Tag: Pep Guardiola

Why small teams can be successful with positional play

It´s been a while since my last piece written in English. Over the summer, I took a break – didn´t watch any football and focused on other things I wanted to learn – and that was brilliant. I didn´t enjoy analysing and writing about football that much anymore, and I would say that you could see it because the quality of my work went down.

Therefore, I needed this football-free time span, focusing on improving my statistics knowledge, my university grades and read many books giving me new stuff to think about.

However, I love football, especially, when a team plays and attractive and dominant style. That´s why I am back because I want to introduce you to Christian Fiel´s Dynamo Dresden. Usually, a middle-class team in the second German division, they caught my eye due to their modern and dominant approach – uncommon in the 2. Bundesliga.

Although, Dresden plays an attractive style of football (you are going to find an in-depth piece about their playing style soon on The False Fullback) the main reason I´m writing this article is the narrative that only the best teams with the best players can use positional play in order to be successful.

Especially, in Germany the common view on football is characterize by the believe that only compact defensive combined with fast counter-attacks is the way small teams can be successful.

Of course, learning to attack by using specific concepts of positional play is probably harder than to defend deep and counter-attack, however, the long-term benefit of establishing a carefully planed offensive concept are probably higher.

In order to show you where a team like Dynamo Dresden can create advantages which will lead to more goals and more wins in the long team, I´m going to analyse their structure in build-up and a real-world scene from their 4-2 loss against Karlsruher SC, the typical 4-4-2 counter-attack/long-ball team.

Creating superiority by positioning well

Before we dig into the specific scenes, I want to introduce you to the main concept of positional play, creating superiorities to end up in an advantageous situation.

There are different kind of superiorities like qualitative, numerical and positional.

  1. Qualitative superiority

Qualitative superiority means getting your best players in their preferred spots against weaker opponents. The best example is a winger against a fullback. If Neymar is facing Matteo Darmian on the wing, his team has an advantage. It not necessarily has to be a dribbler on the wing, it could also be a taller striker in the box, or a more skilled and intelligent midfielder in the centre.

Dynamo Dresden, for instance, does not have individual superior players, however, if one of their fast and skilled offensive players receives the ball between the lines against a taller but slower defender, he has an advantage.

  • Numerical superiority

Numerical superiority is self-explanatory. If you have a numeric advantage it is easier for you to play your way through the defence or score a goal in the box. Because the goalkeeper of the team in possession is more involved than the other goalkeeper, the team in possession naturally has a 11vs10 advantage. All the team in possession has to do is finding the free player by moving the ball intelligently.

Numerical superiority often occurs in a smaller context. For example, in build-up, many teams either use a back-three or a midfielder who drops between the centre-backs in order to create a numerical advantage when they are pressed by two strikers.

Rarely teams play man-against-man in modern football because of the risks a man-vs-man approach has. In modern days era, teams try to close the ballnear space leaving spaces on the far-side open. Therefore, numerical superiority can occur when the team in possession moves the ball quickly enough and finds those spaces.

  • Positional superiority

The third form – and probably most difficult to understand – is positional superiority. Compared to qualitative and numerical superiority, it isn´t quite as visible. To have a positional advantage means to be better positioned than the opponent.

On an individual level, one could imagine the following scene. The team in possession has the ball on the left side, trying to cross it into the box. While the defender has to observe the ball and his opponent constantly, the striker can create a positional advantage by moving on the blind side of the defender, forcing him to either watch the ball or follow his movement. Consequently, once the cross arrives in the box, the striker is in the more advantageous position because he can see his opponent and the ball simultaneously.

This search for superiority should end in being in an advantageous position which either can be via a free man or another form of superiority. Certain tools are necessary in order to create those superiorities, we will identify a few, while analysing specific scenes of Dynamo Dresden. However, at this point we can conclude every team in possession should try to create superiorities because it will lead to more goals.

Furthermore, the tools in order to create superiorities are rather simple, however, the execution is difficult and depends on small details. Although you need technically gifted players, a few guidelines from positional play would help every team, simply because even less skilled players can perform better in advantageous situations. Because one thing is crystal clear, having more time and space makes it easier for every player no matter which level of skill he has.

Positioning and applying pressure

Before I´m going to analyse one scene in detail, a quick introduction into the playing style of Dynamo Dresden. Under their coach Christian Fiel they are using a 5-2-3 formation which transforms into a 3-4-3/3-2-5 in possession with the wingbacks moving high up the pitch.

