Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Decisions for defenders

Watching the positioning of Ashley Cole for Chelsea in their match at Newcastle United was a timely reminder that defenders positions can block goal bound shots. I think my U10s defender must have been watching because he did exactly the same thing in training the next day.

How vital that clearance by Cole was will not be known until the end of the season, but it certainly helped the team. Heading the ball off the line is a skill in itself, especially if the ball has been struck hard.

Knowing when to move to the line is important because things like offside come into play and players can get in the way of goalkeepers. However it is worth talking to your defenders about when and where to position themselves during defensive moves.

In the same match the Chelsea defender Alex plays a backpass which goes past his goalkeeper Petr Cech giving Andy Carroll a simple sidefoot into the empty net – in this case that was poor decision making by Alex. He had time to clear and should have been able to look up and see the goalkeeper coming.

You can see the highlights of the game by clicking on the link below:

Highlights of Newcastle 1-1 Chelsea

Reactive soccer can stifle stronger opponents

dave clarkeNext week we play the team at the top of the table. Played 10, won 10, goals for 65, goals against 2. So what do we do?

Anyone in my situation can look at the example of Rangers in the Champions League this season and how their manager Walter Smith planned to contain teams like Manchester United.

Smith’s tactics back up the growing feeling that five-man defences can be useful at stifling stronger opponents and reactive counter attacking can win the game.

Rangers’ plan for achieving in the Champions League was rooted in a back five which has been set up primarily to contain. At its centre is the experienced and commanding David Weir. They faced a big task in needing to win against Manchester United or go out.

What they couldn’t do was let United score early making it much harder to win – manager Walter Smith thought his own brand of reactive soccer could possibly give the team a 1-0 win.

The other factor in the game was that United didn’t really need to win it, and so were hardly going gung ho in their search for goals. Sir Alex Ferguson went for a 4-4-2 and the relaunch of Wayne Rooney on the back of it.

The Rangers players had their jobs marked out, wide midfielders picked up full-backs, central midfielders picked up central midfielders, full-backs tracked wingers and two centre-backs had a man each, with a spare man at the back.

Manchester United struggled to break down the system and indeed it was a full-back that lured Rangers into giving away the crucial penalty, and Rooney converted from the spot.

So perhaps next week I will set my team up to play this way, and get my team to play reactive soccer.

Watch the highlights of Rangers v Manchester United below:


You should show players how a skill works
November 22, 2010, 4:48 pm
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dave clarkeSome players respond to learning skills better than others. Some players will stop before they have even attempted the skill and say they can’t do it. One of the ways I put the confidence in my players to learn a skill is to do it myself in front of them.

This is easy when it’s an inside or outside turn or a single stepover but try some of the skills you see the academy teams doing or the professional players and it becomes much more difficult.

However you can practice yourself in the garden at home so when you go to training you can show the kids how it’s done. A friend of mine coaches rugby and he was showing a skill to a young team when he fell flat on his face – but up he got and the kids thought it was great. The players didn’t mind it if they see you fail because they realize it doesn’t matter if they then fail to do it. Get up and do it again.

There are however some skills I wouldn’t try. Watch this video of Arsenal’s young player Jay Emmanuel-Thomas use a fabulous bit of skill to get past defenders and score a goal. I can’t see myself showing the players this one:

Shutting down a team’s options

I picked up a good defending tip from an English Premier League in November when Birmingham City took on the might of Manchester City.

When I get my teams to defend an opposition goal kick I get them to leave one of the full backs ‘open’ so the goalkeeper has an easy option to pass to them. In that way my team can control the play better by closing down that player’s options forcing them into speculative kicks down the pitch.

If the kicks come from the goalkeeper they usually have more height and power and are harder to defend against.

However in the Premier League the opposite occurred. Manchester City’s goalkeeper JOe Hart likes to pass to the full backs or centrebacks and the team builds up from there. The Birmingham City manager Alex McCleish got his team to cut off the routes to the defenders meaning Hart had to launch the ball to the forwards.

But with a forward line of Carlos Tevez, David Silva, James Milner and Adam Johnson the Birmingham players easily won the headers and Manchester City were very unsuccessful from goalkicks.

So as a coach you often have to size up the opposition to see your options when launching balls forward.

Do you use videos in your coaching?

Recently at my home ground we had a problem with a parent who was videoing the game for the players to watch later in the week so they could point out where they were going wrong. A kind of view and review. Unfortunately he set up his tripod and his camera without asking permission from our club.

The chairman of our club came out and made the guy put all his stuff away and said he couldn’t allow the video to be taken without prior warning . He would have had to ask the parents of our players for their permission to allow it to happen.

Having a video of games would be extremely helpful in showing players where and how they could have moved and to show them the best positions they could take up.

Former Chelsea player Gus Poyet now manager of English League One team Brighton and Hove Albion recently said that he was looking forward to the opening of the new state-of-the-art stadium. He says he only has a portacabin to view and review the videos of his games.

It just goes to show that videos of games can be really useful in helping teams to watch and correct things that happen on the pitch.

I’m interested to know if any youth teams actually use videos of games to view and review.

How QPR’s fast central defender saves the team

Twice my team broke clear of the defence at the weekend and twice a fast defender caught up and dispossed my attacker before he could shoot. Fast defenders are priceless in youth soccer, speed is something you cannot ignore when choosing the positions of your players in matches.

I was reminded of the Portsmouth v QPR game last month in the English Championship when Portsmouth should have taken all three points.

