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Where and When to Penetrate

By Sean Pearson

Area: 25 x 35 yards
Time: 15mins
Players: 5v5+1

Objective:
• To understand where to penetrate according to spaces
• To understand how to penetrate depending on where you are on the field

Set Up:
All that is needed is 4 cones to mark out the corners of the rectangle area. The area is wider than it is in length. On each side of the field there are 3 balls. The aim is to get the three balls behind your line across to the opposition’s side of the field. The team that is able to get all six balls on their opponent’s side wins.

Execution:
Overload the team in possession by adding a neutral to make it 6v5, this makes it easier to penetrate. Depending on the position of the defending team look to find either (Red 1) the neutral in space or (Red 2) a free player. Encourage you players to drive forward with the ball if there is space, this looks to draw a player towards them, allowing another player to be free to receive the ball.

In order to successfully deposit the ball behind the opposition’s line the ball must travel over this line whilst still under control. You can do this in either (Blue 1) dribbling/driving the ball over the line or (Blue 2) receiving the ball from a pass over but close to the line, no more than 2-3 yards from it.

After the ball has been left behind the opposition’s line the team retrieves another ball behind their own line. If the defending team win possession they can look to penetrate straight away.

You can play with or without an offside line. I explain to my players that we are in a game situation where we are in the middle third of the field and there would be defenders behind you so there is no offside. It also allows a little more freedom of movement to play in between the lines. But of course, you can still enforce an offside line if you wish.

Variations:
• Offside line/no offside line
• Add/decrease Neutrals
• Limit touches
• Change formation to replicate your midfield

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

How to Park the Bus – Mourinho Style

By Sean Pearson

Area: Half a field
Time: 20mins
Players: 6v6

Objective:
• For players to understand the defensive shape of the style
• To frustrate the attacking team

Set Up:
The defending team sets up in a 4-2-3 or a 4-4-1. The attacking team is in a 4-3-3 formation without the 2 CB’s. The attacking team is trying to score and the defending team is trying to stop them. If the attacking team score, they win, if the defending team don’t concede they win.

Execution:The term parking the bus is considered a negative in today’s game. It is considered a cheap tactic to stop another, probably a better, team from creating clear chances and scoring. Let’s be honest, it’s extremely hard to play against, and score, as well as highly frustrating. I for one can’t stand playing against it but in my frustration, I have accepted that sometimes it is necessary. Now would I do it for younger players of 12 and under, no. Not even 13-15 however at 16+ it becomes a vital tool to use.

I do not advocate for it to be used all the time but in certain situations absolutely. What is the point of soccer at the top level? It is to win and nobody knows that better than Jose Mourinho. He does not care about people’s opinions on what he does, he cares about the result. Now that might not be the case for 16-18 year old players but make no mistake about it, players at this age want to win. In fact, all players want to win at any level, its normal, its healthy and I think winning has become a dirty word that people are afraid to use in youth soccer anymore as it’s all about development. Which I agree with but winning is development too. Do I think youth teams should win at all costs, no but its ok for coaches and players to want to win. You can do that and develop players at the same time.

Now, back from my little tangent. What ‘parking the bus’ is, is really players behind the ball in an organized fashion denying penetration through numbers. It also teaches players to be patient and encourages communication. So the way Mourinho ‘parks the bus’, as described in my article analysis the Liverpool v Man Utd game on Oct 17th 2016, is he has his wingers drop back so they are level with his back for, making a back line of 6. His back 4 become very narrow to deny space between each player along the back line and the #10 drops down to make a narrow midfield 3. Depending on where players are at certain times it might not always be the #10 in the middle but there a narrow midfield 3 nonetheless.

So, when the attacking team pass the ball around the defending team should look like below. The role of the defending team is to allow the attacking team as much time as possible with the ball when they have the ball ahead of them but to remain organized and close together. The reason for being so close together is if one players does get beat there is a 2nd then a 3rd and even 4th player close by something even Messi would struggle with. The likely hood of quick, accurate 1 or 2 touch passing to penetrate the sheer tight nit numbers is extremely low.

When the attacking team slides the ball over to one side to avoid the 3 midfielders in the middle, the whole team slides with the ball to outnumber the attackers on that side. Even with a more attacking formation of a 4-3-3, there are 2 strikers and attacking midfielder and an advanced full back all forward but there are 7 defenders to their 4. Then there is a GK to get past.

If the attacking team tries to switch the ball via a U shape or long diagonal, because there are 6 players in the back line it is easy for them to engage quickly with the opposite side.