The structural advantages of Dresden

Because Dresden´s positioning and ball movement is very good, it is hard to press them effectively. On the other hand, Dynamo has several options to advance and create goalscoring opportunities because their build-up is well-structured.

For instance, the ball-near striker would press the LCB using his cover shadow to block the passing lane to the DM. In order to reach the DM nevertheless, Dresden could use the third-man concept. The second striker has to decide whether he wants to stay in his position in order to tighten the centre or press the CB immediately.

Even if the striker presses the CB, the diagonal passing options help the ball carrier to play a pass with the first touch to the DM.

If striker would stay deeper to cover the centre, the CB would still have the option to switch to the far side where the RCB would have space available.

The third possible scenario would be that the striker who pressed first would drop in order to close the passing lane to the left DM of Dresden while the other striker presses the CB. Then, a pass directly back to the LCB would help Dynamo because the LCB would have more space available.

The possibilities of playing through the centre

One could ask himself whether the defensive midfielders of Karlsruhe could simply press the DMs of Dresden. While this is possible, the numerical superiority of Dresden in the centre, gives them multiple other options to progress the ball.

For instance, Dresden focuses on the movement without the ball and constantly uses tools like the third-man concept to free-up a player. In order to use the third-man concept, it is important that the midfielders do not stay on the same horizontal line. Again, diagonal passing lanes offer multiple advantages for the team in possession. Diagonal passes are naturally harder to press because the receiver often faces the opponent´s goal.

In this particular scene, the DM closer to the ball can move higher, creating space between the line of strikers and midfielders of Karlsruhe. Although KSC´s DM can apply pressure immediately, the DM of Dresden can escape this situation with a simple layoff pass. Here, we can see the use of the third-man concept in a simple example in order to get behind the first line of pressure.

The DM who receives the ball, in the end, is in an advantageous situation because he not only has the necessary space to operate but he also faces the opponent´s goal once he receives the ball. Once again, the numerical superiority of Dresden in the centre leads to tremendous advantage. The striker in the yellow-marked space can be reached immediately after the DM receives the ball facing the opponent´s goal. Due to the overload in the last line (Together with the wing-backs, Dresden forms a 5v4 situation) the striker can destabilize the defence with a simple layoff pass if one of the centre-backs is following him.

This leaves the second DM of Karlsruhe in a precarious situation. Either he steps up pressing the DM of Dresden who receives the layoff pass, risking that he is too late and gets overplayed. Or he stays, trying to close the space but leaving the DM of Dresden with time and space in order to plan the next attacking move of the Saxonians. Furthermore, if he tries to press, his timing has to be perfect, if he starts too early, the DM who plays the layoff pass does not have to play that one but rather can use the space. If he is too later, Dresden´s second DM has already too much time controlling the ball.

Positional superiority against a 4-4-2 – the halfspace progression

However, the well-structured build-up of Dresden offers further advantages and routes the ball could travel. Important to add here is that the clear guidelines in positioning are crucial for the success of Dresden in terms of advancing the ball in higher zones.

This situation perfectly shows the positional superiority established by Dynamo. Although, the scene presents a 3v3 situation on the left-side, the positioning of Dresden´s players created different options. If Karlsruhe closes down one, another opens. In fact, this is probably one of the best definitions for superiority. No matter how the defence tries to defend it, the team with the ball just have to choose another route helping them to advance.

“It’s a game of position, not possession! It’s about how you place yourself in relation to the others on the field when you have the ball and where you should be so that you can continue pressing when you lose it.”

– Domènec Torrent, Ex Guardiola Assistant

The positioning of Dresden leads to the positional superiority in this scene. While Karlsruhe defends with two players on the same vertical line, Dresden sets up a triangle leading to diagonal passing options for the centre-back. Therefore, the centre-back has three passing options he can use depending on the movement of the right winger and right-back of Karlsruhe.

First of all, the pass to the wingback is the first option for the left centre-back, however, also the less threatful for the opponent because the wing is naturally a space where the defensive team has the advantage of using the sideline to defend, resulting in isolations for the ball carrier.

Nevertheless, a pass to the wing can be still useful. Especially, when the player occupying that space is positioned high-up the pitch. Then a team faces the trade-off between overplaying a defensive line or gaining more space. Furthermore, a quick change in rhythm can catch the defence out of position. For instance, a pass to the wing could mean an extreme increase of the speed at which the attack is played. When the wingback increases the speed once he receives the ball and the offensive players sprint into depth, the defence can make two mistakes. Either they aren´t able to defend a throughball quickly enough or they fall too fast leaving space in the centre for the defensive midfielders of the team in possession.

