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Passing Sequences & Movement Off The Ball

Sundays Academy session concentrated heavily on passing sequences & movement off the ball.  It was a nice session that developed well from the typical drills to offering players a bit more freedom & creativity to develop passing combinations & support play.  We used Barcelona as a prime example.  Their build up play can be patient then all of a sudden carve a team open.  Short passing through likes of Xavi or Iniesta then the through ball to Messi.

As always we filmed the session.  I was happy with everything up to my possession game.  The idea of the possession game was to take the idea of the passing short & keeping possession to a set number of passes before switching the ball to another grid.  I must admit I didn’t get the results from it that I intended but as coaches it is important to realise this & adapt.  Either by making a change to the game or simply bin the idea!  Never continually force the players to do something that is not achieving what you have set out to do.  I quickly assessed this & knew it was time to switch the session.  My Academy assistant had the next stage of the session set up & transferred the players over.

Warm up…

Control Game With Keepers

Control Game With Keepers

Emphasis

Passing, control / first touch, communication & catching for goalkeeper.

Set-Up

Players spread out around half a pitch in a circle.  All players on the outside have a ball.  One outfield player works inside the circle without a ball & with a goalkeeper.

Objectives

In turn outfield players drive the ball in toward the middle player.  They must control for the keeper to combine & catch.  For each successful touch by the outfield player & catch by the keeper they receive a point.

Keeper should throw the ball back to the server.

Progressions

  1. Rotate outfield player in centre.
  2. Operate as a competition.
  3. Set a time limit.
  4. Vary the service.
  5. Limit the outfield player in the centre to one touch.
  6. Condition what part of the body they must use.
  7. Get the inside player to work the keeper by not offering them ‘presents’.  Make them work to catch the ball.

Coaching

  • Quality passing from servers.
  • Good first touch.
  • Communication.
  • Catching technique.
  • Distribution.

Again we operated with a few variations.  We started with the player in the middle taking turn to rotate with outside player while juggling the ball.  This developed to adding 2 players to take it in turn to remain in the middle of the circle to combine together.  This is ideal to work with an outfield player & goalkeeper.

The Technical Bit…

We then got players to work in groups of 3 with 2 balls.  This was to get their footwork & passing going to a nice high tempo.  Nice session to improve peripheral vision & of course when we talk about that the player that springs to mind is Paul Scholes.  Did you know he used to do a warm up with his eyes before every match?!

The Paul Scholes Passing Session

The Paul Scholes Passing Session

Emphasis

Paul Scholes of Manchester United is renowned for his vision.  His ability of passing the ball over 40 yards at ease is superb to watch.  What makes Paul Scholes a world class player is his vision.

This session is perfect to improve your players’ peripheral vision.  This is a part of vision that occurs outside the very centre of gaze.

Set-Up

3 players stand in a triangle.  The player at the top of the triangle stands in between the 2 players with the ball.

You can use cones if necessary.

Objectives

The players with a ball, in turn, pass to the target.  They must pass the ball across the targets body so they pass back with the inside of their foot.

The target player works both feet but should stand with open body looking straight down the middle of the facing players.  They should look to play one touch & increase the speed of play.

The player at the top of the triangle works for 30 seconds – 1 minute then changes.

Progressions

  1. Instead of letting the ball come across your body & passing with the inside of your foot, vary to pass near side & with the outside of your foot.
  2. Increase / decrease distance between players.

Coaching

  • Stand open body.
  • Weight & accuracy of pass.
  • First touch.
  • Peripheral vision.
  • Communication & understanding.

This then led in nicely to our passing drill.  When you watch the video you will see I had 2 grids set up to suit my group size.  This also formed the basis for my development in the Barca Passing Sequence before using the set up for the final possession game.  Use your set up wisely.  No waiting about for players & it doesn’t put you under pressure either!

Passing Drill

Passing Drill

Emphasis

Pass, move & support session.

Set-Up

20 x 20 yard grid with 2 players & one ball at one corner & then another player at each corner.

Objectives

Player passes to next corner & follows their pass for lay off & return the pass, one-two.

Progressions

  1. Change of direction to use other foot.
  2. Skip out the return pass & play direct to the next corner, i.e. play ‘give & go’.  (See diagram.)

Coaching

  • Good passing.
  • First touch & lay off.
  • Movement, don’t wait on pass.
  • Timing & weight of pass.
  • Communication.

This is what I call my boring passing drill.  It simply was to get the players used to playing the ball…also checking before receiving & some basic combinations like ’1-2′s’ & ‘give-&-gos’.  This developed on to the next development that allowed the players a bit more freedom.

