It’s becoming increasingly apparent in the modern game that possession-football may not be the idealised form of football we may have thought. The issue was dragged into the media spotlight after the Barca/Chelsea game where Chelsea triumphed by ‘parking the bus’, and it has since became a central theme at the Euros. This evening’s Holland v Germany encounter, which the Germans won 2-1, was a good case study.
Germany are showing us that possession football is an important element of the modern game but it must be twinned with the willingness to take a chance on the ball. Having conceded over 60% of the play in the first half, Germany looked comfortable without the ball and most dangerous on the counter attack. To appear dominant yet still concede the brunt of the possession seems like a new phenomenon.
This could be because modern teams are better drilled and have slowly learnt that football matches can be won through organisation ahead of individual feats of brilliance. The standards at international level are often a shadow of those we see at domestic level or in the Champions League, so if a team can simply organise they’ve won half the battle.
England were criticised for their defensive approach against France but in most people’s eyes, it’s the best way for them to compete. On the surface of it, France had an emphatic 21 shots but tellingly, 12 of these were blocked by English players; in other words, France were reduced to long-range speculative efforts and the real chances fell to England via counter attacks and set pieces. France took 65% of possession, a stat that in days of yore would have probably signalled doom and gloom for the opposition, but in reality, England should be disappointed to have conceded a careless equaliser.
Not all teams can play their way through teams as Spain do, and therefore it’s important to take a risk now and again to exploit gaps – at the expense of making the supposedly cardinal sin of losing the ball. Those that call for a slow methodical England build-up could be missing the point. Organise and strike with pace.
Furthermore possession football isn’t always as pretty as an open encounter that flows from end-to-end; many fans will prefer watching Germany over Spain at this year’s championships. To see a team passing the opposition to death whilst camped out in the attacking half can be arduous viewing, whereas a good end-to-end encounter is much more of a spectacle.
Since Barcelona captured everyone’s imagination with their particularly artful brand of the possession game, we’ve seen numerous teams try to emulate it – with varying success – and this year’s European Championships may be decisive in determining how we see teams play next season. A potential Germany versus Spain encounter could signal the death of complete possession football and a move towards a more decisive attacking style.