Therefore, the defence can´t completely ignore the wingback and only focus on defending the centre. By moving out of position, the right-back or the right winger of KSC can press, however, the positional superiority of Dresden adds a cost to every movement of KSC´s players because it opens other passing lanes.

When the right winger of Karlsruhe (marked red) moves out to press, he has to orient towards the side earlier enough. If not, the wingback of Dresden would have too much time to overplay him. Therefore, the space available for a pass between the lanes to the LW. This is one of the passes regularly observable during Dresden´s build-up.

Once the LW receives the ball he has the advantage because he has the inside line, while the right-back is positioned wider due to the threat provided by the wingback. The ballnear centre-back faces the striker because Dresden has the numerical superiority in the last line. Although he could press the LW, the striker of Dresden would receive more space. Alternatively, the ballnear DM of Karlsruhe could close the passing line. Then it would be most profitable for Dresden to switch to the other side or attack the centre via the CB.

There are several additional options for Dresden when they establish an even superior positioning. Quite often their back-three stays rather flat instead of diagonally. Although, the angle to pass the ball to the DM would be less optimal, Dresden´s halfbacks could hurt the defence even more if they move slightly forward. This position can be established by either advancing with the ball or being already in that position.

Now, the striker of Karlsruhe has a harder time pressing the centre-back effectively because the halfspace is open for a dribbling. Due to the fact that the striker would have to press more from the side, the CB can protect the ball easier.

When the LW of Dresden moves more to the left side and pulls the FB with him, the striker can be a potential passing option for the ball carrier causing issues for KSC while applying pressure which leaves open spaces somewhere else.

Furthermore, once the fullback of Karlsruhe focuses too much on the movement to the sideline in order to press, the LW can always start a run behind the defence and Dresden can use a long ball to hurt the defence. Therefore, several different options to advance arise due to the positional superiority of Dresden in this zone.

Applying pressure and the third-man concept

The first scene against Karlsruhe illustrates why applying pressure by dribbling and passing the ball into tight spaces is crucial. After switching the ball from the left halfspace to the right, their right-centre back moves forward while getting pressed by Karlsruhe´s striker.

Due to the back-three of Dresden and the two central midfielders moving in the channels Karlsruhe struggled to press the build-up effectively. The diagonal passing options created helped Dresden to overplay the first line of pressure. Due to the diagonality in build-up, the strikers couldn´t use their cover shadows effectively. Dresden not only created numerical but also positional superiority due to their positioning and patient ball circulation.

Here, the left centre-back of Dresden was pressed by the right winger of Karlsruhe. Consequently, the switched the ball to the other side to make use of potential open spaces.

Due to two midfielders in the centre, both strikers of KSC had to hold their position in order to close the passing lane into the midfield. Therefore, they could start their run once the ball travelled to the next centre-back which gave Dresden´s players a few seconds to control the ball. This little extra time made the difference between reacting to Karlsruhe´s pressing or actively trying to use the space which was opened due to the higher pressing.

“Positional Play consists of generating superiorities out of the defensive line against those who are pressing you. Everything is much easier when the first progression of the ball is clean.”

– Juan Manuel Lillo

As we could see, Dresden already created numerical superiority in the first line, according to Juan Manuel Lillo – one of the teachers of Pep Guardiola – crucial in order to attack effectively.

Furthermore, the centre-back moved aggressively forward with the ball once the striker tried to press him. By doing this, the centre-back draws not only attention towards him but also put pressure on the defence. Because at one point they have to press him, consequently their attention was drawn towards him leaving his teammates open.

Besides the action taken by the right centre-back, the structure of Dresden gave the ball carrier enough passing options. Although, the DM was hardly reachable due to the pressure applied by the striker, the centre-back had still the option to pass it wide or to look for the striker between the lines.

The right wingback was the obvious option, consequently, the midfielders focused on pressing Patrick Ebert – on the right. Here, another important point Dresden does well in general. Due to their balanced structure, they are able to move the opponent which opens holes in the defence.

Dynamo Dresden does this in particular very well, it´s not about the movement of the ball. Moving the ball is only a tool in order to move the opponent. By doing this, you force them to constantly adjust their position which leads to mistakes made over the course of 90 minutes.

