The retro kick-off tactic that is proving popular (and effective) at Euro 2024

The retro kick-off tactic that is proving popular (and effective) at Euro 2024, It was the first action of Euro 2024, it led to Albania’s goal against Italy (the fastest in the history of the competition) and it is also a tactic regularly used by the Premier League’s top two, Manchester City and Arsenal.

Back with a vengeance: it’s the old-fashioned way to enter the park at kick-off.

Aimless punts may seem like a relic of a bygone era in today’s football, largely a revolving battle between one team pressing and the other trying to find space to play through, but this more rudimentary approach is back in fashion .

Nedim Bajrami celebrates after scoring in just 23 seconds (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP via Getty Images)

Kai Havertz got things going on Friday by overlooking the creative supporting cast of Florian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan, instead passing the ball back to left back Maximilian Mittelstadt and leading an attack towards Scotland’s penalty area .

The defender from Stuttgart played a long ball for Havertz to compete in the air. After the ball broke in Scotland’s penalty area it took two frantic attempts to clear the ball out of danger, but Germany had now controlled possession with Toni Kroos in the attacking half and Scotland were pinned back.

Germany kick off gif

It set the tone from the first kick, as did Albania’s diagonal to the right wing against Italy the next day. The ball floated out for a throw, but Sylvinho’s side sprinted forward and put the Italians in their own corner. After struggling to determine an option, Federico Dimarco tried to reach Alessandro Bastoni in his own penalty area with his throw, but it was cleared by Nedim Bajrami and he found the net 23 seconds into the match.

Albania kick off gif

After the first round in Germany, 14 of the 24 teams played long towards the opponent’s penalty area, or launched a diagonal into the wide channel from the start of the half, as shown below.

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Some took different routes there: England cleared the entire center of the pitch when Jordan Pickford pushed on to play Harry Kane; Poland had lined up five players at the other end for the kick-off against the Netherlands, but used it as a decoy, with Piotr Zielinski running to the ball and spraying it wide to the other flank and the ball then going forward; Austria attempted a refined routine, playing a short combination of passes into the center circle before attempting to play the ball over the top for France.

Possession purists Italy placed five players on the halfway line to give the impression they were going direct, with Alessandro Bastoni stopping the ball dead in front of Riccardo Calafiori as if to set it up for the tee, but it was a disguise to force Albania to back off fall and give up. them the space to have controlled possession.

It brought the game back to a more natural format and that’s something Arsenal did last season on the few occasions they didn’t last long from David Raya, with the Spaniard pushing the ball and dropping two players back to give them the numbers to give. build up against a fixed defense.

It’s a trend that has crept back into the game after a long absence, as teams looked to implement their passing style from the first whistle.

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Aaron Briggs, who was an analyst at Manchester City before working as an assistant coach at Monaco and Wolfsburg, works as a consultant at UEFA and monitors tactical trends at Euro 2024. This is a theme he has seen reemerging.

“Kick-off is such a strange time in football because it’s the only time it’s like a rugby match where both teams are on either side of the ball,” he says.

“You see top teams completely go against all their principles in that one false moment.

“Usually you come back to the goalkeeper under pressure and then go long, which is less advantageous than going long straight from the center circle because you can go deeper into their half.

“If you play diagonally you can challenge for a 50-50 and the knockdown, or it goes out for a throw and then you try to hold that first ball and keep it inside. It’s like rugby and kicking for territory, but in the last few years it has become common again.

“During coaching courses we have found that when teams play short they come under stress and go long, so perhaps this is how it has spread.”

Marseille did something new in 2017/18 – the season they reached the Europa League final – by kicking the ball straight into the far corner with no forward runners to challenge for the ball.

It was like the 50-22 rule in rugby union, meaning if the attacking team kicks the ball from their own half and it bounces inside the 22 yard line before going out, the kicking team gets the lineout assigned instead of the opponent.

There is no such reward in football, but it still marks a change from the previous decade, perhaps influenced by the dominance of Spain and tiki-taka, when the ball passed back to a central midfielder and then to a full-back. that’s when the game would start.

Do that now, explains a player-turned-coach, and even a team that typically plays with a low block will try to rush you because the opponent’s energy and aggression are at their highest point, and they will be cohesive and in sync are. because the team in possession of the ball is compressed in its own half.

That’s why he and many other coaches view it as a pointless risk and instead play for territory.

There are some examples of creativity that go beyond hitting and hoping. Sampdoria went through a phase where all ten outfielders lined up across the halfway line and split into different positions, while RB Leipzig scored with similar tactics in the lower tiers of German football a decade ago.

Two years ago, Kylian Mbappé scored for Paris Saint-Germain against Lille within eight seconds in a brilliantly worked routine in which two runners caught the defense cold.

Defenses are so used to pedestrian openings before games, where teams look to gain possession, that there is a chance to surprise them. Dominic Solanke’s run for Bournemouth against Fulham two years ago was one such example.

Kick-offs are essentially another fixed moment in a match, like a free kick or throw-in, yet it’s a unique scenario that no one seemed to know exactly how to deal with.

However, now it seems that even the elite teams have decided that it is best not to play in an unfamiliar environment and have identified the benefits of going long.

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