Protecting a Lead vs Going for the Kill

Protecting a lead before half-time is very important.

Trying to protect a lead and going into defensive mode can be very dangerous.  It puts a ton of pressure on your players and increases the likelihood of a mistake.  If the opposing team happens to get a goal you are now playing on your heals and in a good spot to lose the match.  It is extremely difficult to go from attacking to defending back to attacking.  You were successful in getting the first goal why change something that has proven to work?  When is the right time to go into a defensive block and when should you continue to attack with a one goal lead?

The previous question can only be answered situational, it really depends on the flow of the game.  What minute was the goal scored, was it against the run of play, do you play a counter attacking style, has the opponent shown any threat coming forward?  Nine times out of ten you should be continue to attack.  Go for the second goal and if you get the second, go for the third.  The more separation you can get the less pressure your team will be under.  Play your situations.

If you happened to get an early goal against a strong team try to implement a counter attacking style.  You probably shocked the opposing team a little bit and now they are under pressure to get an equalizer.  They are going to start attacking you from all angles and they will be vulnerable to the counter attack.  If you can defend well and force the opposing team to hit shots from distance they will begin to get frustrated.  They will get frustrated with themselves and also with their teammates.  I’ve seen it a hundred times.  Soon they will start fighting with themselves and when you see this happen, you have already won. 

Whatever style you have implemented continue to play it.  Too many coaches panic when they have a one goal lead and make adjustments based on what the other team’s coach changes.  If they add an additional striker to their formation, recognize it, but don’t necessarily adjust to it, that is exactly what they want you to do.  If you change your formation and add an additional defender you are playing into their cards.  Now, they have you on your back-foot playing in defensive mode.

There are certain times when you do want to go into a defensive block; at the end of the first-half or at the end of the game.  There is nothing worse than giving up a goal right before half-time.  It’s a complete momentum swing that mentally damages the team.  If you are five to ten minutes until half-time, make sure you get to half-time with that one goal lead.  Go ahead and put in an extra defender and conserve your lead.  Undoubtably, if there are five to ten minutes left in the game it would be a good time to focus defensively.  At this point, players are starting to get tired and mistakes start to be made.  You need to stay organized in the back and make sure there is cover so that no one can get in behind.

As the coach you need to be able to read the situations and the flow of the game.  The biggest thing is to make sure you don’t panic.  If you are in panic-mode your players will recognize it and react in the same manner.  Be calm, read the game, make your decision and be confident in your decision.  Get that second goal, sit back and enjoy the game.   

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Tomo is your prototypical “soccer guy.” A four year starter at Shippensburg University, Tomo owned the defensive midfield with his awesome vision of the game and hard-nosed style of play. An avid Chelsea fan, he’s left scratching his head wondering what owner Roman Abramovich will rotate through Stamford Bridge. Tomo also blogs about Chelsea and the English Premier League on his site TomoTimes.

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