5 MAIN PRINCIPLES OF POSSESSION SOCCER
Possessing the ball has always been an important concept in soccer. However, with the success enjoyed by Barcelona and Spain in recent years possession soccer and how to possess the ball has taken on even more importance. Watching those teams at their best was mesmerizing. The ball was pinged around in quick, mostly short passes as if it was a pinball while the opposition looked on usually helpless to do anything about it.
Such an ability to move the ball around is based on countless hours of practice and an almost telepathic understanding of teammates. But at it’s core Spanish possession soccer has a number of key principles that can be employed by any team. They won’t make you play like Spain but, if employed, they will improve your teams ability to retain possession of the ball.
The 5 main principles of possession soccer:
- Provide support for the ball carrier. The nearest 2 players usually provide support at angles to the side but the key point is that there are multiple players available to receive a pass.
- If any given player is in support no other player can be in support in the same line. If they were they would be able to be seen by the passer so they must move and make themselves available. If a player should find themselves marked they can either check in to receive the ball of move away behind their marker to space. Should their marker follow them then space has been created for someone else to rotate into.
- If the ball carrier is under no pressure then do not move towards him. If there is no pressure on the ball then the last thing the ball carrier wants is for other teammates to drag opponents towards him. Instead of going towards the ball, teammates, while maintaining passing lines, should move away to space behind opponents. From this “between the lines” position they will be able to turn and continue to play forward.
- If there is no good pass available then don’t pass. Instead the player in possession should stay calm, dribble for possession and attempt to keep the ball until a better option becomes available.
- Receive the ball across your body to your back foot. Romeo Jozak has taken this a step further with his principle of “receive with a turn or play back in one or two touches to the same or a different player.” Allowing the ball to come across the body, or turning, is a simple but very valuable habit. Doing so will enable the receiving player to see as much of the field as possible. By contrast receiving with the closest foot usually involves a closed body position with very little field vision. The other major reason to do this is that usually the ball has been passed because the passer was under pressure. Receiving and turning away from the pressure seems a sensible idea. And, as Jozak says, if a turn is not available then quickly pass back and move to space.
These principles can be seen in action in this Inside Soccer session coached by Francisco Forner.
The beautiful thing about these principles is that there no reason why any player should not be able to employ them. Stitching them together into a cohesive team whole is clearly a challenging task and there are times when it will not work. When a team attempts to possess the ball at first they will struggle mightily against teams that apply a lot of pressure. But with patience and the confidence to keep going things will improve.
Take a look at this video of Barcelona and observe how they respect the principles above. I am not claiming your team can ever look like this but it is interesting to watch their play from this perspective. You may never play like Barca but you can move along that continuum if that is your desire.
Although these 5 principles are not complicated in and of themselves they are much easier said than done!
With young players these principles would obviously need to be introduced over a period of time and, even more importantly, continuously reinforced. There are numerous excellent possession sessions on the Inside Soccer YouTube channel and another highly recommended source for possession games is Rondos And Positional Games: How to use Spain’s secret weapon by Kieran Smith.
Below is a session that could be used to introduce theses principles yo young players. This session would be good for players U12 and older depending the level of the team.
Dynamic warm up: 7 minutes
The players perform various dynamic movements to prepare them for the session to come.
The Hornets game: 15 minutes
The Hornets game is ideal for this session because it automatically creates many of the coaching points we will want to bring out:
- Rapid movement to support the ball carrier
- The players away from the ball are still involved. Can they make themselves available to receive in a position that gives them them the most time and space were they to do so.
- Body shape open to the field.
- Angle of approach and support.
- Awareness of what is happening.
- Receive across your body or play back one touch.
Should you have a number of players that are not do not work for the Hornets game (multiples of 9 are ideal) then set up a second area where the others are playing 4 vs 2 or 5 vs 2 depending upon the numbers and sub players in and out every few minutes.
Unopposed passing and receiving.
This practice helps bring out some of the ideas that we have discussed:
- Players opening out to receive and play forward
- Turning or setting back with one touch
- Receiving on the outside foot
- Moving away if marked and having another player rotate into the space.
The practice also mirrors the next practice in its shape so provides a natural transition for the players. Should this practice be too advanced for your players then the same points can be brought out using this drill.
Possession soccer game to targets:
- Create 2 teams with neutral players in end zones at either end of the field. The basic structure of the exercise is the same as the unopposed passing practice that preceded it.
- The neutral players pass back to which ever team pass them the ball and cannot be challenged in their end zone
- A point is gained every time a team can pass the ball from one end to the other without their opponents having touched it.
- This practice was filmed as a high intensity aerobic exercise and if a fitness objective is also desired from the session then play intervals of 2 1/2 to 4 minutes with recovery time of half of the work time. Play a total time of 14-16 minutes (not including rest periods).
- Even if aerobic fitness is not a specific objective of the session it is still highly demanding so the interval method should be used with players being given rest breaks for recovery at regular intervals.
- The players should try to use the principles of possession soccer that you have emphasized throughout the session.
Play a free game and try to adhere to the principles of possession soccer.