“Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” The meaning behind this expression is that ownership is easier to maintain if one has possession of something and it is much more difficult to enforce if one does not. This is a great concept to go by in the game of soccer. If you are able to maintain possession of the ball and have “ownership,” it will become much more difficult for the other team to challenge you.
One of the greatest examples of this concept is the Spanish football giants Barcelona. Next time you get a chance to watch them play count the number of seconds it takes them to win the ball back after they lose possession. One of the main reasons they have been able to be so successful is because they are holding possession of the ball for 70-75% of the game, game-in and game-out. And it starts with the immediate chase.
The immediate chase is one of the first three principles of defending. The biggest question you have to ask yourself as the player who loses the ball and as a team, is what are you going to do to regain possession? Too many times we see a player go one-on-one with an opponent, lose the ball, and frustratingly sulk about it. As a team player, the first thing that should be going through your mind is getting the ball back. Can you put yourself in a situation where you can strip your opponent of the ball and go back on the attack or simply regain possession and keep the ball? Getting the ball back should be your first priority.
If the answer to the previous question is no, you should be doing what you can to get behind the ball. This is another reason why Barcelona is so good, as soon as they lose possession as a team they are getting 10 behind the ball. If you get all your players behind the ball you are going to make it difficult for the other team to penetrate, especially with all the bodies in a compact space. This is where you want to put high-pressure on the person with the ball. Players find it difficult to make decisions in pressure situations. If they don’t have time on the ball, they are more likely to make a mistake and you are more likely to get possession back. Are you in a situation where you can double team the player in possession? Can you force them to have to play the ball backwards?
The most important component of the immediate chase is making sure your defense regains their shape. When you lose possession of the ball you are vulnerable to the counter-attack. If you can quickly regain your shape you can put yourself in a better position to put on high-pressure without having to worry about the counter-attack. Make sure your defenders are tight against their marks, so if they do receive the ball they feel the pressure and are more likely to make a mistake with their next pass. Do not let them have the option of turning.
Try to implement into your team the concept of once we lose possession our first priority is to get the ball back. Whoever loses the ball should be the first person trying to regain possession. As a teammate of someone who loses the ball try to determine if you are close enough to double-team the person who has stolen possession. If you can’t, make sure you find your mark and get behind the ball. Stay close to the person you are marking so if they do get the ball passed to them you can put high, immediate pressure and force them to make a mistake. The more possession you have of the ball throughout the game the more likely you will get a result. Remember, possession is nine-tenths the law.