Positional football has evolved at an astounding rate over the years. Most teams have adopted positional football as the pivot around which their respective individual game models are based. Positioning oneself efficiently with respect to the space, the ball, the teammates and the opponents throughout the course of 90 minutes despite the game being played at such a high speed is considered non-negotiable for players nowadays. Footballers are made to practice extensive training drills as per their team’s and opponent’s relative strengths and weaknesses to act specifically during the different phases of the game.
The modern version of football is played at a very fast and tactically advanced level. Hence, it is nearly impossible for a player to perform efficiently while processing so much information repetitively regarding the space, the ball, their teammates, their opponents, the attacking patterns, their defensive responsibilities, their positioning in different phases of the game and then acting accordingly.
This is where training drills become all the more important. They condition the players through repetitive drills synonymous with predictable match situations to act effectively and quickly in real match situations during the attacking, defending and transitional phases of the game. The players thus after months of such intense training drills learn to respond naturally and quickly to the various situations in the match without many complications. The actions to be performed get more or less ingrained into their subconscious. In this context let’s explore in detail a famous modern-day training drill commonly used by managers around the world to instill positional awareness and discipline in the players.
4v4+3 rondo –
This is one of the most efficient positioning drills in football that not only develops the player’s positioning sense but also their technical, physical and mental aspects of play during the four phases of the game. As the name suggests this is played with 11 men over a 15*20 or a 25*30 m rectangular space. The better the quality of the players involved the smaller is the spaces allotted to play.
In this drill, there are four players who position themselves near the four corners of the rectangular space to begin with ( Blue dots in figure 1 ) There are four more players who position themselves inside the rectangular space occupying the corners of a smaller imaginary rectangle ( Red dots in figure 1 ). There are three more players also called the neutral players positioned along the same horizontal line, such that one positions themselves in the center of the rectangular space while the other two position themselves at a point midway between the two vertical corners of the rectangular spaces ( Black dots in figure 1 ).
The working principle behind the drill is that the four players positioned outside the rectangular space shall have the ball and try to keep it while continuously passing it. The four players positioned inside the rectangle should attempt to win the ball and press the outside four players and cover their passing lanes. The three neutral players have to support the four players positioned outside the box in maintaining the possession of the ball against the inside four players by creating a 7 v 4 overload.
In the event of an interception or when one of the red dot players win the ball, the blue dot players shall at first attempt to win the ball back by counter-pressing them. However, if they fail to do so then they shall gradually swap positions with the red dot players. In the event of a ball loss or interception the three neutral players do not press but assists the new set of four players to keep possession of the ball. They at all times thus help the team in possession with a 7 v 4 overload to maintain possession of the ball.
A very important point involving this training session is the initiation of rapid change of mentality as soon as one team loses the ball. The three neutral players have to quickly condition themselves to the realization that they need to now assist the new set of four players that have won the ball. They have to do it while all the time now trying to evade the counter-pressing of the blue team that had just lost the ball and that they had been assisting until now.
This quick change of mentality to recognize when a team loses possession or when it gains possession and act accordingly is something that is of paramount importance during the transitional moments in a football match. One of the many advantages of this drill is thus how it trains the players and their minds to think and act faster during the transitional phases of the game.
Technical aspects –
The 4v4+3 helps to develop passing with speed and precision, close control in very tight spaces, ability to pass and move into space, recognize space, open passing lanes for teammates, press resistance, body orientation, and shape to receive passes and have an optimal view of all the passing outlets available. These are the fundamental characteristics that aid players in possession of the ball.
Without possession of the ball, it nurtures the sense to shape the body in a proper orientation to close down passing lanes, shadow mark more than one opponent and press effectively in cohesion. It also develops the understanding among players when to press in support and when to just support by covering the pressing teammate. It helps to develop an acute understanding of space around oneself and how to position oneself to cut off passing lanes to multiple opposition players in that space.
Tactical aspects –
Tactically this training drill sharpens the ability of players to keep possession of the ball using the 7v4 overload. It also tunes their ability to break lines by passing through the opponent lines by finding the neutral player in the center. It develops their overall ability to progress the ball vertically in a variety of ways even when the game is being played at a very high speed and in a very small space.
Without possession of the ball, this training drill effectively trains the players on how to maintain defensive shape and cover and move as a block, attempt to block passing lanes, set pressing traps to win the ball back in either the centre or the sides and close down spaces.
So why the 4v4+3 Rondo?
Often it is noticed that modern teams prioritize a quick reaction from their players upon either losing the ball or winning the ball. This moment of transition is very vital in a football match as it is in this moment of transition that the team that has just lost the ball is at its most disorganized. Players that have been defending all the while with a collective focus should upon winning the ball back, be able to immediately switch onto an attacking mentality.
They should be able to attack the spaces in a counter attack immediately as it is in such moments of transition that any slow decision making or an extra touch or an extra pass wastes the advantage. Similarly, it is of vital importance for the players had possession until the moment they lost the ball to quickly switch onto a defensive mentality bent on winning the ball back immediately through a counter-press otherwise, they would be vulnerable to a counter.
However, in reality, players are not always quick enough with regard to the speed at which they need to change their mentality from attacking to defending or vice versa and then act accordingly during transitional moments in a football match. As explained previously this training drill expertly fine tunes and develops quick thinking and acting from the players in moments of transition.
Read more | Compactness and how it can be used subtly to control matches |
The 4v4+3 rondo also helps players to develop good ongoing communication with their teammates, necessary to work in tandem. It trains them to always scan their spatial surroundings and act accordingly at a very high tempo in a very small space continuously and effectively. The player in the absolute centre is generally the pivot of the team. This is because the drill demands excellent distribution, passing, control, vision, tactical and spatial awareness for a player in that position to maintain possession of the ball as is often the requirement of a pivot in a real match.
The pivot becomes adept in knowing when to draw defenders towards him to open passing lanes to his teammates and when to move to create a triangle or a diamond supporting structure to support pass combinations. Rotating the pivot player with other players also helps develop the versatility of the players involved. Some managers even add poles inside the rectangular space to encourage highly accurate passes and condition the team to maintain possession even against high pressing teams. The rondo can also be varied to a certain extent by adding another pivot player in the center, or rounding off the corners of the rectangle for it resembles more of an octagon to give more passing angles for the players involved.
Read More | The art of pressing – A descriptive analysis |
As can be assessed this training drill has by far been one of the most effectively used exercise for most managers around the world to instill positional discipline, awareness, and principles among players. It is key to the beautiful, fluid and swift positional football we often see most teams play nowadays. However, with more added innovation and tactics it will certainly be very intriguing to see many newer, advanced and more unique drills evolve.
More tactical features by Dipanjan can be found here
More original feature here
Figures designed on canva