What is build-up in football? Theory, Elements & Execution

what is build up in football

One often hears about teams that likes to build-up from the back during a football match. Manchester City is a team that immediately comes to mind when one hears the phrase- “playing out from the back”.

So, what exactly does “Build-Up” mean?

What is Build-Up in Football?

build up in football
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To put simply, build up essentially means getting the ball into the opponent’s half to create an attacking opportunity. Now, this can be done through passes, carries or a long ball from the goalkeeper. The ultimate motive is to gain an advantage over your opponents via numerical or positional superiority.

Any game of football is essentially constituted of four phases which are as follows:

  1. Attacking Phase
  2. Defending Phase
  3. Transition Phase (Attack to Defense)
  4. Transition Phase (Defense to Attack)

Build-up is a sub-section of the attacking phase wherein the team in possession tries to escalate the play to create goal-scoring chances whereas the team out-of-possession tries to stop the build-up.

Now let us look at the principles behind build-up in football.

What are some crucial principles of Build-Up in football?

Here are some of the crucial elements without which it is quite difficult for teams to form build-up and attack their opponents:

1. Superiorities

As already mentioned above, one of the most critical principles of build-up play is creating superiority. This can be either numerical or positional.

Numerical superiority basically means having more players compared to your opponents in dangerous areas of the pitch thus giving your team an advantage while attacking the opposition goal.

Positional superiority, on the other hand, means occupying more threatening spaces of the pitch while trying to create chances and score goals.

Often both Numerical and Positional superiorities are used in tandem to carry out an effective build-up.

Switching play, overlapping and underlapping runs by the fullbacks, third-man runs are some of the ways in which various teams create superiority during build-up.

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2. Stretching the play

Another crucial part of build-up is stretching the play-both horizontally and vertically. What this fundamentally means is that creating and maintaining width (horizontal) and deepness during the in-possession phase of the game.

This is done to aid the team with possession in several ways. Occupying the different parts of the pitch increases the passing options for the player with the ball. Thus, it becomes easier for the player to pick out a pass when one passing option is cut-out by the opponent’s player(s). It also increases the range of passing angles and therefore enabling the team in possession to find pockets of spaces.

3. Ball Rotation

Rotating the ball and keeping possession while trying to create space to move into or while trying to create any type of superiority is another important and fundamental principle of build-up play. The idea behind this is primarily to move the opposition players out of position and create space rather than to simply pass the ball side-ways or backwards.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to break down the opposition defense because of their defensive discipline and structure. In these situations, ball rotation plays a very crucial role in build-up.

New form of build-up – Playout from back

playout from back build-up
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There are numerous methods a team can style their build-up phase, similar to how a team progresses the ball in general. Play out from the back is one that has gained traction in recent years. Building-up from the back is not a new-fangled concept in football. However, this style of play is becoming more common and being adapted by many mangers across various leagues and competitions.

The key reason behind this is that it allows the team in possession more control which in turn aids the team to dictate the play and be more threatening.

However, implementing this style of play can be difficult if manager is unclear about the ideas and lack the players with technical abilities to play this type of football.

How a particular team builds up play entirely depends on the manager and how he wants to implement his football. Even though teams can build-up using the long ball from the goalkeeper or via counter-attacking, more and more managers are now trying to adapt this style of play.

However, there are managers and coaches who prefer other methods of build-up and it could be debated that if the team in possession is able to enter the final third of the pitch and create goal-scoring opportunities, the style of build-up is not that crucial in the grander scheme of things.

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