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Patrick Mills takes a look at the tactic of La Pausa, a multifaceted strategic tool that involves temporarily halting the progression of play to progress it.
‘La Pausa’, is a strategic tool that takes up a variety of forms. The concept’s basic premise involves halting progression of the ball and waiting for the landscape of the play to change. At any given moment during a football match, the player on the ball has certain options of what they can and can’t do to progress the play. These options are based mainly on the positioning of teammates and opposing players. Instead of choosing one of the available options, a player or team may choose to utilise La Pausa in one form or another in order to create new options to choose from or to wait for new options to arise.
As with many tactical inventions, it is unclear as to when La Pausa was first used or who was the first to become conscious of its potential. However, evidence of La Pausa can be seen in use by greats such as Rivelino, George Best and Johann Cruyff.
In today’s game, many coaches and players use La Pausa knowingly. Most prevalently, Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and before his departure, Xavi Hernandez, have displayed La Pausa throughout their careers. They are all likely to have learned to use La Pausa as part of their education at Barca’s youth academy, La Masia.
La Pausa has many faces. One of the most basic of which involves the player/team on the ball halting progression up the pitch in order to draw a defending player or an entire defensive block out of the space. The attacking player/team then makes use of the vacated space by passing there to find an arriving teammate. La Pausa in this form can be a useful way of creating pockets of space within an opponent’s line of defence, space between the lines, and space in behind the opponent’s last line of defence. Masters of this variant of La Pausa include the aforementioned trio of treble winning Barcelona midfielders, as well as the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Toni Kroos. From a team point of view, Barcelona are excellent at drawing their opponents out before exploiting the space that’s been created. This can be seen in the video below.
Another way in which La Pausa can be used involves the player on the ball drawing a defending player increasingly close before making using of the space behind the defender themselves. In other words, instead of drawing a defender out and passing into the vacated space, the player on the ball waits until the defender gets close or switches off and then dribbles around them and into the space using clever body shape to falsely imply movements and shield the ball at the same time. This is extremely useful in one v one’s out wide but with exceptionally technical and intelligent players, it can also be effective in central areas. Early experts of this form include the previously mentioned Rivelino, as well as, more recently, Lionel Messi and Neymar. The video below shows Rivelino perform his famous elastico trick after using La Pausa to draw his opponent into a false sense of security.
While most of the time, La Pausa involves waiting to draw opponents out before exploiting the vacated space, it can also be used to change the landscape of the attack in other ways. As mentioned previously, the options available to a player on the ball are determined primarily by the positioning of their teammates and the opposition players. On some occasions, the player’s options may be limited because of the opponents positioning. On other occasions, the options for progression may be undesirable to the player on the ball because of the positioning of their teammates. When this is the case, the player in possession can use La Pausa to wait for a teammate to get into a better position before making the pass. As seen by Andres Iniesta below.
In deeper areas, the use of La Pausa is normally easier as there is likely to be less pressure on the ball. Further forward, however, particularly in central areas, using La Pausa becomes more difficult. With more pressure surrounding the ball and less space and time to stand still, the player on the ball must be more inventive if they are to successfully make use of La Pausa. A great example of how this can be achieved was shown by Xavi on a regular basis throughout his career. The Spanish midfielder used 3600 turns on the ball as a way of keeping possession while his teammates re position themselves ahead of the ball. Adam Lallana also performed this move in Liverpool’s recent 3-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield. As shown in the clip below, Lallana used a 360 turn while Divock Origi got himself back onside. Lallana then released the through ball before Wijnaldum eventually scored from Origi’s cross. Footage of Xavi using the 3600 form of La Pausa can also be seen.
For most players, the natural reaction to being under pressure in possession is to release the ball quickly to prevent the opposition from completing a turnover. However, the footballing brains of those educated at La Masia are far more evolved than the rest. Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta, among other Barcelona stars over the past decade, have also made use of La Pausa as a way of escaping pressure. While being chased by an opponent, La Pausa can be used by stopping suddenly on the ball and allowing the opponent’s momentum to take him out of your path. The defender will invariably expect that the player on the ball will continue running and so they aren’t prepared for the pause. The video below of Busquets should help in explaining this.
To conclude, It is clear that La Pausa can be extremely useful in changing the picture ahead of the ball. While good players choose the best option, great players have the ability to create new ones. As mentioned before, La Pausa is just one element in a philosophy of intelligent play. When combined with tools such as false implications, crowding, diagonality, amongst others, it is possible to dictate the opponent’s shape to your advantage. It will come as no surprise that most of the players used as examples in this article played for Guardiola’s Barcelona. Although his Manchester City side have failed to perform as we might have expected them to this season, hopefully over the next few years, Pep’s wisdom can spread through English football and make it an improved tactical spectacle.