Barca Passing Sequence

Barca Passing Sequence

Emphasis

Emphasis is based on pass & move that the great Barcelona demonstrate with the likes of Iniesta, Xavi & Messi.  Looking for the short pass, short pass then killer through ball.

Set-Up

Set up as per diagram, 2 cones facing each other approx 20 yards apart.  Have a supply of balls at either end.

Objectives

First passing sequence with the red players;

  • Player A makes the first pass to player B who has checked & moved away.
  • Player B then lays the ball off to player C.
  • Player A then over laps player B to receive the pass in space from player C.
  • Player A then passes to player D.
  • Player D operates the same sequence but as a mirror image.

Second passing sequence with the yellow players;

  • Player A makes the first pass to player B who has checked & moved away.  Player A then follows their pass.
  • Player B then lays the ball off to player C.
  • Player B then over laps player C to receive the pass in space from player A.
  • Player B then passes to player D.
  • Player D operates the same sequence but as a mirror image.

Progressions

  1. Vary distance & technique of pass.
  2. Look at creating different passing movements.
  3. Finish with a shot at goal.

Coaching

  • Communication & understanding.  Player should shout, ‘set’.
  • Players should use 1 or 2 touches only & use both feet.
  • Play ‘side on’.
  • Movement on / off ball.
  • Speed of play.
  • Quality passing, weight & accuracy.

Really happy with the session & players find it easy to identify by using pro players / teams to explain.  How many times do you see Xavi, Iniesta & Messi combine like this?  To finish of my part of the academy session I took everything that we had worked with into a possession game focusing on switching the ball.

The Tactical Bit…

Break Out Game

Break Out Game

Emphasis

Possession game encouraging movement off the ball & support play.

Set-Up

Session takes place in a 50 x 20 yard area.  3 sections are divided inside this area.  First section is 20 x 20, second section is 10 x 20 & third section is 20 x 20.

Objectives

Play takes place in the first section with a 5 v 2 possession game.  After set number of passes have been reached the ball should be passed into section 2 for a team mate to run onto.

They then pass & link up in section 3 to continue the possession game of 5 v 2.

For each successful attack the attackers receive a goal.  If the defenders should win possession they receive a goal for 3 consecutive passes.

Progressions

  1. Rotate players roles.
  2. 1 or 2 touch passing.
  3. Ball must be chipped into area 2.
  4. Extra players introduced.
  5. Area made smaller to demand better control & movement.

Coaching

  • Work rate on / off ball.
  • Quality passing.
  • Look for space.
  • Width & support.
  • Look to switch.
  • Communication & understanding.

With being a player short I operated 4 v 2 in each end zone.  Although this offered no real incentive for the defending team.  I adapted the game so we had 3 teams, i.e. 3 teams of 4 players.  The focus was still on 4 v 2 in each end zone.  If the orange team kept the ball for 5 passes in their zone they would transfer the ball to the yellow team in the other end zone to do the same.  If the 2 players from the blue team won the ball from the yellows the other 2 blue players would switch from the other end zone to join them while 2 yellow players would switch grids, i.e. it was the yellow team trying to win the ball back as their punishment while the blue team tried to complete 5 passes before combining with the orange team.

The players found this quite confusing & as I was not getting the results I wanted from the game I decided to finish this part of the session early.  As coaches never be afraid to change or move on.  Don’t force players to continually do something that no one is benefiting from!  My Academy assistant was then ready to transfer the players over to work on playing through the midfield.  We then finished with some free play.

Coaches, always adapt.  My diagrams above will show a certain amount of players but if you don’t have enough – adapt!  Adjust the size of the pitch too.  Insure your players enjoy the training but demand a lot of hard work from them at the same time.

Let me know how you get on if you use with your own team.  Always feel free to re-post & share as long as you link back to my blog.

Want more info?  You can access over 450 of my session plans by clicking here!  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter or You Tube

Barca – Total Football

Last Mondays El Classico was so one sided it was embarrassing.  Jose Mourinho and his multimillion ego driven squad simply didn’t deserve to be on the same pitch as the slick Barca side.  4 years ago I had the pleasure of spending a week with FC Barcelona and I learnt back then the importance that they put into developing youth (you can read my report by clicking here).  So how many players came through the Academy that represented Barca on Monday?  What is the organisation and structure to their Academy and how does this affect their approach to games?  Read on…

My philosophy and coaching is all about developing young players that play with creativity and flair.  I encourage them to run at opponents and beat them with skill.  I also concentrate heavily on possession games.  I always use Barca as a great example of a team full of players that play with freedom, creativity and flair but at the same time are very disciplined.  When you watch Barcelona you will see triangles all over the pitch.  The player on the ball always has options.  They are such an exciting team to watch.