“The objective is to move the opponent, not the ball.”

— Pep Guardiola

Moreover, the objective of positional play is to break through opponents’ lines. In this example, Dresden executed this thought nicely. Instead of passing the ball out wide and giving the opponent the possibility to press with the help of the sideline, the right centre-back plays a great pass between the lines to the striker. The fact that Karlsruhe had to shift to their left-side helped opening that space. The winger of Karlsruhe speculated whether the pass would be played to the wing, while the defensive midfielder oriented towards Dresden´s defensive midfielder. Consequently, the passing lane to the striker opened.

Because of the pass between the lines, Dresden applied pressure. This is another crucial principle of positional play. Sometimes you have to apply pressure by passing the ball in dangerous spaces in order to open room somewhere else.

As a consequence, the defence of Karlsruhe tried to press and taking advantage of the situational overload in the red marked space. However, the positioning of the striker allowed him to use several routes in order to hurt the defence. For one, his diagonal body position allowed him to turn around quickly and use the space behind the centre-back.

Important to add here is that it is the ball-far centre-back who had to follow the striker, therefore, he was diagonally behind, and the striker had the advantage to turn in either diagonal direction without giving the centre-back a possibility of intercepting.

The reason why the ball-far centre-back had to push out was the numerical superiority Dresden created by pushing the wingbacks high up the pitch. As a consequence, the left-back of KSC had to defend the RWB while the RW of Dynamo was able to occupy the ball-near CB.

Another advantage of the numerical superiority for Dresden was the space created on the far-side. Interestingly, the KSC midfielder who pushed forward to press the back-three didn´t cover his position properly giving the LCB a tone of space on the left.

Therefore, the striker of Dresden had three options to hurt the defence applying the third man concept. Both would make use of the numerical superiority Dresden created. Either he plays a layoff pass to the DM who could easily switch to the left side (blue space), or the striker would try to play the throughball to the right winger and therefore taking advantage of the space opened. Also, the left winger performed a diagonal run offering another option while simultaneously opening space on the left. The third option would be to start a dribbling and disbalance they defender who tried to press him.

The last option named could be a perfect example for qualitative superiority. The CB was taller and slower and less mobile than the attacker, thus, giving the striker the advantage of acceleration and agility. He could simply use the speed of the CB to unbalance him by quickly turning in one direction with the perfect timing.

However, the numerical superiority in the last line can have one major disadvantage in this situation. Only two players can apply pressure immediately after losing the ball while Karlsruhe has more players to play out of that situation. Furthermore, the high position of the right centre-back offers KSC open space to play a long ball into. One of the weaknesses of Dresden so far this season.


This scene should show you how many possibilities and advantages arise from a more structured approach with the ball, especially adapting the principles of positional play. Those once like creating superiorities, using switches to move the opponent or incorporating the third-man concept into the build-up can be extremely valuable for every team.

Of course, it always depends on the quality of the players. If you only have physical strong but technical weak players, this approach is probably inferior to one focused on long balls and winning the duels to gain the second ball. However, even in the lowest leagues, a better structure and clear guidelines in possession can help every player. In the end, football is always about time and space. Everything is easier when you have time and space to control a ball and make a decision.

How to train fitness in football

It is a hot August evening in the north Hessian village landscape and I am, as so often, on the road with my mountain bike. River, hills and the one or other place sign are passed, in the middle of the dusk, you can hear loud screaming.

Step by step I get closer to this shouting, knowing that it must come from the nearby sports field. C – Youth, 13 – 14 years old, it is summer preparation and the sun hits the heads of the young footballers with all its energy. The exhaustion can be seen on their faces, their gaze is agonizing and sweat is pouring over their strained bodies. Accurately placed on the pitch are hats, coordination ladder, cones and medicine balls. A round of running with the most diverse tasks.

“Another 20min, then you have done it. Go ahead. These are the important grains that will bring us to the championship,” is the echo of the crowd. That this sport is actually called football can only be guessed at best.

A round ball, which does not necessarily weigh 3Kg, can only be seen at the edge, wrapped in a ball sack. The children seem very strained, 16 in number, and become noticeably more tired and slower. The only fun seems to be the long, lanky boy, who runs round and round and laps over.

