Passing is a basic aspect of football. Everyone can do it.

Doing it well, however, takes skill. Aesthetics don't always equal functionality.

Today, I'll tackle negative passing and explain how by mastering it, teams achieve advantages & superiority.


Negative or backwards passing is simple - any pass that doesn't advance the play & conquer territory is a negative one.

It sounds bad but sometimes, it's welcome and even necessary.

You don't win without moving forward but what if the way forward is blocked?
There is no right or wrong way to play football.

That means that regardless of whether your style of play is heavy positional football or parking the bus, you need to go forward to score goals.

Inherently, that will also require forward passing to achieve that goal.
But even the most vertical & direct teams often have to go backwards to ultimately gain ground.

One step back, two steps forward. And this is the ultimate goal of negative passing - going backwards to go forward.

Let's outline some of its key concepts.
I've divided the main benefits of it into three categories:

• Unlocking a deep defensive block 🔐
• Changing the angle of attack 📐
• Setting the tempo 🎼

All of them, however, are based on the premise of going backwards in order to go forward.
If we constantly go forward, the opposition has to retreat to maintain the compact block.

But if they have to chase the ball higher up, they will have to expand to keep covering the attacker’s options.

This is explored in the graphic below.
The attackers go back in order to go forwards.

Since the FB was initially marked, he decides to pass back to his CB. This means the opposition have to follow if they want to close down the player.

But it also means they start getting out of their compact defensive shape.
Red team also starts dropping but since they are moving away from the opposition’s goal, blues are dragged along, creating space behind.

This gives another red player a chance to drop, receive and lay it off to the unmarked FB.

The red team has gone backwards to go forward.
Quique Setién is one of the coaches who knew how to get the most out of the fascinating concept.

His Real Betis side was very positional & often played short combinations with a lot of movement to progress up the pitch.

This example comes from one of his final days in charge.
A player passes back & repositions deeper. This pass invites opposition to press, leaving the another man unmarked out wide.

To plug that hole, the marker initially on the player who moved deeper now has to mark the wide man, leaving initial ball-carrier free to receive a pass.
He then runs with the ball forward and eventually deploys it into space for the full-back to exploit.

Just by going backwards with one single pass, Real Betis have unlocked the opposition’s block and opened new channels to achieve progression.

Excellent work. 👏
These tactics can also be used to create much higher in the danger areas.

The concept remains the same – pass backwards to provoke movement by the opposition and eventually break their initial compact structure.

Here, the ball is out wide as the play unfolds.
Since the FB is deep & there are no viable passing options going forward, the pass goes backwards.

However, this prompts the defenders to step up and challenge for the ball, leaving gaps behind their backs that can be exploited by smart movement/passing.

This is offensive use.
But apart from creating new openings by carving up deep and middle blocks, negative passes are also essential when it comes to bypassing the high press.

Again, the idea is to briefly go backwards in order to go forward once a better channel is found.

That's key!
This is also where the use of a goalkeeper is welcomed, although not always absolutely necessary.

But the goalkeeper ensures numerical superiority and puts the opposition into a decisional crisis, thus enhancing the attacking team’s chances of bypassing the press.
Next, I'll touch upon changing the angle of attack.

This is accomplished with a combination of negative & horizontal passes.

Horizontal passes are somewhat neutral as they are not grouped within either of the two extremes. However, they are also not positive in their nature.
Changing the angle of attack is necessary when going forward gets difficult & the opposition plug all the holes in the block.

These tactics are also connected to the concept of overload to isolate, which includes quickly changing sides to attack the less-populated areas.
These sequences often start with a negative pass that draws out the opposition & gives you a moment to restart the attack but with a different angle.

It’s important to note that changing the angle doesn’t have to be changing the side but there are advantages to that as well.
Some teams like Guardiola’s Man City do it through a combination of both short and long passes and overloading to isolate is a common tactic in their playbook.

A negative pass can be a get-out-of-jail card when a forward pass would’ve likely resulted in loss of possession.
Instead, by going backwards once, Man City guarantee retention of possession & eventually progression by changing the angle of their attack & attacking a side or a channel that’s open & not as congested.

But it can be more subtle than passing across the whole width of the pitch.
Bayern Munich under Julian Nagelsmann are an excellent example of finding different solutions by resetting the attack and tweaking their channel of progression.

In the example below, you can see them go backwards because the way forward is blocked by Barcelona midfielders.
But this is only a temporary setback & a necessary step.

Going backwards opens a different angle & involves progressing with the ball from the deep.

Again, negative passing doesn’t just dictate where the team in possession goes but it also manipulates the opposition too.
Barcelona are forced to restructure but it’s to no avail since the Bavarians have already identified & exploited their new angle to attack.

One pass backwards results in two vertical passes that put Bayern inside the box.

One step backwards, two steps forward - always. 🔝
Even though they are on the receiving end of such a sequence in that example against the German titans, Barcelona themselves are very good at reaping the benefits of negative passing.

But it’s their golden generation under Guardiola that is perhaps the best example of that.
Between 2009 and 2011, they were THE positional team to follow and the early users of these concepts.

They knew very well that sometimes, in order to advance closer to the goal, you have to take a step back or in our case, pass backwards.

Great example below! 👇
Pep once said 🗣: 'A backpass does not indicate fear, but the beginning of another, better play.'

And truly, as with so many other things in football, Guardiola was also right about negative passing.

If a pass backwards creates a better attack, you should always take it.
I'll stop the thread here because it's already far too long & I need to leave something for you to read in the full piece.

Speaking of which, you can find the analysis on @TotalAnalysis, linked below.

Give it a read! 🔥…
@TotalAnalysis As ever, if you've enjoyed this thread, feel free to like, comment & RT the first tweet (linked below).

I'd appreciate any support and of course, if you want, you can always follow me too. The road to 9k is well and truly on!

Thank you so much! 🙏
Folks, if you've enjoyed this thread, you'll surely enjoy the content at @BarcaFutbolLive!

It's a brand new substack where I do analysis, scout reports and the like, mainly on Barcelona.

Consider subscribing/following as there's much more to come! 🔥

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