The World Cup is well underway with England recently progressing to the Quarter-Finals.
The squad, which includes Jack Grealish and Harry Kane, will take on France on Saturday at 7pm with their partners, likely decked out in expensive accessories, supporting them from the sidelines.
While some fans are season ticket holders, who know pretty much everything about the game, others just join in on the footballing action during the major tournaments.
If you’re in the latter camp but still want to keep up with the sporty chat during the next game then we’ve got a few easy tips from How To Watch Football: 52 Rules for Understanding the Beautiful Game, On and Off the Pitch, by Tifo – a book endorsed by footballing legends Ian Wright and Alan Shearer.
We’ll have you sounding like a professional football fan is no time…
Captain Harry Kane and the England squad will soon be competing against France
Don’t watch the ball In an average football game, an average football player will get 4.6% of the total touches of the ball. That equates to about sixty touches per game in a recent Premier League season. It follows that, for close to 86 minutes of the game, most players are without the ball.
Don’t always watch the ball to see the important action
As football fans, we’re taught to follow the action; to watch the ball and the player who possesses it. It’s the obvious and most entertaining choice. But the ball and the possessor are just the tip of the iceberg.
This is because for the 86 minutes that your average player is not in possession of the ball, they aren’t just standing still. They are moving, pressing, marking and repositioning themselves. In other words, affecting the game. It is in these moments that football mostly happens, and yet as viewers we miss almost all of it.
Understand formations A formation is a jigsaw; it only makes sense if the individual pieces fit together and are assembled correctly. A coach has to find a formation that suits the abilities of the players available, but also thwarts the threats and challenges presented by the opposition.
For instance, the traditional 4-4-2, with its four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards, is evenly spaced, secure and has a simplicity that makes it easy for most players to master; but it has its flaws. The positions are rigid, and that’s a factor exploited by many modern managers who prefer a three-player central midfield, in the form either of a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3.
Modern managers often prefer a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-3
Facing those teams, a side in a 4-4-2 formation, with two central midfielders and a pair of wingers each side, will often find itself at a numerical disadvantage in the middle of the pitch and face difficulty in retaining and advancing possession.
There’s no right answer; every team comprises different players with unique strengths and weaknesses, and there’s no such thing as a system that works equally well for everyone.
Corners are less effective than you think Since 2010, only 3% of the corners taken in Europe’s top five leagues have resulted in a goal. For goals scored directly from corners (that is, shots taken with the very next touch), it’s only between 1 and 2%.
The anticipation of the crowd indicates a goalscoring opportunity, but the scenario itself doesn’t.
Only 3% of the corners taken in Europe’s top five leagues have resulted in a goal
So why are football players so bad at corners?
They’re not. It’s more that corners aren’t quite what they seem. The anticipation of the crowd indicates a goalscoring opportunity, but the scenario itself doesn’t
For a goal to be scored from a corner, several difficult things need to go right concurrently. Which is why, roughly 98 times out of 100, a corner leaves the attacking team’s fans disappointed.
Learn to spot the difference When a football team is defending, they have two main ways to stop an opponent scoring goals. One is to disrupt the opponents’ play directly by putting pressure on the player. The other way is to protect space and stop the opponent from advancing the ball into areas from where they could score. These two different approaches have led to two different types of defensive system: player marking (commonly known as man marking) and zonal marking.
In a player-marking system, a team will look to orientate itself defensively by marking – or getting close to – opposition players:
The benefits of player marking are that it offers an effective way of covering the opposition. Player-to-player pressure makes it hard for an opponent to construct moves, and there is clarity for the defending team as to what each individual’s responsibility is.
Player marking means getting close to opposition players
But it has its downsides: first and foremost, it requires a huge amount of physical exertion to follow an opponent around a pitch for 90 minutes. On top of that, the fact that defending players have to track opponents can mean that the opposition can pull the defending team’s structure apart, creating space for other players to exploit.
For these reasons, most teams will use a zonal-marking defensive system. Instead of marking players, the defending team are now covering ‘zones’ on the pitch:
Zonal marking means defending areas
Defending the areas that they’re responsible for prevents players from being dragged out of position with the same ease as in a player-marking system.
But this system has its downsides, too. Oppositions can cause problems by overloading or switching zones, creating confusion for the defending team as to who is responsible for whom.
As with formations, there is no perfect defensive marking system. Each team tailors their approach around who they have available and what kind of opposition they’re facing. Sometimes, the answer is even a combination of the two: player marking a particularly dangerous player, while adopting a more zonal strategy across the rest of the pitch.
Fouls can be good Are fouls to be avoided? Well, not always. Sometimes they’re part of a team’s strategy and a necessary means by which they protect themselves. And, while not confined to the big clubs, it’s particularly true of those sides who enjoy a lot of possession and territory.
Fouls aren’t always avoided
The responsibility also lies with other players, but the idea is clear enough: to disrupt a move before it begins, with the kind of soft fouls that rarely draw yellow cards. A tug of the shirt, perhaps, or a little trip. And Manchester City are very good at that- even if the stats don’t show that.
The deliberate foul is a controversial tactic, because it can be seen as cynical and as preventing the kind of transitions from which scoring chances – and attractive football – so often result, but it remains a legitimate tool for teams looking to guard against quick breaks.
For more tips and illustrations buy How To Watch Football: 52 Rules for Understanding the Beautiful Game, On and Off the Pitch, by Tifo (£8.85)
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