By John Cartwright

The use of Play-rounds in football—there are four—has only been a more visible part of the game here in recent years. A more consistently used attacking tactic has been the overuse of quickly delivered, forward passes. Ball possession has not been as an important tactical ‘weapon’ and fast territorial gain employing a fiercer playing concept has been more descriptive of the so-called ‘British Style’. Opportunities to create ‘gaps’ in opposing teams’ defensive systems using a patient, ‘keep-ball’ playing method has largely been ignored. The urge to play the ball forward irrespective of necessity has meant retaining old fashioned ‘pugilistic’ playing methods whilst discounting the importance of having individual skill in all positions.

Since the ‘importation’ of foreign players and Managers to fill the skill void in our game, there has been a noticeable but not necessarily improved use of Play-rounds and more emphasis by some clubs’ towards better ball possession tactics. However, this move towards a ‘keep-ball’ style of play and the use of Play-rounds has foundered on a lack of penetration when opportunities occur.  As a team’s attack develops, space becomes available in their own rear areas. This space is usually overloaded by more of their own defensive players than opposing  players and a ‘comfort zone’ within these less congested areas has become available for back or deeper positioned players to resort to a backwards and sideways playing style. Pass-pass- pass without penetration in rear and mid-field Play-round areas has become a feature in the game. When, or if the game develops into the forward Play-round area, the lack of playing quality in this more congested area too often results in unnecessary ball loss.

What seems to have been forgotten in the misunderstood use of ‘keep-ball’ tactics is (a) why are we keeping the ball? ; (b) what are we looking for? Well, simply, the answer to (a) is; we control the game when in possession of the ball and (b) is; we look to create and exploit openings against opponents when they occur. There is misuse of ball possession tactics by players who seek to play easy options when penetrative alternatives are possible from Play-round situations. This problem can be seen both here as well as in football abroad. Playing negatively IN Play-rounds and not positively FROM  Play-rounds has become an obvious ‘camouflage’ of those individuals in the game with skill deficiencies. The use of an easy option in a game is fine if it is the only option available to a player, but should more positive option(s) be disregarded because a player lacks skill and awareness, then the game becomes open to the impatient and misunderstood wails of the ‘get it forward’ brigade on the terraces.

At Premier Skills, we are determined to ‘advertise’ the massive importance of possession football and of the correct use of Play-round in the game.  Accordingly, we have introduced ball possession and Play-rounds in gradual stages from Level 1 to Level 5 of the coaching and playing ‘journey’ in our programmes.  Improved qualities in both tactical and skilful aspects of the game must remain a priority thus allowing each to assist the other to give the game the ‘total’ look it requires. It is vital that we force our game away from old fashioned playing beliefs and steer it towards a more entertaining and effective playing style. This is our football ‘goal’ at Premier Skills.


21 thoughts on “Play-rounds.

  1. Saw the Final of the U17 Youth Tourni . between Holland and Germany last night. Must say i was extremely disappointed with the standard of play from both teams and also the lack of individual quality. Nothing special in either team that got me on the edge of my seat. The problem for us is…… we never even qualified to be at this Tourni !!

  2. Interesting article. I see a lot more teams now trying to keep the ball, but they generally do this with sideways and backwards passing that never really materialises into a goal scoring oppurtunity. Most of the time it results with the last pass being made back to the teams own goalkeeper. I think that in order to retain possession and turn this into attacking play the ball needs to be moved quickly via the best route at that point in the game, either a pass or a dribble. Both routes need support via outlets, either an overlap or overload ideally behind the opposing teams line of defense. We don’t seem great at this in England as we tend to breed fixed position players. Players who only operate in a specific part of the pitch.

    Until we build into our psyche the idea that players can play anywhere on the pitch at any given time we won’t move forward. Of course this requires the correct coaching to give players the necessary skills to do this.

    As I’ve said on previous posts I do think things are changing in the youth grass roots level and I do think coaching attitudes are changing but I’m not confident these are happening fast enough.

    p.s. – very interested to see how Mr Hodgson will shape up his chosen 23 in the upcoming weeks

  3. This article is very interesting and raises similar points to the previous one which John wrote of taking players, especially strikers, out of fixed positions.
    The recent UEFA Under 17 tournament in Slovenia raises points for discussion in both articles, unfortunately from a negative viewpoint.Matt makes valid criticisms of negative play arounds in English football but, judged on what we have seen in these recent Under 17 matches, they would be just as relevant to Dutch football if we take this young Holland team as a yardstick.
    I have posted an observation from last night’s final on the last article as an example of Holland’s negative play arounds. The Dutch midfield player, Ake, who is with Chelsea and i think looks talented, killed space in front of the Dutch centre backs by dropping back too deep looking for a pass. The German strikers exploited this by one of them pressing the Dutch centre back who had the ball and his teammate dropped to ‘screen’ the space in front of Ake, preventing the pass and forcing an ineffectual square pass to the other centre back. The 2 German strikers now rotated with the one who had done the screening now pressing and his colleague now dropped to screen.
    So the Dutch were working a play around, but it was negative because Ake was killing space that a Dutch centre back could have exploited by coming forward with the ball to develop an overload in midield.
    In all the matches which i saw Holland play they rarely showed any penetration. Significantly, in the final, in the dying minutes when they were 0-1 down, they at last showed some urgency by getting players up the pitch in numbers and pressed the ball higher up. They were rewarded with the equaliser with almost the last kick and then, undeservedly, won the penalty shoot-out.
    It would be interesting to hear from any Dutch readers of this blog, or anyone with a deep insight into current Dutch football, what the problems are at present with their game. i know that there has been considerable strife at Ajax in the last year or two, with some lined up behind Johann Cruyff and others opposed to him. I do not think that he has any direct input into their coaching these days, but his philosophy has dictated the club and the national team for generations. But the team which reached the World Cup Final in 2010 and this Under 17 team are not in his image.

