There are soccer players who affect more games more often than any other players. These players are refered to as playmakers. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabergas, Luka Modric and Xavi Hernandes have the ability to make incredible passes and create magical plays that win their team many games. So where do you even begin when trying to figure out a way to stop these players?
One thing that is for sure is that there really is no right answer here. These players are very talented players and will produce moments of magic that break down even the best of systems. Your main objective as a coach, as a team and as a player is to recognize what these players are capable of and do the best that you can to stop them.
Do not ignore these players – but don’t make them a focal point either
There is no reason to ignore the capability of these players and downplay the fact that they will single-handily win a game. I have seen it repeatedly where players and coaches brush off the fact that the upcoming game has a phenomenal player on the opposing side. You will often hear things like: “we’re not going to change our game plan for one player”…”he/she is not a god”…”he/she is overrated”. When the game is over, you wish you had taken the time to revise your game plan for that one player. Don’t get caught in this trap of overlooking talent. Understanding your opponents biggest threats is crucial in effective coaching.
With that in mind, it is important that you do not overcompensate either. By that I mean do not completely reformat your formation and the teams shape. What this will do is create an air of uncertainty and nervousness on the field with the players.
Play with Compactness
The gameplan when playing against a good team – or even an average team – should always be the same: play with compactness. When you play with compactness, you limit the playmaking of an entire team, not just one good player. Always remember: stopping a playmaker requires a team effort.
What many players and coaches wrongly assume is that you can put one of your best defenders on the opposing teams best player to stop him/her. Oh boy, that will back-fire almost every time. In order to stop a playmaker, you need a team effort.
Shifting your teams focus with the ball
Playing with compactness requires many things. It requires that your entire team moves up and down the field together. The distance between the forwards, midfielders and defenders is always approximately the same whether up the field or down the field.
When the ball is on one side of the field, the entire team should shift that way. When you shift, you close down open areas and cover the players in that area as well. As a result, it is very difficult for your opponent to move the ball up the field. When the opponent has the ball in your teams half, immediately have 1 player – ideally 2 – close him/her down with high intensity. Have you ever had the ball at your feet and seen 2 players coming at you full speed? It creates pressure, you become nervous, don’t you? You don’t have the time to do what you would normally do.
Knowing this, you want your opponent to feel this way every time they have the ball. When they are constantly being pressured, they will have to either pass the ball off or make a quick – and often irrational – decision that results in the ball being lost.
Compactness creates traps
When you are compact as a defensive unit, whether a player happens to beat 1 player, 2 players or even 3 players makes little difference as there are an abundance of defensive traps still awaiting this player. Instead of being able to maneuver throughout the field and workup plays of magic, players are constantly forced into defenders who are waiting to win the ball.
Remember that you need to recognize who the threats are on the opposing side. Understand that these players are good for a reason – they will produce moments of brilliance that we just have to admire sometimes. However, when you are compact as a team, it is very difficult for this player to create plays. Moreover, it is very difficult for the opposing team to create at all.