I keep standing at the barrier and wait anxiously for the next training exercises. “You see here the passing exercise, which is to be performed at the highest possible speed! Breaks are not allowed, absolute will and concentration, boys. This has to be done on an assembly line. Station A passes first to B, then back to A, who passes to D, who claps at B, while C runs behind, etc…”

Here I had to get off, too complicated to follow attentively, mind you, without a 25-minute endurance run with obstacles and medicine balls. The exercise does not go as desired, the coach has to intervene and rebuke several times, the concentration has dropped to a minimum, the fun, if any, probably too.

A fictional story, which however is still a hard reality on many sports fields in the Federal Republic of Germany. Sometimes more or sometimes less extreme as the one described above. Even while writing, I gradually lost more and more the desire for football, just by the thought to be driven through such an ordeal. Half-knowledge passed on training routines or even false role models are the templates of such training units.

Not much has changed since the 80s, even the DFB promotes this through training articles, for example in the section “Training online”. Several foreign coaches who have worked in the Bundesliga in the last few years have shown that it can be done differently. Pep Guardiola, Peter Bosz etc. are just a few examples who used different approaches to get their team in shape, but never lost focus on the essentials, namely the game and the associated equipment.

In the further course of the article, I will talk about different possibilities of “fitness training” in football and at the end, I will also show forms of games, which can be used to train different aspects of fitness in football by playing football. In the centre of attention will always be the game itself.

Football fitness through playing football

Raymond Verheijen is one of the world’s most famous coaches in the field of football fitness and has shown remarkable success with the South Korean and Russian national teams during various World Cup and European Championship tournaments. His successes were so extraordinary, especially because his teams ran very much and especially very often, very fast, that there were often rumours of doping in his former teams.

Verheijen represents a holistic, match-oriented approach to fitness training in football and distinguishes between four performance factors: communication – tactics – technique – football fitness.

“Everything has to be football-related”.

Raymond Verheijen

These four performance factors are inseparably linked to the game of football and must be trained holistically. In order to understand and grasp the complexity of football, it is necessary to look at the fitness requirements of a player during a match, preferably position-specific.

Roughly speaking, a footballer runs at the top level in a normal game between 10 and 12Km, of which he sprints about 800m to 1200m, accelerates 40 to 60 times and changes the running direction every 5 seconds.

In addition, there are strong requirements for shooting, passing and especially in duels. For these actions the body logically needs energy, but this is only available in the body in a limited way.

cf. training control by Marco Henseling (read carefully!)

I don’t want to give a complete repetition of the energy metabolism here, but at least summarize the essentials.

In order to set yourself in motion, you need muscle contractions. The energy required for this is supplied by ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and KP (creatine phosphate). The ATP – KP system provides energy for short and high-intensity exercise for up to 15 seconds. If exercise lasts longer than 15 seconds, other energy sources are required, including carbohydrates and fats.

As mentioned before, soccer actions are mostly intermittent and acyclic, which brings other challenges than running cyclically for 10 minutes. Most actions are rather short and explosive, requiring ATP and KP. Creatine phosphate is replenished without oxygen, but oxygen is needed to replenish the ATP storage. Thus the oxygen system plays a particularly important role in the recovery phase between peak loads.

In the comparison between top-level football and amateur football, it is striking that the pure running performance does not show any major differences, however, the occurrence of intensive action in football at top level (Premier League etc.) is significantly increased, but the duration and distance of intensive action at top level is lower, this is explained by improved tactical training.

In this respect, it still seems logical that the training of condition, technique and tactics cannot and must not be considered in isolation from each other.

You have to train what the game demands on the weekend: I am prepared for every fast and constantly changing game situation by variable training of decision behaviour.” – Bernhard Peters, national team coach in hockey

In addition, the question arises why waste time with separate technique training at all, when this can be trained holistically. For a pass it first needs the perception of a situation, this is immediately analyzed by the player and an action plan is designed. A decision is now made and finally executed, whereupon the reflection takes place.

The pure execution, that is the technique, is one of the last points in this chain. The tactical experience and guidelines accelerate decision making and finally lead to motor execution. The condition is responsible for ensuring that this process can be repeated as often and as well as possible in the long run. Thus, a match-oriented, holistic training seems to be an optimal symbiosis for the best possible training design.

The necessity of breaks – in the game and training

The footballer goes through phases of action and regeneration in a game again and again. The fastest possible regeneration in a game between actions is crucial for the quality of the execution. For example, it is not possible to perform several maximum sprints within a few minutes, retrospective energy supply, but the energy budget must be replenished as quickly as possible in order to be able to perform the next intensive actions.