When the speedy John Utaka broke free at the end of the game the QPR fans must have been thinking that it was all over. 1-0 down in the 87th minute QPR’s unbeaten run was about to come to an end.

In an entertaining game the QPR defence were a man down after the dismissal of Matthew Connolly who conceded the penalty which had put Portsmouth ahead. Neil Warnock the QPR manager had thrown on all three substitutes in an attempt to save the game – the team had to keep their defensive shape though because Portsmouth were quick on the break.

On this occasion the defence was undone by a through ball from Liam Lawrence. Utaka ran past a turning Kyle Walker, a young defender onloan from Tottenham HOtspur. But Walker turned and accelerated, catching a surprised Utaka, and won the ball off the striker then played a lovely pass to a midfielder up the pitch.

It was a brilliant bit of defending and one which changed the game because QPR scored a late, late penalty to draw the game. Without that fantastic defensive run QPR would have tasted their first defeat of the season. Warnock’s team has been outstanding in defence with 10 clean sheets already this season and Walker is one of the reasons for that.

Scoring direct from a corner

Letting in goals direct from corners is one of the frustrations of being a coach. However watch your player score one and you get a great feeling and your players love it.

When coaches talk about having fun in matches then try scoring a goal from a corner because I’ve never seen my players laugh so much as when they score from corners.

Did you mean to score? oh yes coach, of course I did!

Okay so your players are not planning to score directly from the corner but they can make it hard for the goalkeeper by dropping the ball right on top of him on the goal line. It’s a hard ball to deliver but if you have a player who can do it get them to try it out in your next match.

It’s a lofted kick, so your players is going to have to kick below the middle of the ball and lean back to get height. If you have a tall attacker get them to stand near the goalkeeper and try to head it into the net.

This can cause mayhem in the penalty area and the chances of the ball dropping into the net are quite high.

Watch the way the ball is played at this corner and how the technique used puts a ball onto the goalkeeper that is very difficult to save.

And watch Macedonia score direct from a corner against Sven’s England:

Even the professionals make mistakes

dave clarkeWatching Leeds United play Cardiff City in the English Championship last month what stood out was the mix up between the sons of two Manchester United greats managed between them to gift a goal to Cardiff.

The sons of Peter Schmeichel and Steve Bruce both play for Leeds. Kasper Schmeichel in goal and Alex Bruce at centre-back much like their fathers. Between they they let the Cardiff centre forward Jay Boothroyd take the ball when the two Leeds players should between them have easily cleared it – no communication and yet they played together in the changing rooms at Old Trafford while waiting for their dads – you can see a clip of them playing together aged 6 below.

But there are always mistakes during the course of a season in every division in every league. I’m sure you see them all the time in youth matches – it’s something that happens.

So next time your players make a mistake don’t let them dwell on it and don’t dwell on it your self because someone somewhere will be making a mistake too.

And the mistakes by their fathers in this clip below:

The importance of formations and covering players

dave clarkeManchester City in the English Premier League have bought some good players for a lot of money. But they haven’t really been much more successful than a lot of the teams that have spent less. One of the reasons is the use of players in the formations Roberto Mancini puts out.

His latest tactic of using a midfield trio of Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and Yaya Touré, I found it strange that Toure had the task of linking with the forwards.

At Barcelona Toure was known as a holding player.

Barcelona use tactics very well. Manager Pep Guardiola often plays with both full-backs pushed high, a risky strategy necessitated by how frequently they come up against sides who sit deep against them. With width on both sides they can switch the play quickly from one flank to the other, and turn defences.

In this formation they need cover in case the opponent breaks, which is where Toure excelled and now Sergio Busquets sits in, becoming in effect a third centre-back.

This is very similar to the diamond formation used at Chelsea when Mikel John Obi would sit back as a third centre-back.

When using formations in youth matches it is often the coaches that think about how to cover when employing an attacking formation that are the most successful. Cover by getting a midfielder to drop into the space left by attacking defenders can be the key to winning matches.

Of course they are not a third centre-back often they will have to hold up counter-attacks on their own but a well positioned player will make a huge difference in these matches.

Mentioning Barcelona and wing play with covering defenders cannot pass without a word about Theo Walcott and the Barcelona-Arsenal game in the Champions League last season. With Arsenal 2-0 down Arsene Wenger changed tactics and sent on his wing commander Walcott. Watch the clip below of how Walcott changed the game by stealing the wings from Barcelona. Great tactics.

Clever positioning makes Gareth Bale predictable

davidscwnewAfter his hat-trick against Inter Milan in the San Siro, Tottenham Hotspur’s Gareth Bale has been the name on everyone’s lips. I’m sure Sir Alex Ferguson has noticed and I’m sure he had a wry chuckle to himself when he watched his team cleverly nullify Bale’s threat.

I remember some years ago when Manchester United were playing Chelsea the team forced Chelsea to play the ball through Michael Duberry by clever positioning of their midfielders. United won 1-0 after a mistake by Duberry.

At the end of last month when Gareth Bale was threatening the goal at Old Trafford in the second half the United manager introduced Paul Scholes to cut down space in midfield and got Wes Brown to show the Spurs star inside into the middle where there was no where to go.

A game that had been much more open, with the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Luka Modric, Berbatov and Nani enjoying the space between the backlines and front became tighter and that left Bale, alone to pose a real threat on the counter-attack. Brown, introduced as United tightened, had clear orders to make play predictable for the United players by showing Bale infield, blocking his sprint on the outside.

Working on positioning with your players can make play predictable so your team can deal with the threat the opposition poses.

Watch the clip below of Bale’s hat-trick against Inter Milan:


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