Strategy and tactic, two concepts with a mistaken use

Publicado por LabHipermedia en

In previous posts of our blog we have talked about technological innovations such as VAR that, doubtlessly, are changing sport and football specifically. However, there are other aspects that are also constantly developing in this world and that are not strictly associated with the aforementioned technological revolution.

That is why at Labhipermedia we have decided to transmit to all the readers of this blog a global view of the world of sport, with hope in helping at the time of instructing in every side of the game: referees, coaches, players…

Among the diverse information that we want to put at the disposal of everybody in order to a better comprehension of this complex world, we have wanted to start with two basic concepts that accompany us from the beginnings of professional football and of which separation is sometimes diffused: strategy and tactic.

It could seem that every football fan know what we are talking about, but both concepts are frequently used to equally refer to situations like the following: which formation a team is playing with, why this corner kick has not happened the way it was planned or the reason why certain player is in the bench. Comments and expressions that every football-loving think when they are watching a match but that can mislead in mixing both terms, because strategy and tactic are concepts thoroughly different.

Podría parecer que todo aficionado al fútbol sabe de lo que estamos hablando pero, a menudo, ambos conceptos son utilizados para referirnos indistintamente a situaciones como las siguientes: con qué formación está jugando un equipo, por qué esa jugada de córner no ha salido como se esperaba o los motivos por los que cierto jugador está en el banquillo. Comentarios y expresiones que cualquier futbolero piensa cuando está viendo un partido pero que pueden llevarle al error de confundir o mezclar ambos términos, ya que estrategia y táctica son conceptos totalmente distintos.


Strategy is every action which can happen during a match and which have been previously developed with the objective of gaining and advantage over the rival. In other words, they are all the rehearsed plays starting at a dead ball, including goal kicks, throw-ins, corner kicks and any type of foul.

Developing the strategy of a team can terribly increase its defensive and offensive performance. More than a single fan surely remember teams that, during the history of this sport, have used strategy as a weapon to obtain wins and even titles. For example, Atletico de Madrid won LaLiga 2013/2014 making the rehearsed plays a key aspect of their style of play, which let them to gain advantage in the matches and to score a huge amount of goals with these previously trained plays.

This strategy can be divided, attending to the positioning of the players in each play, in two aspects that are basically differentiated by who has the ball possession:

Offensive strategy: when the team has the ball possession, for example in an own corner kick

Defensive strategy: When the opposing team has the ball possession and the own team accepts a defensive attitude, for example in a sideline foul.


The other term is tactic, an expression coming from the military field that is very bound to it because it follows the same principle: just like soldiers draw formations on battlefields, in football tactic is referred to the way the players are going to place themselves over the field of play.

Each formation usually reflects a style of play: although it is not always true, it is understandable to think that placing your players in a 4-3-3 formation is going to have an effect on a better offensive performance (and vice versa on the defensive aspect) than a 5-4-1 formation. It also must have taken into account the characteristics of the players at the disposal of the coach, so based on the formation chosen the coach will be taking advantage of some skills or another of them.

Habitualmente, cada formación refleja un tipo de juego: aunque no siempre es así, es lógico pensar que plantar a tus jugadores sobre el verde en un 4-3-3 va a repercutir en un mayor rendimiento ofensivo (y viceversa en el aspecto defensivo) que si les distribuyes en un 5-4-1. También hay que tener en cuenta las características de los jugadores a disposición del entrenador, por lo que según qué formación se elija se estarán aprovechando unas habilidades u otras de los mismos.

Consequently, tactic can be defined as the actions that players make over the field of play, both offensively and defensively, with the objective of surprising the rival. And that surprise arrives through the two variants of tactic: the system of play, easy to recognize according to the aforementioned formations, and the style of play that, although it is a little bit harder to observe at first sight, it tends to be bound to the system of play and sometimes to the philosophy of the team or the coach that manages it.

‘Tiki-taka’, an expression popularise by Andres Montes primarily associated with FC Barcelona or the Spain National Team that won the treble Euro-World Cup-Euro between 2008 and 2012; the “defensive play” that is attributed to coaches like Mourinho, Simeone or Bordalas or to Italian teams (the famous ‘catenaccio’), or the ‘rock and Klopp’ that Liverpool practises under the lead of the German coach are examples of styles of play that every football fan recognise when they are watching one of this teams.

El “tiquitaca”, término popularizado por Andrés Montes y que es santo y seña del FC Barcelona o de la Selección Española de fútbol que ganó el triplete Eurocopa-Mundial-Eurocopa entre 2008 y 2012; el “juego defensivo” que se le atribuye a entrenadores como Mourinho, Simeone o Bordalás o a los equipos italianos (el famoso “catenaccio”), o el “rock and Klopp” que practica el Liverpool comandado por el entrenador alemán son ejemplos de modelos de juego que cualquier aficionado al fútbol reconoce cuando se encuentra ante uno de estos conjuntos.

Explaining these concepts in depth, we can define the system of play as the formation that a team deploys with the purpose of obtaining an optimal performance during a match. It depends on both the players’ location on the field and their responsibilities attacking or defending, commonly known as roles.

These systems of play have enormously developed during football history, adapting in lots of cases to the Laws of the Game changes. For example, the first rules encouraged the individual runs over the passing game, which implies formations like 1-1-8. Nowadays a wide diversity of formations can be found, usually differentiated in offensive and defensive systems, although there are a lot of aspects that define this concept.

The style of play is the combination between the system of play selected and the style or philosophy that the team tries to reflect on the field. We can talk about direct or passing style, for example. It depends not only about the characteristics of the team, but also about the rival style.

Estos sistemas de juego han evolucionado enormemente durante la historia del fútbol, adaptándose en muchos casos a las modificaciones de las Reglas del Juego. Por ejemplo, que en esas primeras reglas se promovieran más las carreras individuales que el pase implicó que existieran formaciones como el 1-1-8. Hoy en día se sigue encontrando una amplia variedad de formaciones, a menudo diferenciadas en sistemas más ofensivos y más defensivos aunque, como ya hemos mencionado, hay multitud de aspectos más que definen el cariz defensivo u ofensivo de un determinado sistema. 

Por su parte, el modelo de juego es la combinación entre el sistema de juego seleccionado y el estilo o filosofía que sigue el equipo. Se puede hablar de los estilos directo, de combinación, de juego en largo… que dependen no solo de las características del equipo, sino también de las del rival.

As we have previously mentioned, tactic includes both the defensive and offensive roles of the players, which they are bound to their skills and attitudes. Surely all of us come to mind names of players that have a defensive attitude close to passivity but deploy all their potential attacking and vice versa: players with a better defensive commitment based on their skills, but without relevance in the offensive side. So there are two types of attitudes, each one with special characteristics:

Defensive attitude: It includes a series of principles like marking, tracking back or covering a rival.

Offensive attitude: It includes a series of principles like counterattacking, losing the mark or changing the direction of the play.

We hope that, after reading the text, you start to watch football in depth, at least referring to these two concepts. To sum up, surely the next image definitely answers the differences between strategy and tactic.

Categorías: Blog

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