This should not only take place between maximum actions during a game in the best possible way, but the fast regeneration in the breaks is also of crucial importance in order to be able to perform maximum actions at the end of a game, which should at best be performed in still good quality.

If we take this back to training, these demands of the game must also be reflected in training. The size of the field, number of players, different rules, etc. can be used to control the intensity and the conditional requirements quite well in order to feel the different strains of the game or, finally, to train in order to be prepared for the game in the best possible way.

To be able to integrate this into the daily training routine, a suitable periodization is needed to train all conditional requirements.

This was my own weekly schedule last year with my U16 team. The main stress day was on Thursday because this training was between the respective matches. The day after our game we had an active regeneration and then two days off to regenerate even more.

Here, too, the requirement was always that every player can achieve maximum performance in a training session or in the game without extreme fatigue, which would massively increase the risk of injury. This also applies to the season, for example, after a long, exhausting season you should take a break to regenerate.

After this break, however, you should not train with the same intensity as before, but slowly approach the old training intensity in order to get the body used to it again. So, there is a steady development of the intensity during a season or maintenance during the season, if you continue training with similar intensities during the course of the week, in order to be able to achieve best performances at the end of a season.

cf. training control – Marco Henseling

This table by Marco Henseling shows wonderfully how to train different fitness requirements by playing in small groups. The more actions in a small space, the higher the intensity. The larger the space to be played and the more players, the fewer actions and the less intensity.

“For example, first you do a certain exercise on certain pitch size, and then you make the pitch size smaller and then smaller. The same exercise but less space, less time, increasing the demands, and that is how you improve players. “

Raymond Verheijen

Looking back to Barca in their prime time, we see that this was also a team that was almost perfectly capable of recovering through breaks in the game. These breaks resulted from their incredibly high level of ball possession and the resulting “rest”, or “active regeneration”.

Challenges of fitness training in small-sided games

There are some challenges faced by coaches who choose to do their fitness training almost exclusively in small-sided games. Above all, one has to reflect well on oneself whether one is able to drive the players permanently, to give them incentives to keep the intensity high enough to have a positive effect. There is definitely a danger that there will always be players who rest from time to time, and therefore the use of this method is not optimal.

“You need 20 absolutely willing professionals (players) for this and you also need to coach them well from the outside to encourage the players to be constantly on the move. And that’s where the difference between theory and practice quickly becomes apparent”.

 Raymond Verheijen

Furthermore, it requires a high level of expertise on the part of the coach to be able to coach the players correctly in the intensive, fast games, it is also about the right moments when coaching is appropriate.

I very reluctantly interrupt the flow of a drill but prefer to let them play and coach them during the breaks or to give them the opportunity to coach themselves. To create an incentive from the beginning, it is always about winning, it is always about achieving goals.

A game is played in order to make it victorious in the end, the way should be reflected by the reproduction of our common strategy, by the implementation of our game principles. This is done by defining the shape of the field or rules and the possibilities to score points.

As in most cases, far away from the professional field, there is no possibility to control the fatigue of the players, special attention has to be paid to how long the players can keep up the intensity of the small-sided game. If the quality of the actions and therefore the speed of the game decreases rapidly, it is certainly necessary to take a break before the game to give the players the opportunity to recover.

Furthermore, too low quality of the game could cause problems. If the technical quality in connection with the quality to make adequate decisions is so low that the ball stays in the game only for a very short time, no intensity can be built up and the specific fitness training by playing forms would only be possible to a very small extent. Furthermore, there are certainly few clubs in the amateur sector that have the luxury of one or even more co-trainers.

Here you can divide tasks and above all divide a large group into 2 groups. Otherwise, you would have to leave one group to its own devices or train only in large game forms, which do not train essential parts of the fitness requirements of the game.

“Some coaches propagate that endurance training in football should be done with a ball. In fact, several studies have examined the effects of HIIT with the ball on endurance performance (19, 45, 51, 67). Training with a ball is just as demanding on the cardiovascular system and metabolism as interval training without the ball (47). An increase in oxygen uptake of 7-9% after 10-12 weeks can also be expected from endurance training with a ball (51, 67). (…) Ultimately, the intensity of forms of play with the ball depends on the target position, the number of players, size of the playing field and the support of the coaching staff.

