ABC's of Soccer - Tactics

Tactics: The Art of the Counter-Attack

CA tactics

The definition of counter-attack is military in its genesis.

noun: counter-attack
    1. an attack made in response to one by an enemy or opponent

The concept has been taken from the battlefield to the soccer pitch and has been an effective strategy for hundreds of years. We’ll break it down for you piece-by-piece below.

The Setup
While the counter-attack seems like an offensive strategy, it’s really defensive minded at its core. The defense plays tight and compact on their end of the field looking to create tight passing lanes and force turnovers. This posture seems like it is almost inviting an attack from the opposing team — and that is precisely the intention. Once the defense has won the ball the counter is on.

Launching The Counter
The seconds before and after the turnover are the most crucial to this tactic. Is there space and numbers to move forward? A quick pass toward the opposing goal can send his team sprinting not the attack. Haven’t recovered the ball in a situation you can move forward? Than perhaps a simple build up attack would be preferable. It’s this split second decision that can make or break the counter-attack.

The Counter is On
Once that initial pass is made, the counter is on. Counter-attacking teams will often have great chemistry and practice with this breakout, so passes into open space are often rapid and with purpose. The end result is often more numbers than the defense as you move into the crucial attacking areas.


  • Easy to organize.
  • Low technical and physical requirements
  • A strong defensive posture


  • Not very useful when trailing the game. Teams won’t be compelled to play into your defense.
  • Failed counter-attacks can lead to openings in the defense.
  • Can be physically taxing for midfielders and forwards.