Soccer can be viewed as a battle between two teams trying to use time and space to maximum effect. To understand these concepts, and how they affect all other factors in the game, is to understand football.
"Having the run"
Coaches and players need to be aware of both the defensive and attacking use of time and space and timing if they are to really understand the tactical side of the game. If you look at every situation in soccer in terms of time and space you will be able to explain it. Defending is about denying time and space in critical areas. Attacking is about creating space and finding space, about moving the ball quickly, probing the oppositions defensive position, testing their concentration and waiting for a player to be out of position to pounce.
A football game between two sides who are well organised, and whose players have reasonable technique and tactical awareness, will follow a similar pattern. The attacking team will spread out. The defending team will compress the area around the ball and avoid leaving an "easy ball" for the opposition in to the space between the back four and keeper. This will leave space out wide away from the ball.
If a ball can be moved quickly from end to end, and side to side, it makes life more difficult. (John Peacock, Insight, winter 2004).
The object of the game is for the attacking team to get the ball into this space and move forward. This is often done by switching from one side of the pitch to the other and moving forward gradually as the "easy ball" over the top is not available. The defending team will try to stop this. If the attacking side moves the ball quickly, players support each other, and have reasonable technique, they will get the ball to the opposition's 18 yard line.
They will then try to deliver the ball into the penalty area. Three things can then happen.
They lose possession as they run out of space, are tackled, or the ball is intercepted.
They are forced to go back as there is no realistic forward ball available and they wish to maintain possession.
They may score if the ball is delivered into the penalty area and a player arrives in a space at the same time as the ball and, usually, with one touch, shoots/heads at goal. This timing is critical. If the timing is right there is nothing the defence can do about it, no matter how good they are as individuals or well positioned they are in anticipation. This, if you like, is a good goal. You cannot blame the defence. It is important to be aware of the concept of a good goal in these circumstances as too often players are blamed for not being tight enough, or not concentrating - when in fact there was nothing they could have done.
Timing is the link between time and space. It determines when a player arrives in a space. There are two elements we need to understand about timing.
"Having the run".
It's a two way process between the person with the ball and the person making the run. Far too often players with the ball won't see the run or a player won't make the run or make it at the wrong time.