Sperlich B, Hoppe MW, Haegele

small-sided games for fitness training

2 vs. 2 with offside

à intensive interval method – anaerobic endurance

field size: approx. 12m x 24m

Duration: 0,5min to 2min

Repetitions: 3 to 5

Series: 1 to 3

Break length: 2min

Characteristics: many duels, many short kicks, many ball contacts, many dribblings

Coaching: especially depth staggering – mutual protection – always generate pressure against the ball – keep mini-goals in the shadow

3 vs. 3 + 1 – play into the depth

à extensive interval method – aerobic/anaerobic endurance – speed endurance

playing field size: 3 zones each 15m x 25m

Procedure: 3vs.3 +1 in the middle zone – 5 passes, after that you can play in one of the end zones – lines serve as offside line – play in the end zones only by passing – 2 attackers and 2 defenders can follow – fast continuation of the game by the coach with new balls

Duration: 2min to 4min

Repetitions: 2 to 3

Series: 2 to 3

Break length: 1min to 1.5min

Characteristics: freewheel behaviour becomes more important – short sprints into the deep – narrow space = many duels

Coaching: Off à Formation of triangles/rhombuses – quick offering to the ball – depth runs/ communication between pass giver and pass receiver

Def à Use of the cover shadow – Pressure the ball carrier – Compact organisation close to the ball

5 vs. 5 + (2(2)) – ball holding vs. switching

à intensive endurance method – aerobic endurance

playing field size: 25m x 35m in the zone – when switching the field opens up to the goal and in the width up to 16

Procedure: One team plays on possession of the ball with the 4 neutrals (green and pink) with 10 contacts each =1P – If the other team wins the ball, they play with the pink outer players on the big goal. Green defends with the team that was previously in possession of the ball. After the counterattack, the game begins with possession of the ball with the team that had previously counterattacked.

Duration: 5 to 8min

Repetitions: 2 to 3

Break length: 2min

Characteristics: Quiet ball circulation alternates with switching torque. This results in a rhythm change between short, fast movements and long maximum sprints.

Coaching: Ball possession team – Formation of triangles/rhombuses – own superior number close to the ball – game shifts – passes into the foot – immediate counter-pressing after ball loss – compact organization close to the ball

Defensive team organize compactly close to the ball – isolate opponents – use cover shadows – generate pressure against the ball à offer vertical options after winning the ball (depth runs) – find development players in-depth or anchor players in width to develop counterattacks

8 vs. 8 + 3 Holding the ball vs. goal finish

à extensive endurance method -aerobic endurance (recovery between actions)

playing field size: 50m x 55m

Procedure: A team plays 10 contacts =1P on possession of the ball. If the team chasing the ball wins the ball, they have 5 seconds to score a goal, after the 5 seconds of possession

Duration: 15min to 20min

Repetitions: 1 to 2

Break length: 3min

Characteristics: Large playing field with many players, therefore less action. Intensive actions alternate with “pauses”, which means that regeneration during the game takes place between the actions of the players, this is very close to the real game.

Coaching: Ball possession team à involvement of the goalkeepers in the ball possession game – formation of triangles/rhombuses – diagonal play stations – fanning out in ball possession

Defensive team à organize compactly close to the ball – isolate opponents – use cover shadow – generate pressure against the ball – quick orientation to the goal – zone change after winning the ball – alternatively on possession of the ball


For too long football was dominated by the scientific foundation of other sports. For too long, players ran round and round with no apparent purpose for the weekend game. The sport of football is so complex that there has long been a need to gather our own scientific knowledge about the sport.

Swimmers do not usually train for long runs but spend most of their time in the pool, so the footballer should not waste his time in training by stupid running, but should always have the centre of the game, the ball, in the centre of a training session. Technique, tactics, athletics and psyche are all factors that have every action of a game in common and therefore should be trained holistically.

To break down a football action into individual components and, for example, to let the pass be trained only in its technical execution would leave out too many important aspects and, above all, would not do justice to the athletic requirements of the game at all. Especially in the younger age groups, there are motivational reasons to rely more on forms of play.

The fitness training through game forms does not even have to be clearly stated as a goal in front of the players. The coach’s expertise ensures that the fitness of the players is improved by using game forms in training. Furthermore, it is still possible to increase the intensity during the game form through more emotional coaching. Basically, few football players would object to running less and devote more time to the game.

“P.S.: Stop letting your children run laps. Stop telling them to “stand closer to the man”, “cover opponents”. Let them play football instead. Keep it up. Always.”

Eduard Schmidt