Putting my Tally Sheet in to Practice for the First Time

Blog #2, 22.9.2015

What follows is just one of many blog posts I will be dedicating to my goal of becoming an expert in football tactics. I know, becoming a new Jose, Carlo or Pep is not an option, nor is that my wish actually, but I write these posts with intention to gradually improve my understanding of the game and to be able to see the genuine cause and effect behind a specific football action in the end. You can read more about my project here, but don’t forget about content in other sub-menu’s either as I believe they contain cleverly written descriptions of interesting books, podcasts and websites about football I came across in my pursuit.   

Just a memory from the past. Photo: Jonas Merian
Just a memory from the past. Photo: Jonas Merian

Today, when you can watch almost every major football competition on your telly, it is sometimes easy to forget that there were times, where only matches from domestic football competitions were broadcasted. With the occurrence of TV channels dedicated solely to sport, football being the most common sport televised, this has changed dramatically, as even the most exotic leagues are really just a click away, be it on my TV or on my computer. But as mentioned, this wasn’t so self-evident when I was growing up – I still remember that special feeling, when that one Seria A match which got picked by Croatian National TV channel and televised on Saturday or Sunday evening night. Yeah, I agree, crazy – if you don’t count Champions league, there was only one match per week televised back in the day.!

Being born close to Italian border it was logical that I got familiar with Italian football first, but this changed in the late nineties’ when I saw my first English Premier League and got hooked immediately. It was a combination of ‘’play hard to the whistle’’ football and the closeness to the action, as there is no athletic track between supporters and the field, that fascinated me the most. Since then, the English Premier League has grown substantially in its attraction, worldwide audience, money coming in, so considering all, it comes as no surprise that I choose an English club for the first use of my handmade customized Tally Sheet. However I didn’t pick Manchester City’s game as a Citizens’ supporter, it was rather out of convenience as I was free on that Saturday afternoon when their match against Everton was broadcasted.    

Everton vs. Manchester City

As announced in my first blog post (you can read more here), this one is about the first use of my handmade Tally sheet. You are probably wondering how it went, aren’t you? Well, not very good if I put it mildly.

As you can see for yourself (see picture below), I only managed to observe and fill the side of attack column while all the others are pretty much empty. This was mostly due to the fact I didn’t do a post-match analysis but was making sketches for a specific football action while the match was happening. With my ‘’tactically’’ inexperienced eye and the lightning speed one football action follows another, this turned out to be almost a Herculean task.

However, I did draw some conclusions that would help me in my next analyses with the use of my Tally Sheet. Let me point them out in the following paragraphs:

  • The result of first use of my handmade Tally sheet. Game analyzed: Everton vs. Manchester City
    The result of first use of my handmade Tally sheet. Game analyzed: Everton vs. Manchester City

    Do a post-match analysis: It was obvious right from the start of Everton vs. Manchester City match, that doing my analyses during (only) live matches was not possible and I would need to rely more heavily on technology. It will come down mostly on taping the game and rewinding a specific football action backwards, so I will be able to categorize it correctly and see patterns sooner.

  • Observe only one team: I took this one into account immediately and it turned out to be a good decision as it would be impossible to observe two teams during the match without the use of technology.
  • Observe the same team: The plan was to observe different teams every time I use my tally sheet, but for starters, it will be easier to focus only on one team. This way I will be able to get more familiar with their style of play and since it all started with Manchester City, I will be sticking with this team for a couple of rounds.
  • Preliminary preparations: Probably the most important realization. Preliminary preparations about the team I will be observing and their style of play will offer me a better insight before the match. By reading the basics about the team’s formation I will, to some extent, get familiar with players’ movements, types of passing and much more.  
  • Columns should be defined more specifically: I had a little problem categorizing some of the attacks as some of them could easily fit into several categories. However, for now, I will be leaving this one as it is and give it another try later. I have a feeling that it will be different when I have a pause and rewind button, thus having time to think about a specific attack.
  • Concentration and time: Due to the level of details I had to focus on and the speed of the game I only managed to analyse the first half of the game. As it turned out analyzing matches is much more difficult as I anticipated.
  • Press the pause button and think: Another important By pressing the pause button and analyzing players’ positions at that time, I will be given the opportunity to think about what should have been done differently. I expect that my observations will be more and more detailed over time in correlation with the work on my project.

Since my first experiment with the Tally Sheet didn’t go as planned I will end this blog post at this point. But before saying goodbye, let me just mention that I have already analysed the match between Manchester City vs. Watford which took place on August 29 and the feeling afterwards is excellent. Abiding some of the conclusions mentioned above my Tally Sheet was much fuller. But more about that game in blog post #3.


So This Is It!

Blog #1, 29.8.2015 

What follows is just one of many blog posts I will be dedicating to my goal of becoming an expert in football tactics. I know becoming a new Jose, Carlo or Pep is not an option, nor is that my wish. I write these posts with the intention of gradually increasing my understanding of the game, and my ability to see the genuine cause and effect behind any specific football action. You can read more about my project here, but don’t forget about content in other sub-menu’s, as I believe they contain cleverly written descriptions of interesting books, podcasts and websites about football I have come across in my pursuit.

