Have you ever wondered why a few teams are always at the top of the league table while others are always down? Have you ever wondered why some teams will be promoted in one season only to be relegated in the next?
The answer is simply because some teams are better than others. This brings us to our next question, what makes one team better than another?
Is it the quality of the players, the quality and experience of the coach, or the attitude of the players? Well, it may be a bit of all of these. But does that mean that the better team will always win in any soccer game?
Of course not! We have seen games where one team has all the ball possessions and double-figure shots (off and on target) but still end up losing the game.
For example, at the AFCON 2021 round of 16 games between Nigeria and Tunisia, The Super Eagles of Nigeria had 13 shots while Tunisia had 7. In terms of possession, passes, pass accuracy, and corners, Nigeria was also better but lost the game by a lone goal.
A crazier statistic happened when Chelsea played Barcelona in the 2011/12 Champions League semifinal. Almost everyone wrote off Chelsea in that tournament.
Going into the game Barcelona was the favorite to win. At the end of the game, Barcelona had 72% of the possession, 85% pass completion, and made 22 attempts on goal.
Chelsea only managed 7 attempts. However, that game ended in a tie and Chelsea won on aggregate.
These are some of the few cases that show that the best team doesn’t always win in soccer. So, how can you beat a better soccer team? Keep reading to find out.
How to beat a better soccer team
Unless you are the undisputed best team in the world, there will always come a time when you will play against a better team. They may have faster players, better technical crew, or it may just be that you have never beaten them in all your previous meetings.
Unlike other sports where surprises are less common, soccer produces magic—sometimes from the least expected player. It becomes easier to achieve this feat if there is a star player that carries the team or who the rest of the team looks up to.
For example, during his peak in Barcelona, Lionel Messi was one player that the rest of the team mostly looked up to. As long as Messi was in the game, they were sure that the tide could turn in their favor at any moment.
There are so many challenges that come with playing a better team. For example, if the team has faster players, the players of the weaker team will be forced to double their speed which will wear them out faster making it easier for the better team to score.
Also, better teams usually have more experienced players that exploit the ignorance of the players of the weaker team. For example, their strikers may know how to beat the offside trap making it easier for them to run beyond the reach of the defenders.
Playing a better team can put a lot of anxieties on the players. So, it takes mental and physical preparation to challenge and beat a better team.
In addition to physical drills, a good coach will motivate the players to feel like champions. The detailed guides below are for those wondering how to beat a better soccer team.
There is a saying that you can never grow beyond your imagination. Also, the mind controls the body. So, whenever the mind grows weak, the body goes with it.
If players enter the pitch with the mindset that they are going to lose, they will put in less energy in the game and that will eventually lead to their defeat. No matter how tough the fixture is, the team must stay motivated or they will lose the game before it is played.
One of the ways coaches can motivate their players when facing a better team is to bring up statistics of how many times the team has lost. Be sure to mention any of their losses to a far inferior team.
Apart from the prep talk, the coach can also invite the team psychologist to work with the players to boost their mental fitness. Where possible, the coach can promise incentives to the team like giving them a day off training or allowing them to go to a party.
Yes, sometimes the idea of winning the trophy is simply not enough to motivate players. Promising them something more personal can do the trick.
Rather than criticize the players during the half-time break (even if they are trailing), the coach should emphasize the team’s strength and tell them more about the opponent’s weakness and how they should exploit it.
Make the team imagine themselves as winners. Tell them to visualize a mental picture of the game in their head and think of all the things they are going to do.
Maintain a high level of discipline
The looming fear of defeat can push a soccer player to lose his or her discipline and become more aggressive. This feeling is compounded by the booing of the spectators.
The loss of discipline is evident in silly fouls and wayward passes. If the player is lucky, he or she may end up getting a caution throughout the match. In the worst-case scenario, the player may even get a red card.
Having a player sent out when your team is the weaker side puts you at a greater disadvantage and makes it harder for your team to emerge from the game with a point.
Instead of losing your temper in a game, absorb all that pressure and use it to frustrate your stronger opponent.
Improve team communication
In every team, there are always players that may not like each other. Well, when it comes to how to beat a better soccer team, every player in the team has to put aside their grievances and work together.
The key to working together lies in better communication. Motivating and organizing the team is usually the job of the coach and the captain of the team. However, to beat a better side, everyone needs to get involved.
For example, if a central defender feels the need to have more than one player closing down a danger man in the opposition, he or she should be able to communicate this to the rest of the defenders and midfielders.
Together, they can work out a strategy that will help to close down any player that is posing the most threat.
Man marking makes it harder for the opposition to find playing freedom. Perhaps, you have seen instances in soccer where 2 or 3 players surround the dangerman in a team once he is with the ball.
