitation. In other words this is what is called spacing or distribution. It fundamentally determines a team’s access towards the ball, which is very important and essential.

So what is the advantage of having a proper positional structure? It maintains the stability within the team, therefore a team is capable of making flexible movements – if needed -without sacrificing key areas on the pitch. It also helps the connections between the players, therefore the positional play or defensive block may function effectively. Without an adequate strucutre it would be impossible make great transition movements. Under that I mean that for example if a team don’t cover the halfspaces and the centre well, when they have the ball, then it’s much easier for the opponent to counterattack. Plus there are 2 concepts that should be mentioned as well. These are vertical- and horizontal compactness. These concepts are essential throughout the full match and this is where teams make the most mistakes. Maintaining the compactness for a full match is very tough, but if you interpret the laws of football well, it’s not impossible.

Although I’m not a great chess player I know that keeping a proper structure is key. There is a concept in chess called ‘pawn strucutre’, which is the configuration of pawns in the checkboard. A good pawn structure is one, where thre pawns complement each other, because they work together. This is the same in football, you just can’t put your Queen or any pieces into an area, where it isn’t under control. Slow build-up is very important, no wonder Pep Guardiola has his 15 pass rule: “If there isn’t a sequence of 15 passes first, it’s impossible to carry out the transition between defence & attack.Impossible. Having the ball is important if you are going for 15 consecutive passes in the middle of the field in order to maintain your shape, whilst at the same time upsetting the opposition’s organisation. How do you disorganise them? With fast ,tight, focused passing as a part of this 15-move sequence. You need most of your men working as a unit, although some of them will need to maintain a bit of distance from each other in order to stretch out the rival team. And whilst you make those 15 moves & organise yourselves, your opponents are chasing you all over the park, trying to get the ball from you. In the process, without realising it, they’ll have lost all organisation.”

Bayern Munich’s basic offensive structure – a 2-3-5 formation -, right-sided overload, the right halfspace is under control, LW stays wide to stretch the opponent. Even if they lose the ball, the counterpress is still available, because of the overload.

This is the advantage of the ‘false full-back’ concept. As they are already deeper it’s much easier to make the transition movement better, plus it also maintains a great connection between the full-back and the winger – which helps Bayern to create 1v1 situations for the wingers. If a winger wins his 1v1 they have enough attacking options inside the box – 3 or 4 players -, but at the same time the area in front of the box is covered – balance in the structure.

The slow-build up helps the players to occupy their proper positions – to make ball-oriented shifts – in order to cover and control key areas in possession, which are the halfspaces and the centre, because that’s where the most counterattacks go through. To keep a balanced structure the players have to control these zones in front of the box. Although that’s what most team ignore, therefore they concede a lot of counters. Mainly because their build-up is too fast, which not allows the players enough time to occupy the adequate positions – mostly affects the shape’s vertical compactness, big gaps occur between the lines, but even with a great sequence of passing they tend to ignore these zones in possession.

The Hungarian team I’m analyzing games for did this last week. Before RB crossed the ball both LB-LCM moved into the box on the far-side, DM stayed deep. No defensive depth support in the halfspaces, or in the centre. The cross rebounds on the far-side – left-halfspace – where the opponent RW gets the ball and can immediately pass to CAM, who then rotates towards the RB. Terrible structure, lack of balance, vertical-compactness and access  – to the ball.
Stoke’s offensive structure against Tottenham in the beggining of the 30th minute. The 3 zones in front of the box are not covered at all, the deflected shot from LCM rebounds to the CAM, who can immediately find RW in the left halfspace. RCM should be behind the RW in the left halfspace, RB in the centre, CAM deeper in front of the box. The fact that they conceded 4 shouldn’t be a surprise.
A Hungarian team’s positioning in a throw-in situation. DM should be much deeper, LCM move to the right halfspace, LB deeper. LW steals the ball, and has space to penetrate, easy counterattack.

Although good teams may also make structural mistakes as well. Here comes  examples from Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Barcelona’s structure against Atletico Madrid before the penalty. RB has the ball, but he has no defensive depth support in the right flank or halfspace, therefore when he loses the ball it’s already a qualitative superiority for Atletico, and they exploited it well with a one-two between the LB-LW. Bad spacing – LB/LCM a little deeper, LCB shift towards the right side- as there should be at least 2 player in the strong-sided halfspace, to provide cover and support.

Reason I personally don’t prefer to use the full-backs too high. It opens up tons of space between the FB-CB, allowing the opponent to counter easier through the halfspaces. As the CMs tend to drift towards the centre, the halfspaces often left open, plus the CMs not as great defensively as full-backs.


Situation before Juve’s 2nd goal against Bayern.



With a proper offensive shape though, the team is capable of counterpressing as soon as they lose the ball, without losing control over the key zones and areas.

Bayern’s offensive shape against Cologne’s 5-4-1. Area in front of the box is fully protected, maintaining great access and both vertical-horizontal compactness.


In this analysis I have only covered the concept of positional structure in possession phases, because that’s where most teams are making mistakes. Of course this concept is also important at pressing, defensive and set-piece situations as well, which will be probably analyzed in the near future.



Add yours →

  1. Good article well done. Often overlooked info of great possession based teams, the balance between players to both possess and press. Occupying the key areas in both facets! Thanks for the article!


  2. Simply explained and highlighted with simple examples, easy to understand – great!

    Now we wait for another one.


  3. Reblogged this on skyblue12697 and commented:
    Excited to see Pep Guardiola making City great!


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