Once a player is given a red card and sent-off, game tactics change drastically for both teams on the pitch. Depending on the scoreline and what’s at stake, a few traditional approached are taken to dealing with one less player.
Let’s analyze the team that has just lost a man. In a traditional 4-4-2, the most common tactical move is to appoint one player as a lone forward, and the remaining players will maintain the same formation. So, your new look will be a 4-4-1. Again, depending on the circumstance of the game, a 4-4-1 might be too conservative. If you are desperate to score a goal and tie the game or win the game, you might want to take away a midfielder rather than a forward. What this creates is a 4-3-2 formation. Nonetheless, a 4-4-1 is your best option.
When in the 4-4-1, it is important not to sit back in your half. Although you are down a man, it does not mean you need throw in the white flag and designate the game over. It is crucial the midfielders and forwards stay very compact and that they move up and down together. When the other team is on the attack, staying compact at the back and stretching across the field will cause immense problems for the opposing team. Much like is the case in handball, the defending team will create a cluster and allow little to no room for players to shoot.
As I alluded to earlier, do not make the mistake of sitting too far back in your end. If you sit back and allow the other team to settle in and create a flow, you are in big trouble. Press as if you would normally press; you are down a man, not an entire team.
From a psychological standpoint, teams with a man down seam to begin playing much harder as they must compensate for the missing man. This has proved true over and over with teams scoring unlikely goals with a man down to tie games and even win games. The attacking team might begin to ease up thinking they are in the driver’s seat – do not allow yourself or your team to ease up. In both scenarios, there is a tactical dilemma.
As the team who is benefitting from the player being sent off, not very much should change for you either. You can make positional changes if you would like, but maintaining the same positions might benefit your team for reasons of familiarity and execution. The problem with being on the winning end of this stick is that you begin to relax and think that game is but over with this new advantage you have. You begin to make uncharacteristic passes, take awful shots and take too long to develop plays. Continue to press as if you would press normally. Being a man down will provide just enough room and create just enough time for everyone to be able to do their part with more time and room.
When on the attack, do not do the running; make the other team do the running. Begin to pass the ball quickly and freely causing the other team to chase. When they chase, they will wear down rather quickly. It is important to penetrate the ball as deep into their end as possible and have as many of your players as possible past half or right at half. Establish your presence in their end and make it impossible for them to counter attack or to threaten your attack. Be weary, however, of the potential for a counter attack. Do not forget about their forward and their anxious midfielders. Too often, players over commit on a play and it results in goals at the other end. I cannot stress it enough, you are up only one man, it does not mean the game is yours.
Be smart with your tactics and with your positioning. There is a way, on both sides of the ball, of dealing with one less player.