In the low-scoring game of football, minute factors, like the timing of a pass, shot or dribble, can determine results. Mastered by the great Barcelona midfield of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, ‘la pausa’ is one of the most under-appreciated concepts in football. As the name suggests, la pausa refers to a pause or break whilst you’re in possession. Rather than instantly playing a pass, taking a shot, or taking on an opponent, a player utilising la pausa waits for the landscape of the play to change before attempting an action. This may be done to draw a defender out of a compact block in order to create space that can be exploited, or to wait for a teammate to run into a dangerous position.
As well as literally pausing with the ball at your feet, the concept of la pausa, and waiting for a more optimum landscape of play before attempting an action, can be utilised when the ball is rolling, as will be illustrated in this article.
The latest round of Liga MX matches saw three pivotal moments where goals came as a result of excellent timing of actions. All three of these examples come from superb Mexican players.
The timing of the pass- Elías Hernández
The most obvious aspect of football where timing is significant is passing. Every professional footballer has (or should have) the technical ability to execute short to medium length ground passes. But the decision of when to pass can make the difference between keeping and losing the ball, and can determine whether or not a chance is created.
One of the most consistent creators in Liga MX is Elías Hernández, and the new Cruz Azul addition continued his excellent start with La Máquina as he set-up his side’s winning goal versus Tigres on Saturday.
On a Cruz Azul counter, Elías Hernández found himself isolated, with a difficult dribbling challenge to create a shooting opportunity or chance to play in Martín Cauterrucio. Perhaps factoring in that dribbling isn’t the strongest part of his game, Elías cuts the ball back, pausing the counter. This allows the forward-running Roberto Alvarado to join the attack.
Elías waits until Alvarado is alongside him, before releasing a simple, but superb, through ball into the path of the former Necaxa winger. Through on goal, Alvarado needs just one touch before he finishes past Nahuel Guzmán, to win the game for Cruz Azul. The pass, which made the chance for Alvarado, required little technical excellence from Elías, but the decision making displayed the extra level of creativity and intelligence that Hernández has.
The timing of the shot- Dieter Villalpando
Amongst the excitement of goals from young Mexicans Roberto Alvarado, Diego Lainez and Alexis Vega, a brilliant game-winning strike from Dieter Villalpando went under the radar. Necaxa were heading for a decent point, considering the first-half red card for Felipe Gallegos, against Lobos BUAP, when outstanding young Chilean Víctor Dávila sent Villalpando through on goal in the last minute of additional time.
Dieter faced a single covering defender blocking his route to a one v one, and as Villalpando enters the box, it looks like he’s about to attempt a shot at goal. This turns out to be a fake shot, and the former Chiapas midfielder allows the ball to run closer to the goal. The fake shot has put the defender on the back foot, just trying to block the path between the ball and goal, rather than stepping forward in an attempt to win possession from Villalpando. This allows Dieter to get closer to goal before shooting.
With Villalpando closer to goal, his chances of scoring increase. Also helping Dieter’s scoring chance is the positioning of Antonio Rodríguez. Tono has now had to cover his near post, which leaves a clear gap at his far post. Villalpando shoots at this moment, between the legs of the opposing defender, to avoid a block and make it more difficult for Rodríguez to see, and therefore react to, the shot. Dieter’s effort, which like Elías’ pass didn’t require outstanding technical ability, finds the back of the net thanks to his decision making, his pause, and wins three points for Necaxa.
The timing of the dribble- Diego Lainez
Diego Lainez got the start his performances have warranted on Saturday, and he didn’t disappoint, scoring twice as América cruised past Pachuca. Lainez’s first goal was an eye-catching solo effort, and the timing of his attempt to beat Pachuca left-back Emmanuel García was pivotal.
The positioning of Pachuca’s defence here is inviting Lainez to cut inside and shoot with his left foot, which he could have done at this moment. But the position of recovering defender Erick Aguirre could have proven problematic for Lainez and may have resulted in the chance disappearing. Also, if he were to get a shot away, it would have likely come from just inside the box.
Diego decided to fake the cut inside, letting the ball roll closer to the goal, in very similar fashion to what Dieter Villalpando did against Lobos, before cutting inside. Helped by the lack of defensive work and awareness from Aguirre, Lainez attacks the space inside of García with pace, and finds the back of the net thanks to some help from a deflection off García as he desperately tried to block the shot. Lainez’s first Liga MX goal was a remarkable one, thanks to the moment that the 18-year-old decided to cut inside and use his excellent dribbling ability to attack the space in Pachuca’s box.
In all of these examples, it’s impossible to say if the players foresaw the impact of their pause, or whether they simply acted in the moment and happened to make pivotal decisions. What can be said is that the timing of Elías’ pass, Dieter’s shot and Diego’s dribble were decisive in creating the three important goals. A vital element of intelligent play, the very best footballers have the ability to use la pausa to optimise the game situation for their side and ensure that the action they choose will have the best chance of being successful. It’s promising to see Mexican players seemingly display knowledge of this concept, and hopefully la pausa is something that’s being taught in academies across the country.