The Regista: How to control a football match - 2023 Advent Calendar Series

Celebrate Advent with excerpts from Scott Martin's top articles on Total Football Analysis. Head to or Scott's LinkedIn profile each day through December 24th for the next installment. 

Today's featured excerpt comes from the February 2021 magazine. It's called, "The Regista: How to control a football match."

Known for their sublime technical qualities and elegance possessed by few, Andrea Pirlo, Xabi Alonso, and Kroos captivated us from their deep-lying role. We want to move beyond the surface of these mesmerizing displays to better understand how these registas asserted themselves upon the match.

This tactical analysis examines three ways in which these legends controlled the game. The first two relate to the attacking tactics of the game, whereas the third looks at the defensive aspects of the role.

#1 – Setting the tempo

Registas tend to be among the most intelligent players on the pitch. They’ll use their football IQ and deeper position on the pitch to assess the vulnerability of the opposition’s structure and the readiness of their own team to attack. Continuously updating their mental image of the pitch allows them to keep tabs of their reference points (the ball, the opponent, teammates, and space) in an interconnected manner. These reference points help them assess their side’s phase of the attack.

To more clearly articulate the phases of the attack in relation to tempo, we’ll speak of them as preparing to attack the opponent, attacking the opponent, and attacking the goal. As a team is preparing to attack the opponent, you’ll often see the regista use their supreme technical qualities as a focal point in the buildup.

If the centerback moves into a central position, denying space for the regista outside of the opposition’s block, it’s the midfielder’s duty to locate space within the opposition’s defensive structure while simultaneously looking to create additional space either for his own long-range distribution or for his teammates to break through the press.

A positive first touch puts Pirlo in position to sell the defense on a pass to the wings. A gap emerges between Isco and Kroos, allowing Pirlo to split the two defenders and find his teammate, initiating the attack on the opponents and setting up Juventus with the direct attack to goal. His line-breaking pass is the cue to increase the attacking tempo and begin the move on Real Madrid’s goal.

Each of the three registas highlighted in the article was known for their exceptional passing ability, pulling off long-range passes out wide or behind the line. All three of them had a common MO as the team progressed up the field. In the early phases, passes tended to be short and secure, using their press resistance to help break the opposition’s high press and progress the ball to the middle third.

Once they beat the high press and the opposition settled into a middle block, registas then drew upon their specialty, long-range passes, especially of the diagonal variety.

#2 – Spacing the pitch

As mentioned, one of the top qualities of our registers is their exceptional technical ability. Watch any highlight reel of Pirlo, Alonso, or Kroos and you’ll see them effortlessly drive the ball 60 meters onto the foot of a teammate. To put that ability to use, their teammates have to take up an expansive attacking shape.

Registas use their press resistance to lead the buildup, keeping the ball secure, even while under duress. That’s the first job in helping the team space the pitch. Here we see Kroos helping Real Madrid navigate Barcelona’s counterpress before using a switch of play to break Barcelona’s press.

Press resistance to fend off the counterpress as a necessary quality, but so is the ability to combine that press resistance with an understanding of how to manipulate the opposition’s lines.

When our registas aren’t playing within the opposition’s structure to set up teammates to exploit open space, they look to use their pinpoint accuracy in long-range distributions. If they’re going up against a middle block, it’s easy enough to drift outside of the opposition’s lines to find the necessary time and space for long-range passes. But that can be tricky against a low block.

That means teams have to create space for the regista’s distribution. One of the ways teams can do that is to overload one area of the pitch, enticing the opposition to send more numbers and become unbalanced. Penetrating passes to deeper targets are another way to decrease the space between the midfield and defensive lines. In either instance, the objective is to make the opposition’s press more compact, which, in turn, creates a pocket of space for the regista to occupy and initiate his long-range passes. Real Madrid has done just that in the sequence, in this case, taking advantage of the large gap between the midfield and forward lines.

Once Alonso has the time and space to take a touch up field with the correct body orientation, he’s able to drive a pass into the box for Karim Benzema.


#3 – Role in rest defense

While registas are not typically known for their defensive prowess, they have a role to play.

First and foremost, they play a prominent role in the team’s rest defense. Since they attack from deeper positions, their very presence occupies a pivotal counterattacking space. With the registas protecting the backline, they allow the centerbacks to remain in deeper positions. The very presence of the regista is itself a defensive contribution.

In open attacks, the regista can work in tandem with his midfielders to track runners who are targeting the space between the lines. In most cases, you’ll see a regista paired with a ball-winning midfielder to account for the former’s poor defensive qualities. In the case of Alonso, he was equally skilled on the defensive side of the ball, giving his fellow midfielders more freedom in the attack.

Whether Xabi Alonso holding down the fort as a single #6 or the double pivots of Kroos and Casemiro or Pirlo and Gattuso, protecting the centerbacks is a primary responsibility. Fortunately, this duty is a perfect fit for their attacking tendencies. Distributing from deeper positions means the registas are always in positional balance.

That’s all for today. The original piece covers each of those sections in much greater detail. Relive the glory days of Xabi Alonso, Andrea Pirlo, and Toni Kroos, seeing how they impacted the game. Be sure to check it out, available exclusively on Total Football Analysis.

Here's the link to the article.

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Come back tomorrow, either on or my LinkedIn profile for the next installment of the Advent calendar.

Day 1 - Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite attackers

Day 2 - Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite midfielders

Day 3 - Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite defenders

Day 4 - Tactical Theory: The intelligent movements of elite goalkeeper

Day 5 - Superiorities-based training for possession dominant teams

Day 6 – Cues for progressive actions

Day 7 - Data Analysis: The art of overachieving

Day 8 - Data Analysis: The art of underachieving

Day 9 - The re-emergence of man-marking in a high press

Day 10 - The Regista: How to control a football match