How do we recover the ball?

In Análisis by Javi TelecheaLeave a Comment

Last week I went to watch the Bundesliga Final game between Mulheim and Mannheim, a really nice game to watch, with many goals and lots of excitement. Anyway, despite the fact that 9 goals were scored, I was, once again, impressed by the german defensive discipline.

What’s defensive discipline? in my opinion, first of all, as both teams were playing man on man, the most important thing is to chase your man and not lose it… But what I enjoyed more was watching every 1v1 duel on the ball. The german defensive discipline is all about never getting eliminated.

As a coach I love to tell my players “not to tackle”. I was told once by a coach of mine (Lalo Junquet) that we recover much more balls from intercepting than from actually tackling on a 1v1. I loved that information and I applied it since then, and this is what germans are so good at. They can chase their player on the ball with patience, knowing that, for their defensive system, is much more important not to get eliminated than actually recovering the ball.

I thought that, before getting more into this subject, I needed to provide some real numbers in order to prove this information, so I decided to make stats on how the Belgian team recovered balls in the last World Cup. I choosed Belgium because is the team with the defensive system I like the most. I have analyzed 4 of their games: Pakistan, Germany, England and Netherlands. If you want each game’s stats you can check here.

In order to understand how Belgium recovers the ball, I analyzed every ball gain, trying to understand how they recovered it (method) and where (zones).

For the "method" I divided them into 3 groups:

  • 1v1: Simple, 1v1 situations where the defender tackles and gains posession alone.

  • 1v2: Situations where, although there is a player pressing the ball, the tackle is made by a second player getting engaged.

  • Interceptions: Situations where a player, away from the passer, gets the ball.

For the zones, I split the pitch into 12 zones:

  • 3 vertical lanes: Right, center and left.

  • 4 horizontal zones, divided by the 25y and the halfway, being always Z1 the one closer to it's own goal.

Result: 12 Zones

You can watch every game's individual stats (by opening the menu) or you can just skip to the final stats!

When I finished theses stats and shared them with some friends to see what they thought about them, the first thing most of them said was "I thought they would recovered much higher".

Although this is true, and Belgium is not a team with a really high pressure, we must understand that sometimes they might have recovered the ball in their 25 but maybe it came from a 50m aerial ball with no risk...

Pressing high doesn't necessarily mean recovering high.

Anyway, I would rather try to recover much less inside the circle!

A short video with some of the ball recoveries we've seen on the German final between Mannheim and Mulheim:

The idea of getting all this information it was just to have a mathematical proof in order to keep working on not tackling.

The final stats show us that we recover 57% from interceptions, but we should also add to that all the 1v2, since in any 1v2 the actual player putting pressure on the ball is not tackling.

This would give us a 77% of the recoveries being made from not trying to win your own 1v1.

Anyway, the most important thing is to understand that "not tackling" doesn't mean not putting pressure.

All the 1v2 and most of the interceptions come from situations were the player on the ball is under pressure and is forced to play the ball into danger. This is what we need to learn: How important it is to put pressure on the ball while making sure we don't get eliminated.

What we are looking for is to put enough pressure on the ball in order to force their mistake.

If we can understand this, and make our players apply it, the most important part of any defensive system is already covered.

Javi Telechea
Field Hockey Coach
PAHF Trainer. FIH Level 4 Coach.
Football Coach Level 2.
CoachingHockey founder.