Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice


Winning… without the ball – a Spanish malaise

David ClarkeBy David Clarke
After Spain had been held 1-1 in Paris against France in last October’s Brazil World Cup qualifying game the Spanish newspaper El Mundo ran this : “Without the ball problems arrive.”

Vicente del Bosque had played Sergio Busquets at centre back rather than in his usual place alongside Xabi Alonso in a holding midfield duo.

Without this midfield block France intercepted passes and broke into large spaces in midfield, causing lots of problems for Del Bosque’s team.

“We controlled the game well in the first half,” he told the post-match news conference.

“Afterwards we opened up, I don’t know if it was because we were tired. When it became an end-to-end game it was bad for us.”
The return game in Spain next March looks a little more daunting after Spain showed a rare vulnerability by losing control of possession and the game to draw 1-1 – they couldn’t win without the ball.

Winning without the ball is a vital part of a successful team both at international level and at youth level.

Young players should always be coached so they move before the ball is played. This session offers a number of additional coaching points within its structure and you can halt the session at any point to show players options and ideas.

How to set it up:

  • You need balls, bibs and cones.

  • Mark out an area measuring 40×30 yards.

  • In each corner, you need a square measuring 10×10 yards.

  • The session will work with six, nine or 12 players, divided into three teams – the example shown uses nine.

  • There are two balls on the pitch at any one time.

Getting started:

  • Two teams start with a ball. Each exchanges passes around the area, with the aim of scoring points. This is done when players run into the corner squares to receive the ball.

  • After doing this, they run out of the area with the ball and move on to another area.

  • The team without a ball must attempt to win possession from either of the other teams.

  • After 10 minutes, progress the session by stating that players cannot go into a square that is already occupied by a player from another team.

  • Play for an additional 10 minutes. The winning team is the one that has scored the most points by effectively making passes to team mates in scoring areas.

  • To advance the task further, make one of the teams defend. Rotate teams regularly so each has a go at blocking scoring runs as well as making them.

Why this works:

The focus should be on the team completing sequences that involve running without the ball, accurate passing, good weight on the pass and good control at the end of the sequence.

Look for players to mix short passes with longer balls that switch areas of play and search out team mates running into space.

This game works because the player in possession will always have a choice of two passing options providing his team mates are looking to attack space. Dummy runs and overlaps should be encouraged also.

These are all off-the-ball runs that mimic match play and, given the small playing area, you will have plenty of opportunities to freeze play and recommend to players where the more efficient passes might have gone.



Greedy players limit the final third

David Clarke

By David Clarke

When a player like Bixente Lizarazu talks, you listen. After all, he can lay claim to one of the most impressive CVs of any French footballer – a World Cup winner with France in 1998 and European Championships winner two years later, he has also clinched numerous honours at club level with German giants Bayern Munich.

I was listening to him talking about his time at Bordeaux playing with Zinedine Zidane. That was where they first built up the understanding they were to use with such devastating effect at international level.

I think you’ll be interested to hear what he had to say:

“I played with Zidane, and Christophe Dugarry too! That’s where our triangular interplay first began, though that period didn’t last for long as Zizou went off to Juventus and Duga to AC Milan. “But we’d worked on those moves so often that every time we lined up together for France the magic was still there. It was like I had a luminous presence by my side.

“I’d give them the ball and they’d give it back to me as carefully as if they were handing me a flower. And that isn’t easy!

“Sometimes you’ll pass to a player and you know that he’ll never give you the ball back. As a result you stop making as many runs and the team’s play stagnates.”

It is the final sentence I found most interesting. If an international player stops running off the ball because he feels he won’t get it back, how will a young player react to the same situation?

Last weekend a coach friend of mine asked me to come and watch his team play in a friendly. They’ve been losing heavily and not scoring many goals, and he hadn’t been able to understand why. I watched his team play and they did everything right – quick passing into the opposition half and good support.

But once they got into the final third whoever got the ball tried to jink and weave their way through alone. This was often despite having players over in good supporting positions. As the match wore on the team got hit on the break as players began to stop running – and Lizarazu’s words came back to me.

They stopped running because they had passed the ball and knew they wouldn’t get it back. The problem was obvious to me but it wasn’t until I pointed it out to the coach that he got it.

Now he needs to run a few weeks of training working on passing and movement in the final third of the pitch. Simple one- or two-touch games will be hugely influential to his team because players will be forced to see what’s around them rather than insisting on going it alone.

After all, it is a team game.

Watch the highlights of the 1998 World Cup Final between France and Brazil to see some fantastic play in the final third with Lizarazu, Dugarry and Zidane:



Best goal of the Euros so far?

The best and the worst (so far)

We’re almost at the half way point of Euro 2008 and as my good friend Sian would say, I’m loving it. Time then for a quick half-way-stage pub-list.

Match of the tournament (so far)

Got to be Turkey 3 Czech Republic 2 for sheer drama, and for Petr Cech dropping a clanger right on the toe of Turkish player Nihat to score the equaliser.

Other candidates include Croatia 2 Germany 1 for the Croats spirit, Slaven Bilic entertaining us all from the touchline, and for the guilty schadenfreude of any German defeat (with apologies to our German readers).

Team of the tournament (so far)

The Netherlands – might have been tempted to protect their early leads against the mighty Italy and France, but where’s the fun in that?

Players of the tournament (so far)

In no particular order:

Deco, Portugal – he has it all – he can pass anywhere, he has great vision, he can tackle, he can dribble, he can score, and he runs the games he plays in. However, it will be interesting to see how he and Portugal cope with tougher midfield opponents against Germany in the quarter-final.

Andrea Pirlo, Italy – has many of the same attributes as Deco. If he had a better striker to aim for than Luca Toni, Italy might not have made such heavy weather of their first two games.

David Villa, Spain – you get the feeling he won’t miss if he gets half a chance. Along with the god-like genius of Fernando Torres, the best strike partnership in the world at the moment.

Wayne Rooney – only joking, couldn’t resist.

Most irritating player (so far)

Cristiano Ronaldo – just because.

Referee of the tournament (so far)

Howard Webb, for taking a stand against outright cheating and awarding a penalty to Austria for holding in the penalty area in their match against Poland. At last someone has the guts to uphold the laws of the game.

Worst prediction of the tournament

Dwyer Scullion, predicting that Italy couldn’t win the tournament with their style of play. Since then, they’ve had countless shots and headers on target and if they had a more potent striker than Toni, they might well have scored more goals than the Dutch by now.

Feel free to agree, contradict, ridicule etc. I’ll have another stab at this completely futile exercise after the final.

Dwyer Scullion, Publisher, Better Soccer Coaching




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