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Tactical theory: Collapse

What is a collapse?

A collapse, or simply collapsing, is a tactical term that refers to a strategy that involves a defensive unit putting immediate pressure on the ball-carrier in an attempt to recover possess or simply deny access to advantageous positions. As opposed to some other tactical terms that can change meaning depending on whether we’re discussing an action in the attacking or the defending phase, collapsing is always referred to the defensive phase.

The main goal of collapsing tactics is to smother the opposition team and squeeze them out of possession. Generally speaking, it’s something the more aggressive teams tend to use in their pressing and counter-pressing mechanisms. However, even if a team is defending in a mid or a low block, collapsing is still possible as a reaction to the other team’s progression towards the danger areas.

Some other tactical terms that we usually associate with collapsing are defensive phase of play, PPDA, pressing, counter-pressing, pressing trap, access, block, and compactness.

Examples of a collapse in football

As mentioned earlier, collapsing is usually a part of the more aggressive defensive tactics but is also not completely unique to those types of teams or coaches. Most teams will use it in their arsenal but will likely be executed in a different way. The usual collapsing tactics would involve the team pressing in such a way that the team on the ball is directed towards an area where a collapse is easier to execute.

Generally speaking, that will often be near the sidelines where the edge of the pitch can be used as an additional defender, putting the ball-carrier in a difficult position without too many open passing channels. Once that is achieved, the defending team will push multiple players towards the ball in an attempt to ‘collapse’ on it and either win it back or simply stop the progression.

This is why the use of pressing traps is closely related to the collapsing tactics. By manipulating the opposition to move where you want them to move, you can force them into scenarios from which there is no escape.

Why use collapse?

Collapsing is an effective tool to quickly regain possession upon losing it or simply closing down all and any passing channels the opposition is looking to exploit. However, if not executed properly, it can leave space in other areas of the pitch that a good opponent will gladly use. For that reason, collapsing can be a double-edged sword for teams that are lacking cohesion and/ or coordination.