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.




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