Variations:
• When the defending team win the ball allow them to play forward and see if they can move the ball past the half way line
• Have the defensive midfielder double as a target striker

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Different Types of Crosses

By Sean Pearson

Area: 40 x 30 yards

Time: 20 mins

Players: 6 v 6

Objectives

  • To understand the different types of cross
  • To understand when to use a certain cross

Set Up
Three areas, 2 end zones 10 x 30 yards and a middle zone 20 x 30 yards. 3v3 in the middle with 2 players for each team on the outside. 2 goals with a GK in each one.

Execution
The aim for each team is to get the ball out wide to either wide player and for the wide player to cross the ball into the end zone and have runners meet the ball and attempt to score. The first cross we will look at is a low cross behind the defense.

The cross is played early and on the ground because there is space to play the ball on the ground to the striker and the opposite winger who is allowed to come off their line and attack the cross. The cross is played with the inside of the foot with pace into the space ahead of the runners so they can attempt to score with a one-time shot.

If the team scores, then the next ball starts with their GK. If they miss or the GK catches the ball, then an immediate attack on the other goal can start. First do not allow defenders into the end zone to allow success at crossing but after some success allow 1 or 2 defenders in. No-one is allowed in the end zone before the winger receives the ball.

The next cross is a cut back. Encourage the wingers if they do not see the space available for an early cross to drive to the touch line. The striker should make a run to the near post dragging a defender with them (if not the winger can play the striker) thereby allowing the deeper player at the top of the end zone to be free. The winger then cuts the ball back on the ground for the attempted shot.

The last cross is a deep cross. This should happen when there is no space to play in behind the defense and the winger does not drive to the touch line. Because of the positions of all the players, a high deep cross to the back post and the opposite winger is what is needed.

If no cross is an option due to pressure, then players can pass backwards to a team mate but then all players must reset to their original areas.

Throughout this game, you are looking for understanding from your players to recognize the different scenarios and to execute the cross that best fits the scenario. If they recognize the scenario but fail in their technique, encourage their decision and help with their specific technical miscues to help them in the same scenario next time. Try not to discourage them from not trying when they understood the type of cross they were supposed to put in but they could not execute.

Variations

  • Add a neutral to overload the players able to receive the cross
  • Apply more pressure to the wingers from the beginning
  • Take the end zones out to see if the information was taken on board in a normal game situation

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Winning the Ball in the Middle Third

By Sean Pearson

Area: 40 x 32 yards (2 x {8×32} 1 x {24×32})

Time: 15 mins

Players: 6 v 6 + 2

Objectives

  • To recognize where to pressure in the middle third
  • To win the ball in the middle third and maintain possession

Set Up
3 areas, two end zones and 1 large middle area. In each end zone, there is a 2v1 in favor of the defenders in the middle zone there is a 3v3+2 neutrals to become a 5v3. The aim of the team in possession is to cross the end line of the opposite side. The aim of the defending team is to win the ball in the middle third then advance the ball past the end line they are attacking.

Execution
When beginning play the striker in the end zone should look to cut the pass off between the 2 players and force the ball into the middle on one side or another. The defender in the opposite end zone reads the body shape and direction that the striker is sending the play. At this point they enter the middle zone and press the neutral on that side. The 3 players in the middle lock on to a player and man mark them all on the ball side. Lastly the defender left in the opposite end zone slides across to maintain compactness on that side. Now players are in position to win the ball in the middle third of the field.

Depending on the decision of the player on the ball and the distance of the defender from the receiving player, (1) players can stop the player from turning either forcing the ball backwards or win the ball if they try to turn. Or (2) anticipate the interception. The aim is to get the ball past the end line so when a player wins the ball in the middle third the player with the ball is allowed in the end zone with 1 other player. Adding the striker this makes a 3v2.

If the team in possession is able to switch the ball to the other side of the field then the two players who start in the end zone need to switch rapidly as soon as the pass is played backwards.

If the ball is able to be played to the center of the field as opposed to either side, it is important you players are able to get themselves back behind the ball to deny penetration and the two players in the defending end zone step up to keep the distance compact. They should look at the body shape and try to read the direction of the next pass. If it is backwards then the midfielders should step up again but if it is across the field then this is a time they could either (1) intercept or (2) pressure the neutral to stop forward progress.

It is important for your players to understand how to deny penetration and force the opposition into compact areas where there is a high risk of turnover. Then what is the best way to move the ball forward. If the forward direction is not initially on, going backwards is allowed as that is the game of soccer.