Obviously, the threat level of every player in the best team cannot be the same. Figure out the player that poses the most threat and use man-marking to close him or her down.
A coach like Jose Mourinho is good at man-marking. Once he singles out the most dangerous player in a team, he will assign 1 or 2 midfielders or defenders that will close down the player.
There is nothing as frustrating as an effective man marking because it disrupts the flow and playing pattern of the target player—it makes them look like amateurs. We have seen some of the best soccer players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar Jr. showing their frustration on the pitch.
When using man-marking on the better team, the players in the weaker team responsible for executing this plan should make sure they time their tackles properly. Also, they should use shoulder tackles more than sliding tackles to avoid caution and possible eviction from the game.
On the flip side, if the better team is using man-marking to make your team less vicious, there are ways of beating man-marking. We discussed all of that here.
Change your attacking strategy
There is a popular saying that the best form of defense is attack. That may be true but certainly not when you are playing against a better team.
When you are up against a better team, being too anxious to score will create spaces in your backline—and they will make you pay for it. A better strategy would be to sit back and soak up the pressure and wait for the right time to strike
In fact, the best attacking strategy when you are up against a better team is a counterattack. A well-executed counterattack can catch the best defenders unaware which makes it your most potent weapon.
Counterattack makes use of reverse psychology in the sense that the defensive team feels vulnerable while the offensive team will temporarily forget the need to defend their backline with the illusion that they have the weaker team pinned to their half of the pitch.
While defending, the team should always maintain an attacking mindset. Counterattack is easier to execute if the weaker team has very fast forwards or strikers. We highlighted 5 ways on how to get quicker feet for soccer here.
Improve your passing accuracy
When you are playing against a better team, there is a huge chance that your team will see less of the ball. Therefore, you need to maximize the limited chances you will get by being accurate with your passes.
For example, during a transition from defense to attack during a counterattack, the midfielder or defender must be able to time the kick so that the ball falls in the area where the lone striker can easily reach but far from the last defender.
When your team is able to maintain above 85% pass accuracy, it will force the opposition to play more cautiously—knowing that one pass can split their defense and create scoring chances.
Once any team is cautious about their backline, they would abandon the idea of a massive attack. This will ease the pressure on your midfielders and defenders. The lower the pressure on your defenders, the fewer mistakes they will make.
Run down the clock
When a superior team is paired with a weaker team, the superior team will always come into the game with the mindset of wanting to win. A draw for them is equivalent to a defeat and this can work in your favor.
When playing against a better soccer team, always look for opportunities to run down the clock if the game is on a tie or if you have managed to squeeze in a goal.
Whether it is players flopping and rolling on the floor after a challenge, or counting steps before delivering a throw-in, or goalies holding onto the ball for a few more seconds after a successful catch, time-wasting is a technique that will frustrate superior soccer teams—especially if they are not leading.
The more frustration you can build in the better team, the more mistakes they will make. However, when running down the clock, don’t overdo it to the point of attracting a yellow card from the referee.
Change your formation
Rarely will you see a coach use the same formation throughout an entire season. They will usually study the formation of their opponent and come up with a formation that can counter the game plan of their opponent.
The most common and widely used formation in soccer is 4-4-2. A lot of teams stick to this formation for most of their games and will only change when there are injuries or eviction concerns.
In this formation, there are 4 defenders, 4 midfielders, and two strikers. The advantage of this formation is that there are more players in the midfield and defense such that each player has a smaller area to cover making it easier for them to foil any attack.
However, when you are using the counterattack strategy against a better soccer team, we would suggest using 4-5-1 formations. This will further choke the midfield and make it harder for the opposition team to find a space through.
Playing 5-man midfield will also help to prevent overworking the defenders to the point where they will start making mistakes. Use long aerial balls to find the lone striker when the ball is in your possession.
However, one of the midfielders should also be very fast and be on alert to provide assistance to the lone striker whenever the team launches a counterattack against the stronger team.
Two attributes that your team will need in excess when playing against a superior opponent are strength and endurance. They will have to run more and be more physical to either win the balls or keep possessions. See the benefits of cardiovascular endurance in soccer here.
Every tournament has a definite calendar. Unless it is a friendly match, you will probably know about your encounter with the better soccer team weeks ahead.
Proper preparation is key if you want to stand a chance of walking out of an encounter with a better soccer team with a point or at least take the game to a penalty shootout where it often boils down to luck.
The point is, beating a better soccer team is tough but not impossible. Every team—no matter how good they are—has a weakness and it is the job of the coach to find it and develop a strategy that will help the weaker team to exploit those weaknesses.
If you need motivation, remember that Chelsea lost to Manchester City by 6 goals in 2018/19 EPL matchday 26. Big teams can also suffer humiliating losses—and your team may just be the team to pull that off.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!