The need to be able to play ball around at the back as well as pressure the opposition and play quickly
What do we mean controlling by tempo? Controlling the speed the ball is moved around at and choosing the timing of an attack. A team may be forced to retreat but they still have control of the ball and therefore can regain control of the tempo. To control the tempo a team must be able to keep the ball when they have it and slow the game down. How does a team do this? A team can only keep possession, and have the option of slowing the tempo, if they are able to play the ball around at the back. This is where the space is.
Whilst teams can maintain possession further forward, it is more likely to break down because of the increased pressure on the player with the ball. They may have the ball but they do not fully control the tempo. They need to go back when under pressure to maintain control.
Without this ability a team may be able to raise the tempo, use one touch passing when they have the ball or pressure the opposition when they don't. But they will not be able to slow the game down (lower the tempo) as they do not control the ball. As mentioned above, you have more influence over tempo when you have the ball.
The tactic of playing the ball around at the back to "suck" the opposition in and create space further forward, or switching the ball at the back to find space is discussed elsewhere. Both of these tactics may form part of a team controlling the tempo as they keep possession. However, playing the ball around at the back also needs to be viewed as a means of slowing a game down. The team controls time, it allows the players with the ball to look for free players. They can play with their head up so seeing space and runs; it tires the opposition (teams work harder when they are defending).
Manchester United have not lost a Premiership game having scored first since November 2001 (this section was written in September 2004). Part of this success, and their success in Europe, is down to their ability to keep possession and hence control tempo.
The Euro Championship winning team Greece were excellent at keeping the ball. They maintained possession and slowed the tempo down by winning free kicks, throw-ins, etc. as well as playing around at the back. If a team controls the tempo they can slow the game down and wait for a chance to exploit space quickly.
Teams need to practice keeping possession at the back. The keeper needs to be used alongside often a centre midfield player who drops back to bounce the ball (see section on bouncing the ball) and link play.
A good passing and moving side will prefer a high tempo game. Lesser teams often rely heavily on set plays and breaking up the momentum, slowing the tempo of a game.
The defence need to be able to play the ball around.
Controlling the speed and space attacked often relies on the ball going back.