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There are always going to be mismatched when soccer is played. One team will be better than the other. Yet sometimes we see the underdog beat the better team and many fans ask how can this be? Our team is far superior and yet still lost. In this article, we will look at how lesser teams win against better teams.
You can win against a better team in several ways. From scoring a goal, to the formation the team is set up in as well as simply having lady luck on your side. It all counts when teams beat the better team.
How to win a soccer game against a better team
As mentioned before, there are several ways that you can win against a better team. Many teams will at one time, or another come up against a team that is simply better than them. This could be for a few reasons.
The first one could be that one team has better quality players than the opposition for example Barcelona is playing DC United. Barca clearly has better players than United so they are expected to win the game comfortably.
When this happens, the lesser team, in this instance DC United, will have several ways that they can try and unsettle or disrupt Barcelona. This could be that they choose to man-mark Leo Messi for example.
That means that one player in the team is given the direct job of trying to curb his influence on the game and will not necessarily worry about any other phases in the game (defending, attacking). Their sole purpose is to stop the opposition’s best player.
This can be a good tactic, however, we all know that it will take far more than just one player to stop an entire team.
The next way is by formation. If the better team like Barcelona has a preferred way of setting up, like for example a 4-3-3, then the lesser team can try and use a formation that is going to make it really hard for Barcelona to function properly with their formation.
The formation could be that the lesser team adds an extra play in midfield. They do this so that there will always be an outnumber in the middle. Doing this helps in many ways as whenever the attacking team has the ball, they are always under pressure because there will always be an extra body they have to get around.
However, by doing this, teams will usually forfeit some of their attacking instincts because they are more worried about stopping the opposition rather than scoring themselves. You will often see in many professional games that when a smaller team travels to one of the big teams, that their formation is set up to make them hard to play against.
The manager and coaches will devise a plan to make their team as hard to play against as possible and by doing this it can upset the home teams rhythm when playing because they are not being allowed to play their normal free-flowing attacking football.
Why? Because the formation dictates how they can play and when the bigger teams around the world are not allowed to play their own way, then they can sometimes run out of ideas about how to break down their opposition and this then leads to points being dropped either by a win or draw.
A classic example of a team that is hard to play against is Stoke City when they were playing in the Premier League. They had a very physical style of soccer that they liked to play and it disrupted a lot of teams to the point where some did not like to play away at Stoke because they knew what type of game they were going to encounter.
This style of play served Stoke well for several years in England’s topflight and their whole club identity was built on the way they play.
Another way is simply just by sheer determination alone. I am sure that you know of teams that simply do not give up over the course of 90 minutes. They hassle and harry the opposition; they do not let the star players have any space or time on the ball and are full of running from the first minute to the last.
Now, this is hard to do for an entire season, but the fact is that teams who travel away to the big teams will often completely change the way they play just for that specific game. Because they are hoping for, at best a point. They try and keep it tight and locked down for as long as possible and when a chance finally does arrive, they must convert it.
If they do then a serious amount of pressure will fall onto the home team to get the goal back, because they are expected to win not draw. They will then be more adventurous going forward and this can lead to space at the back for the lesser team to exploit. The term smash and grab have been used for many years.
This refers to a team that has been significantly outplayed for the whole game but finds a way to win. For example, the Philadelphia Union are playing against Houston Dynamo. The Union has 18 shots on goal and 75% possession, yet Houston only has 2 shots on goal and 25% possession but manages to score from one of those two shots, defend well the entire game and end up winning 1-0.
Lastly is simple lady luck. Sometimes luck is just on your side, the better team might be having a rare off day. They miss some easy chances that on any other day they would easily slot home, or they have a couple of star players out of the side, it all adds up and sometimes the smaller clubs just get lucky.
It goes the other way too, as I mentioned before when talking about smash and grab. The one-shot that the lesser team had, might come about from a slip from a defender or an uncharacteristically bad clearance and they seize on the chance and put it away.
The other thing to remember too is pressure. The pressure is always on the better team to win, so the longer that the game goes without them scoring a goal, they get nervous and try to force the issue. By playing adventurous passes they that normally would not play or by going against team orders and trying to win the game themselves and this is when the lesser team can sneak a goal.
Best formation against a stronger team
Now we touched on this earlier about formations. It will largely depend on how the stronger team likes to set up. For example:
With four defenders, four midfielders, and two strikers, this gives the smaller team a good chance at scoring because of the two attackers but also gives them numbers in midfield. The two wing players can tuck in and essentially become a block of six if needed along with the four defenders. Not many teams go with this however as they prefer to have more bodies in midfield rather than two strikers.
This is a formation that Arsenal has used this year. Three center backs, five midfielders with two wingbacks who both defend as well as attack and a sole attacker up front who will be supported by the wing-backs and other midfielders.
This formation makes it hard for a team to be scored against because with the ball they can have five players in midfield who can support the striker. However, when they do not have the ball they will revert to a back five with the three center backs and wing backs all tucking in behind the two midfielders and eliminating any areas of space. That makes the team incredibly hard to break down.
This formation is a specific system that gives the team strong importance of securing their defense but not completely shutting down the idea of scoring. With this formation, it is one that puts a huge relevance on the personal strengths of each player and if the team has the right players then it can be highly effective in keeping the stronger team at bay for longer.
It also offers a great defensive set up because the team is protected from counter-attacks. The defensive midfielder along with the other two midfielders is essentially a tactical balancing act that the team can be used in many ways to counter what the other side is trying to do.
The downside can be that if it does not work then the striker can be left really isolated and offer next to nothing going forward. That will put a lot more pressure on the defense and midfield because the striker can not hold up the ball and wait for reinforcements to maintain possession of the ball.