Manchester City may not be playing in the Champions League yet, but they can play like a team who are. Last Saturday's opening goal at Ewood Park was straight from the Champions League playbook. Less than 20 seconds after Richard Dunne cleared off his own line Emmanuel Adebayor was driving in the first down payment on his £25m fee.
Such a counter-attack is the most noticeable example of a tactical development which has become increasingly significant: transitions. In Uefa's most recent technical report on the Champions League, analysing the 2007-08 competition, Arsène Wenger identified transition speed as a "key element". Jose Mourinho stated: "Transition speed is vital. Quick transition is the most important aspect in the Champions League – quickly restructuring to defend, or exploiting the opponents with speed when the ball is regained."
Transitions, as Mourinho intimated, are the moments immediately after a team wins, or loses, possession. The reason is simple. Modern defences are so organised that they are hard to penetrate once in position. Even forwards are drilled in where to stand, and what body shape to adopt, when the opposition have the ball.
The answer is to strike while the defence are still, in basketball parlance, "zoning up". As Sir Alex Ferguson, whose United team are arch-exponents, told Uefa: "You must capitalise on the space in front of you. Quick penetration play has certainly become a trend."
Arsenal are also masters. Cesc Fabregas scored their fourth at Goodison Park just 10 seconds after Andrei Arshavin had dispossessed Tony Hibbert well inside the Arsenal half. Wigan and Spurs also scored on "transitions" this week and it is a trend which is only likely to increase.Reuse content