Variations

  • Add goals and GK’s
  • Allow the 2 defenders to enter the middle zone if they have the ball
  • Only allow the player with the ball to enter the attacking end zone with the ball

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Attacking Transition

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 45 length, 5 yards wider than the penalty area on each side.

Time: 15 mins

Players7 v 6

Objectives

  • To understand if the team can counter attack or maintain possession
  • To decides how the ball should move forward

Set-Up

Depending on the age and physical capability of the players you coach the area should go just under the halfway line, however you can adjust the distance how you see fit. The defending team is in a 4-2 formation with a GK and the attacking team is in a 2-3-1.

Execution

Firstly, in order to perform attacking transition your team must first defend. With 2 midfielders in the center of the field the attacking team’s easiest open pass is out wide. The job of the defense is now to make the area around the ball as compact as possible to deny penetration and force mistakes. The FB engages the winger and the rest of the defense slides across. The midfielders also slide and drop down to stop penetration. The attacking team attempts to score in the goal the team that transitions scores by moving the ball past the end line, by pass or dribble.

When the defense wins possession the first thought should be can we go forward? The second question, if the answer to the first is yes, is how? Should the player in possession drive forward with the ball (Red1) or pass the ball (Red2)? Then if the they pass should the receiving player then (Blue1) Drive or (Blue2) pass? This is your preference as a coach, my preference is generally, if there is space, to drive at speed. But the ball moves faster than players so if there is a teammate in a better position then pass.

If the attacking team plays into the #10, again the team compacts the space around the ball to stop penetration and force a turnover.

When the defending team wins the ball, if there is no space to go forward quickly then players have to make a decision of where to go. Do they pass forwards or backwards? But now the mentality changes to build up play (still attacking as you have the ball) over quick counter attacking.

If your players do go backwards and the attacking team press, there is the option of your GK playing over the top of them into the space behind them. For this your FB’s will need to be aware of the space and make forward runs into the area.

The important thing your players must understand and recognize is if they can go forward, then when and how they can. If they can’t they must understand that there are other options. Attacking transition is as much about recognizing when you can counter attack as it is about the actual attack.

Variations

  • Play with different formations
  • Set a time limit of crossing the end line if your players decide there is space to counter attack.
  • Add a line the last players must reach as the ball crosses the end line to force the whole team forward at the same time.

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Making Play Predictable

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: Quarter or Half field (depending on age of players)

Teams: 15 – 20 mins

Players: 7 v 7

Objectives

  • To stop forward penetration
  • To force sideways and backwards passes

Set-Up

2 teams set up in a 2-3-1 formation in a scrimmage like scenario.

Execution

The aim for this session is for your team to work together defensively by stifling forward progression of the opposition and frustrating the other team into backwards and sideways passes until they become frustrated. Your team must stay close together to stop penetrating passing lines into the feet of players further up the field. They cut off angles so the only available pass is one of backwards or sideways.

The defending team does not have to sit right in front of their own goal for this tactic to work. It is more effective to perform it in the middle of the field. As the opposition pass wide, the defending wide midfielder gets across to pressure the player on the ball so they can’t move forwards, the rest of the team slides across, compacting that side of the field, leaving the opposite wing open. The striker drops down to stop any balls into the center of midfield.

As the ball travels back to the CB the striker of the defending team presses the CB to force them to make a quick decision, again not allowing forward penetration. The obvious pass is sideways to the free CB. The team again slide into the middle to compact the area directly in front of or around the ball.

Now we have a little change of shape, because we don’t want to be so compact that passes out wide can break the defensive lines. Again the focus is to stop forward penetration by cutting off forwards passing options. As the ball travels to the opposite CB, the striker drops down to stop passes into the CM. The wide midfielder stays narrow to stop passes into the striker’s feet. The FB comes across to pressure the WM when they receive the ball and the CB and opposite WM slide across to cover and keep defensive shape.

As the ball arrives to the WM the FB is close to Pressure them, the WM has dropped down to block the pass into the striker’s feet again and striker drops to stop passes into the CM again, this leaves a pass backwards to the CB as the only pass available.

Players need to understand that they are working as a team to stop forward progression and not become individual and start to run all over the field. If players can win the ball when pressing then absolutely go for it, but the aim is to frustrate the other team going forward and giving the ball away by trying passes that are not on.

When the other team wins possession the defending team aims to frustrate and stop forward progression just like they experienced.

Variations

  • Add neutrals to challenge the defending team and increase the difficulty
  • Allow only 1 or 2 players to communicate to teammates to help build leaders in defense

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3