If you’re a frequent visitor to this website, or a visitor at all, chances are you probably love to watch football. For years and years I watched football mainly for entertainment. But increasingly, as I’ve coached the game more and more, I’ve developed a love for watching football, not just for entertainment, but for intellectual reasons as well. Football is more similar to chess than most other sports, and like chess, there are so many different ways to get to a single correct outcome. Football is a game that involves a countless number of complex decisions within each and every second for the twenty-two players involved both on and off the ball. This is why I love watching football. If you’ve read any of our Tactical Analyses, you may be wondering how to watch football with that same tactical lens. So, as suggested by frequent reader Amin, this article will cover how to watch the beautiful game like a tactical analyst.
focus away from the ball
One of the problems with watching football over a television screen as opposed to in person is that the camera chooses what you see. Apart from the odd picture of an enraged manager, a fan doing some sort of quirky chant, or a celebrity in the stands, the camera view often follows the ball. But in order to watch the game like a tactical analyst, you can’t just follow the ball. After all, what happens on the ball is only one small part of the story. Only one player can be on the ball at a time, unless two or more players are contesting for a 50/50. So if you only focus on the ball, you’re missing what the other twenty+ players are doing. In fact, what the other players are doing is often more important, as they are likely going to be involved in the next action. So first, in order to watch the game like a pro tactical analyst, focus on the ball with only half an eye, and keep the other one and a half of your eyes on everything else happening off the ball.
This will help you to see defensive shape and structure, formation, system and style of play, and individual characteristics; seeing more of the full picture.
focus only on one or two players
When scouts attend games, they often focus their attention solely on the actions of one player, both on and off the ball. Now this approach is often taken to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a single player, whereas you, as a tactical analyst, might still be trying to identify the whole team’s actions. But there is still so much that you can see about a team by watching a single player. Famously, Vincente del Bosque once said about Sergio Busquets –
“You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game.”
Now, del Bosque was essentially saying that Busquets does a lot of the simple things well, things that often go unnoticed if you only follow the play. But the same can be said about the more luxurious players who you do get a chance to see a lot of on the ball. Those players also engage in a lot of complex actions off the ball, attempting to help their teams have the best chance possible at succeeding even when they’re not on the ball themselves. If you were for example to watch Jack Grealish and only Jack Grealish in an Aston Villa game, you would probably see more of the whole game than if you were to follow the ball from left to right, back to front. Through this lens, you can almost pretend like you are there, scrutinizing every action of a single player based on where the ball is on the field, rather than just following the ball. Bruno Fernandes in a Manchester United game would be another excellent choice, because of his incredible work-rate at both ends of the pitch. Doing this method to watch a football match will help you gain an understanding of just how complex being a footballer is, while also helping you begin to recognize different cues, patterns and tactics behind the game through the lens of a player.
turn the sound or commentary off
At first glance, this may seem novel and pointless. But in order to really focus in on watching the game and seeing what you want to see, consider turning off the commentary or the sound altogether. This should help you really focus in on your own perspectives of what you are seeing, not just the commentators. Besides, sometimes broadcasters babble on about things that don’t even pertain to the game, to keep you entertained in lull moments. Turn off the sound or the commentary, take some notes and really focus in on what you are seeing, not relying on anyone else to come up with your ideas for you.
develop an understanding of tactics/formations
This may seem obvious, but the best way to understand tactics and formations is to expose yourself with as much content and knowledge as possible. The more you read and learn about tactics and formations, the better you will understand what is happening on the field with a tactical lens as you watch. To help you, TheMastermindSite.com has articles on Formations, the basics of some of the most common tactical approaches, and many Tactical Analyses, where we break down some of the best teams and players using relatively simple terms. Hopefully our articles can help to increase your tactical knowledge, allowing you to go into games with a brand new perspective.
So there it is! Being a pro tactical analyst or even just watching a game with a tactical lens might not be something that happens overnight, but these tips will help you get there in time. Be sure to check out more of what we’ve got going on by following our Twitter page @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!