A couple of seasons ago I was asked to take over an Under 16s team that the club said were underachieving – they wanted the team to get more success than they were having. So I went along to watch them.... MORE
Keep possession and position
I watched an interesting coaching session recently at a Premier League academy. It was based on the principles that Chinese super league club Dalian Yifang manager Rafa Benitez learnt when he was coaching in Spain. It is about position for possession and works on the defensive nature of possession, as well as the attacking angle.
In the words of Benitez himself: “It’s about having good positions to pass the ball, to keep the possession. Possession is very important, but at the same time the structure and the organisation of the team gives the balance, and you can attack even better if you are organised.”
The coaches I spoke to at the session were adamant that this is the way ahead, even at grassroots level, because it helps players understand the game.
Far from just passing between each other, the players were having to move and pop the ball into pockets created by the opposition moving to cover the advancing players. One thing I liked about this type of session is the learning angle for players.
Development is not just about skills and interaction with team-mates, it is also about understanding how and where to pass. A lot of the sessions I run in Soccer Coach Weekly are designed to give players an understanding of the game. So if player A moves out of position in attack to come deep and receive the ball, one of the midfielders must advance and fill the gap in attack he has left behind him.
Watching Chelsea take on Schalke in the Champions League the following night, I was able to watch and see in action the very session we had been working on. Chelsea had to probe and move to keep possession but their knowledge of the game meant that when they saw the gap open as a defender misread the situation, they could quickly attack that weakness.
Possession and position
Going back to Benitez, when he is called a defensive coach what that means is he can play a possession passing game. But he’ll also have players cover behind to stop counterattacks.
Playing a possession game high up the pitch in youth matches always leaves teams vulnerable to a quick counterattack because a ball over the top is so effective against a team that pushes high up the pitch. But if that same grassroots team has players dropping in and covering the attackers, then that will go a long way to stopping a team leaking goals.