It’s august now, and almost 8 months have passed since I bought Silky Skills domain in January. A new and exciting football season is lurking just around the corner, and after just finishing shaping the Silky Skills website and supported text to my liking, I feel this is the perfect time to finally get this project started.

Where To Start?

Let me go off topic for a bit and start with a decision- not to overthink things to such a degree. I would feel blocked to express myself. With a decision to strive for progress, not perfection- solving problems as I go, rather than thinking about them beforehand, and with a decision to rely on my intuition’s guidance when cracking this tough nut of football tactics. These decisions will not only allow me to enjoy the journey more and to evolve as a football tactics expert, but are- what I believe- some basic principles of living in peace.

But enough of that- let’s get down to business and start carrying out the main objective that has been actualized in January.

The first issue that arises is how huge the gap is between my current knowledge and the knowledge I hope to attain, which will eventually enable me to see the game in a new light and in a new, exciting perspective. With my broad ‘’football’’ knowledge, experiences (mostly as a spectator) and the vast amount of time I dedicate to football, I have the groundwork to be a real smart-ass and know-it-all in conversation, and not speak rubbish at the same time. After all, I can’t remember a subject about football that doesn’t peak my interest, dipping my toes in to the rules of the game, but also regarding the more social effects of the game.

My foundation is rock solid. I’m familiar with terms like ‘overlapping’, ‘wall-pass’, ‘dummy-run’ and many more. But in fairness, I lack the specific knowledge and understanding required to pinpoint where the game was won or lost in retrospect, or like a chess player, to calculate a result three moves ahead, based on a specific football action. While I do recognize some individual mistakes (for example: when a defender is caught out of position or is standing too far from the player he is marking…) that occur during the game and have an effect in the end, I don’t see patterns (for example: if a team is using the same type of attack or is making the same kind of mistake by not double-covering a player who is giving them headaches). Despite all the positives mentioned above, I still need to substantially deepen my technical knowledge of the game.

Using a Tally Sheet as a Way to Identify Patterns

The idea of identifying patterns during matches came from a book called the Handbook of Soccer Match Analysis.The handbook, otherwise devoted entirely to match analysis, introduces different kinds of systems you can utilize when studying a match. As computer based analyses are not an option because of their cost and inaccessibility, I will lean my research on Tally Sheets.

Well, they are obviously playing in a 4 - 4 - 8 formation... 8, wait, what?!?. Photo: Dru Bloomfield
Well, they are obviously playing in a 4 – 4 – 8 formation… 8, wait, what?!?. Photo: Dru Bloomfield

For starters, I have decided to use a handmade, customized Tally Sheet to help me determine some basic patterns and characteristics of how the observed team is organized and what kind of football they play, but at the same time not going into too many details. This is more about changing my perspective of how and what to observe at a game. It’s not so much about looking for answers for all the questions that a scout must answer when scouting an opponent. Before explaining my Tally Sheet, let me just highlight some of the questions a scout needs to answer, ensuring the best information is gathered about their next opponent.

  • Preferred defensive formation both with and without the ball.
  • Do they play with advancing full backs?
  • Are the central defenders quick or do they rely on their strength?
  • Are the full backs willing to come inside to a more central position to support the central defenders when the ball is on the opposing side of the pitch?

These are just some of the questions picked out from a much longer list of questions about defence, presented by Wes at Soccer Classroom (you can read more about it here). My Tally Sheet doesn’t aim for that level of detail. Data I will be gathering can be categorized into 3 different parts.

  • General Information (Date, Teams, Results, Competition and Field dimension)
  • Match Information (Formation, Style of attack, Side of attack, Crosses, Set pieces,    Defending, Pressure, Marking, Offside trap, Use of GK)
  • Peculiarities (Minute by minute and Observations)
Tally sheet I will be using gathering information about a game.
Tally sheet I will be using gathering information about a game.

The first paragraph is about some basic data that can be gathered before, or even after the match, and is only there as an overture to the second and third paragraphs, where all the action during matches will be noted and counted respectively. In the Match Information paragraph, you will find some primary elements of the game, from which an overall view of each specific team can be gained. Elements are listed above. Let me point out, for example, that the Style of Attack column is used as a way to distinguish what kind of shifting they are using to get to opposition’s goal. Combining the previous highlighted column with Side of Attack column, I will be able to determine if they are perhaps using long balls, and if they are directing them to the right side of the field, or whether they have chosen a more direct style of play- through the flanks as a way to attack. If I wasn’t clear enough, let me point out that for every football action a team makes, a sketch will be drawn next to that specific action I have noted in the second paragraph. In the end, a more transparent picture about an observed team’s type of play will arise based on the number of sketches.

To finish my Tally Sheet, there is the Peculiarities paragraph, composed from the Minute by Minute and Observations column respectively. The former is dedicated to recording the most important events that happen during the game as a means of discerning patterns more easily, and in the latter I will make notes about game (for example: Right back didn’t join the attack at all, Central defender positioning was wrong on several occasions, etc..). While the Minute by Minute column will be comprised from objective events, my observations in the second column will be subjective and will probably be more and more detailed over time in correlation with the work on my project.

Before saying goodbye and putting my new Tally Sheet to practice, let me just say that identifying a team’s style of play is just a first step. Much more challenging and demanding is finding the reasons behind them, but I will deal with the ‘WHY’s’ in posts to come.