Against Real Madrid every player knew each other’s game.  It wasn’t a simple case of Barca having the best players in the world.  Every player instinctively knew where every other player was on the pitch at all times.  Out of Barcelona’s 14 players involved against Real Madrid only 4 where not developed through the Academy (Abidal, Alves, Keita and David Villa).  This compared to Real Madrid only producing Casillas with the remainder being assembled to the tune of nearly $500 million!

While Real and a host of other top European Clubs spend millions on players hoping to buy success Barca continue to develop their own home-grown players.  Messi, Iniesta and Xavi all came through the Barca Academy and cost nothing.  Barcelona’s youth Academy, which in Spanish goes by the name of ‘La Cantera’, meaning the quarry.

Other players to come through the Academy include Cesc Fabregas, who Arsenal took away at the age of 16,  Mikel Arteta from Everton and Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.  Barca manager, Pep Guardiola, also came through the Academy.  In his first season as manager he helped Barcelona win every competition they competed in, 6 in all, including the Spanish League title, World Club Cup and the Champions League against Manchester United.

Against United in the Champions League final, 7 of Barca’s starting line up were all produced from the Academy.  Goalkeeper Valdes, defenders Puyol and Pique, midfielders Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta and forward Messi.

When I visited Barcelona I loved the fact that the training complex was beside the Camp Nou.  The club has a boarding house that accommodates the older boys from the Academy.  Boys from the age of 13 or 14 that live outside the city are housed here so they don’t have to worry about travelling to and from training.  Typically they will train for 6-8 hours per week along with playing a game.  The club insures they also develop their lifestyle and attitudes along with their football education, preaching the importance of healthy eating and early nights.

The boys live, sleep and eat together.  Each morning they are bussed to the best local schools.  Barcelona stresses the importance of finishing their education to the boys.  They return at 2pm for lunch and siesta, with training early evening.  They do their homework in a library with access to private tutors and have a games room with table football, pool and PlayStations.

The boys have 3 objectives when playing matches.  First, they must be the more sporting team, committing fewer fouls and being less aggressive.  Then they must try to win by playing very well, more creatively than the opposition, with attacking football.  Finally they need to win on the scoreboard.

Reina and Arteta were great friends at the Academy.  Although Arteta suffered from homesickness and cried himself to sleep many times.  Iniesta also had problems with homesickness after moving from central Spain to Barcelona at the age of 12.   Saying goodbye to his parents at the end of each weekend would become a mini-drama.  Although Iniesta only had to look out and see the Camp Nou to remind himself of his goal to play there.

Messi arrived at Barcelona from Argentina with his family at the age of 12.  He had a growth deformity and no club in Argentina would pay for the drugs he needed to treat it.  It is no surprise that Barcelona took on Messi unlike in England, where size, strength and the ability to throw your weight around is highly prized.

The model of Barcelona is that 50% of their team should be from the Academy, 35% should be the best players from Spain or Europe and then 15% from the top ten players in the world.  Although the Barcelona Academy is so successful it is also producing players who are among the top ten in the world.

The Academy has 12 boys’ teams.  In the Academy each squad has 2 coaches and there are 23 or 24 players in each group.  At least half of the coaches have a UEFA Pro licence.  The club provides the budget, around 6 million Euros per year, and is fully responsible for the academy facilities and training programme.

The qualities that Barcelona look for in a young player is pace, technique and someone who looks like a player.  The speed of decision-making, the way he approaches the game, the vision to pick off a long pass – in other words, the mental qualities to go with the technical ability.  The emphasis is on speed.  When this speed is combined with top-quality technique, then they believe they have the ingredients.

From the age of 7 to 15 everything is about working with the football at the Barcelona Academy.  With the very small boys, the most important thing is to control the ball very well, to have the ability to run with the ball and to think very quickly and execute their passes very well.  They use the same playing system as the first team, so all the youth teams play 4-3-3 formation.  The development teams have to play attacking, attractive football.  Barcelona believe if they do everything well, the winning comes as a consequence.

They also like to keep an open mind and expose players to different playing roles as part of their education.  They work intensely on the individual skill, but also on group play, including each line of the team.  They train the Barca way which involves fast movement of the ball, player mobility, use of width, and a lot of fast, effective finishing.  They watch the passing movements of the first team as they provide the role model of the youth teams.

Another factor which helps continue the development of young players is that Barcelona have a ‘B’ team.  They play in the lower Spanish League. This helps the club continue to develop young players between the ages of 18 and 21 in a controlled environment.  In England the FA prevent Premier League clubs from having feeder teams in other domestic leagues.

The Barcelona model is based on a number of people providing specialist skills and all working in the same direction, with the same objective: to prepare players for the first team.

Based on last Mondays El Classico, the people behind Barcelona’s youth Academy are certainly working in the same direction.

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