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Analysis: The Benefits of False Implications

Patrick Mills writes about the principle of false implications, wherein players and teams take advantage of an implication followed by a contradictory action.

Given the relentless pace at which top level football is played today, players often find themselves second guessing their opponents. Much like a goalkeeper attempting to save a penalty, defenders regularly choose to try and predict what their opponent’s next move will be, in order to provide a reaction before it’s too late. While it’s a completely understandable approach, it does come at a risk.

Defending players react not only to actions, but also to implied actions. In theory, this allows them to be better prepared to deal with the subsequent action. In practice, however, a player’s actions don’t always match up with their prior implication. This conflict between what the defender thinks the attacker is about to do, and what they actually proceed to do, can be significantly advantageous to the attacking player.

This is because there is a moment between a player’s implication and their action in which they have an edge over their opponent. For example, imagine a player on the attacking team opens his body up to receive the ball from a teammate on his left and shapes as if he is about to complete a pass to a teammate on the right. The implication that the attacking player intends to pass to his right will likely trigger the opposition to shift across to their left, to nullify the right sided attacking player’s threat on the ball. If the defending team waits for the action to be completed, it may be too late to stop the threat of the receiving player on the right. However, because they have normally reacted to the implication, the player on the ball now has the opportunity to take advantage of the power they have in the moment before the action. If the attacking player proceeds in matching implication and action, he plays into the oppositions’ hands as they are already prepared to deal with this eventuality. Conversely, if the attacker decides to mismatch his implication and action then he takes advantage of the defending team’s decision to commit to what they believed was about to happen. Given that the defending team has shifted across to their left in response to the implication, space to exploit now exists on the left of the attack (the defending team’s right). With the attacking team mismatching implication and action, the defending team has no time to change their reaction and nullify the space on the opposite side. An example of how this can create more space for the receiving player can be seen below by Sergio Busquet’s reverse pass to Arda Turan.

The use of false implications on the ball by use of body shape is just one example of how the benefits of mismatching implication and action can be enjoyed by the attacker. Furthermore, this method can be used all over the pitch. Another way to use false implications is related to the concept of ‘La Pausa’. Used by many of the most intelligent players in the game, La Pausa in its most basic form involves standing still on the ball and waiting for the landscape of the play to change. La Pausa can be performed in a variety of ways but one in particular relates closely to false implications. If a player is running forward with the ball and is being chased by a defender, both players have momentum. In this circumstance, the defender can only assume that the attacker intends to continue running forward. Here the implication is exactly that, and if the player on the ball matches implication with action, the defending player can continue his attempt to dispossess his opponent. However, if the attacking player mismatches implication and action and decides instead to stop still on the ball, the defending player’s momentum and expectations of how the situation would progress, can play to the attacker’s advantage by creating more time and space for himself. An example of this can be seen below, again by Sergio Busquets, a master of both La pausa and false implications.

False implications or masked intentions can also be used on a more collective basis. One commonly seen example of this involves crowding one side of the pitch during an attack, in order to force the opposition into doing the same. The implication is that the attacking team intend to penetrate their opponent’s defensive lines down this side of the pitch. However, often teams will only build on one side of the pitch to fool the opposition before switching to the free space on the opposite side. Once again, the defending team has already predicted the intentions of the attacking team and reacted accordingly and therefore are unable to react quick enough to the mismatched action. Building on one side before finishing on the other has been a common feature of teams in top level football for a number of years, particularly those managed by Pep Guardiola.

As mentioned earlier, mismatching implication and action can be of benefit throughout the pitch in various circumstances. For example, a striker who is through on goal and only has the keeper to beat could use the direction of his eyes and or body shape to imply that he intends to shoot one way, before shooting to the opposite side of the goal. The goalkeeper, anxious to respond quickly enough, will likely have reacted to the implication and dived accordingly. False implications can be equally beneficial to a winger who is one v one with his opposing fullback. By using subtle feints and dummies, or by pushing the ball one way before proceeding to dribble the other way, the winger can move the opponent out of his way before taking advantage. An example of using body shape and eyes can be seen below. Neymar implies that he is going to shoot to the keeper’s left before waiting for him to react to the implication and instead shooting to the opposite side.

While much of the mismatching of implication and actions occurs with the player in possession of the ball, it can also be a useful way of creating space off the ball. Especially with strict man marking opponents, defenders regularly attempt to anticipate an attacker’s next move based on some of the subtleties covered earlier. Using decoy runs to fool a marker can be an excellent way to create openings either for yourself or a teammate. An example of the former, a striker could use feint movements and decoys to his own advantage, in order to free up space to shoot. By using movement to shift an opposing defender short before spinning in behind (or vice-versa) or ushering a defender towards the back post in anticipation of a cross from out wide, before making a late run to finish in the space at the near post, strikers can move their marker around to carry out their masked intentions. Using false implications by moving an opponent out of space and allowing a teammate to take advantage of that space, can also be effective. The example below shows Luis Alberto score after his teammate’s decoy run dragged a defender away from the space.

Whether it’s on the ball or off the ball, the principles of false implication remain the same. Players should be conscious of the additional power they have over the opponent in the moment between implication and action. By mismatching implication and action, they take advantage of the fact that the defender has more than likely already reacted to the implication. Therefore, new space has been created and the opposition doesn’t have time to react again. When combined with other aspects of intelligent possessional and positional play, the use of false implications can help an attacking team to determine the positioning of their opponents, and to take advantage accordingly.

Patrick Mills

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