Every footballer in the history of the game looks a better player when they have space. But how to find this rare entity in a sport where physical fitness is improving all the time, and players are able to close down their opposition, track runners and generally ensure that a mistake is never more than a pass or two away? The answer is to develop the ability to play at speed, with an excellent first touch. The best way to achieve this is to use Rondos.
Developed by the great Spanish times of the noughties, these drills see one side weighted with extra players. This means that skills can be developed against some opposition. Pressure is created but it is controlled. Space is reduced as players’ touch improves, so that speed of thought and movement is enhanced.
Rondos deliver results, but they must be practiced regularly and with intensity. Here are five drills rondos for creating space in midfield. Work in as small a space as the skill level and experience of our teams allow. Rondo drills can (and should) be used from the youngest children’s teams to the highest levels of the professional game.
Rondo Soccer Drill One: Simple 5 v 2 Maintaining Possession
Here, a small grid is set up. One striker and two defenders operate inside the grid. Four further attackers remain outside the grid, one along each line of it. The ball is played through the attacker in the grid to create space for a player to receive the ball.
As players improve their touch in the drill, the grid is made smaller. The coach encourages one and two touch passes, with the receiver always receiving the ball with their body open, so they can pass in any direction. All players look to remain on the move.
Rondo Soccer Drill Two: Triangle
Here players operate inside a grid. Again, work to a size which puts pressure on players, but does not make the drill harder than their skill level. In this drill we are seeking to achieve two aims. Firstly, our team are looking to make triangles so the player in possession always has a choice of passes.
We are also looking for the team to think ahead, so that they are moving into a position to receive a pass one or two touches ahead. This way, the defence will become stretched and space will be created for a pass which switches play and creates the space for which the team are looking.
Again, the coach should aim to get his or her players passing quickly, with one or two touches, and be constantly on the move.
Rondo Soccer Drill Three: Switching Play Rondos
In this drill, there are two grids. There is a large one (say, 25m x 25m) and a much smaller 5m x 5m grid in the centre of it. (Adapt sizes to the skill level of players). The central grid can only be occupied by one attacker, and no other player is permitted to enter it,
Using skills of touch, rapid passing, forming triangles and movement, the aim is to draw the defence towards one side, then pass through the central player to switch the ball to where space exists.
The defence is then forced to move across the pitch to try to win back possession.
Rondo Soccer Drill Four: Transition Rondos
Transition is the term given in soccer when possession changes hands. Effective use of passing during transition can create good opportunities to launch effective attacks.
Here, we use half of the pitch. There are three teams of five; in our diagram blues are in possession, reds are defense and yellows are neutral. This team plays with whichever side is in possession.
Three neutral players are put in ‘safe’ zones, where they can receive a pass unchallenged. One is in the halfway circle, two in the penalty box. (In a smaller, youth pitch, teams can be of four, with just one neutral player in the penalty area.)
The attacking side seek to maintain possession, with the specific goal of stretching the defense to create space in the middle. Therefore, they need to get players wide to draw out the defense, while moving late into central areas.
The defense aims to restrict space in the center by pressing the ball and staying tight. When possession is lost, the two competing teams switch roles, with the neutral team remaining on the side of the, now new, offense.
Once more, touch, speed, triangles and vision are needed, while this drill also makes a good practice for the defense. Clear communication is also valuable, since players will not have long on the ball. Skills learned in the other drills, such as switching the play, will help to create space.
Rondo Soccer Drill Five: Under Pressure
Our final drill seeks to recreate the fluidity of match play while retaining the discipline and intensity of a rondo practice.
We have three 12m x 12m grids (size can be adapted depending on ability of players – weaker and less experienced soccer players require more space). The grids sit end to end. There are two teams – one of nine and one of five. The offense – blues in our diagram below – have one player in grid three (the attacker); four in grid two (the midfield) and two in grid one (the center backs). The defense (reds) have two players in grid one, two in grid two and one in grid three. Players in the central grid may move into one of the other grids, but there can be no more than any one player from a team doing this at any one time. They can only move into a new grid if the ball is in it.
The final attacking player wait beyond grid three, and the attacking team seek to get the ball to this player in order to ‘score’, after which the play begins again in grid one. Swap players after five minutes. Passes must be into a grid; it is not permitted to pass through a grid.
Thus, the attacking side must communicate, make angles for passes, received and protect the ball – indeed use all the skills we have worked on in this blog.
True fans will declare that soccer is more than a game, it is an art form. And that art is at its best when the ball is played intricately through midfield until, suddenly, space is opened up and a goal is scored. Here are ten great team goals to enjoy, and who knows, with enough rondos, perhaps our own team will soon be playing like the sides in the compilation.
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