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: