Film Fridays: Playing without possession

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re thrilled to have Valair Shabilla join us at Broadway Sports Media. His tactics breakdowns give fantastic insight into the game, and we’re excited to feature them here on our site and find ways to expand them going forward. His inaugural edition of Film Fridays on our site dives into possession and how to win when you don’t have the ball.

If you haven’t already, follow Valair on Twitter @valairshabilla.

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This week we’re talking about how Nashville plays without the ball.

Does possession matter?

First, let’s address something. Possession does not mean dominance. If we look at Montréal’s game, there were only two five-minute intervals where Nashville had the majority of possession. Even those weren’t that long, especially if you compare them to Montréal’s.

Possession tells the story of who had the ball. But that’s it. It does not tell you what the team did with the ball. In Montréal’s case, they didn’t do anything of note with the ball. 

Playing against possession

That’s due to multiple reasons. But mainly, it had to do with Nashville being organized and compact at the back. By sticking to their positions, Nashville SC’s defenders only allowed Montréal 14 touches on the ball in the penalty box! Even though Montréal had most of the possession and 210 touches in the final third, they weren’t allowed to convert those into anything substantial.

When a team is blocked from entering the dangerous areas, they start taking more shots from distance. With Nashville packing the middle, those chances didn’t result in anything for Montréal.I want to be clear that defending is not just something that the defense does. This is a collective effort from the entire team.

Winning in transition

There is also a flip side to all of this. Once Nashville gets the ball back, they have to do something in transition. I think that’s where Nashville excels. Nashville created many opportunities from interceptions and miss-hit passes. They relied on speed and quality passing from the middle to get the ball forward as quickly as possible and create disturbance to the Montréal defense.

While the attacking team is in transition, the defense is generally out of possession and caught off guard. Nashville made sure to take advantage of that, especially during their goals. We have all seen the goals, but this happened quite a few times throughout the match. 

Here, we see another interception from Sean Davis. Then the ball gets to Dax McCarty, who plays a great ball to Hany Mukhtar, creating a dangerous chance. While not all of these transitions resulted in goals, they still exhaust the opposition and force them to work. More importantly, they are definitely better than meaningless possession of the ball. 


Thanks for checking out this week’s edition of Film Fridays. Check back next week for more analysis, as well as a mid-week match preview show on Twitter Spaces.

Author: Valair Shabillamoved to Nashville as a refugee from Iraq at the age of 14. A fan of soccer from a young age, he used soccer to connect with a larger community in Nashville and adapt to life abroad. He's covered Nashville SC since 2019, co-hosting Pharmaceutical Soccer, and analyzing soccer from an audio/video perspective.

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