  4. I didn’t see the game in question but the principle of what Steve describes, I see on a regular basis on TV and sometimes live.

    As an occasional option, I see the ability to drop into the gap by a player from midfield to receive a shorter pass and play out as being a reasonable ploy. However, we now see a number of teams employ this ‘tactic’ consistently and predictably.

    GK gets the ball, wide backs push up the field, centre backs split to the outer edges of the penalty area to receive a short roll out from the GK.

    They play a couple of slightly angled passes back and forth to each other ( I assume they are trying to unbalance the defence) and then the Centre mid drops too deep to receive a pass (Often with chest facing the ball rather than shoulder) immediately comes under pressure and so returns the ball to the CB, runs away to clear space and they start the whole procedure again.

    Banal and easily negatable in its predictability and it actually doesn’t do what I assume they are trying to do, which is to create space to pass or run the ball out.

    We still struggle to allow CBs to run the ball out often enough or show the MF and Wide Players how to make the spaces for that to happen.

    A few times at Brighton and Hove Albion I have seen the CB Dunk do this and it creates chaos in front of him for the opponents as they realise he is advancing ever deeper into their territory. Of course as soon as someone comes to challenge, he leaves his “station” and the ball carrier can play 1-2s, break the line and, hey presto, start to create the overload.

    I think the tactic Steve describes is becoming increasingly common but we till haven’t mastered it as only one of a NUMBER of options to play out from the back.

    I’m not sure why this should be when, despite it being an English league, it is the domain of a wide range of nationalities of both players and managers/coaches and you would have expected a greater variety of attacking improvisation because of their probably superior education, from young ages in playing the game.

  5. Hi Steve the Seagull. I think that the method of playing out from the back when the centre backs split the width of the penalty area and the full backs push high up the pitch, was introduced by Barcelona. Busquets, from a centre midfield position, dropped into the space between the centre backs, received a pass from the keeper on the half turn, and came forward with the ball to commence an attack. Swansea have taken this on board and do it quite regularly and I have seen Liverpool do it when Adam has been in centre midfield. A little while ago, an Australian coach posted a comment on this blog to say that in Australia this way of playing out from the back is introduced from a very early age in the school curricleum.
    In the UEFA Under 17 Final, Holland were actually playing the first ball from the keeper to one of his centre backs, who did not split, and they attempted to play to midfield link-man Ake. The German strikers cut this out by one pressing the centre back who had the ball and the other
    screening Ake, as previously described. I thought that it was a pity that Holland never showed much nous to adapt and change their approach,
    because the Dutch used to be masters at playing out from the back.
    This has been underlined in the last couple of days when ESPN Classic have shown 30 minutes of highlights from a European Cup tie between Liverpool and Ajax at Anfield in December 1966. Although the black and white film is grainy and the pitch partly shrouded in fog, you can still see the great quality of the 19 year old Cruyff and his colleagues from that unforgettable generation of Dutch players.

    • Hi Steve. The problem teams’ are having with their pass-pass-pass game-style is simply that opponents are marking more effectively in mid-field. The rotational movement of mid-field players to create space for the deeper player to receive from back players is only good if the opposition allows this player the space and time to receive and play a positive pass etc. They aren’t getting that space enough and even if they do, they are only in a similar position as the back defenders who gave him/her the ball !
      There has to be more practical thought into space awareness, space penetration and creative opportunities from these Play-round situations . We at Premier Skills, had already recognized these problems and included work in our programmes that covers all the aspects of overloading and penetrative play.

  6. Whenever a Play-round occurs at any moment – if it is on – the team in possession should look to ‘play-through’ to a team mate – moving between opponents and showing – who if possible can turn on the half-turn. Every pass in a play-round should be used by the recipient – before receiving the ball – as an opportunity to penetrate by passing or running with the ball, rather than an end in itself; unless for tactical reasons such as ‘resting’ on the ball. John is correct.

  7. Hi Brazil94. Yes we certainly do need to coach players at all levels on how to utilize penetration opportunities from Play-round areas. It is not just player(s) on the ball who must see these opportunities but player(s) off the ball must also be fully aware of what’s happening and be prepared to position themselfs accordingly.
    Premier Skills has all of this type of work in related practices and it is introduced with increased difficulty from level 3 to level 5. It’s such an important but unused feature of the game and certainly an aspect that should never be disregarded in any development programme.
    Because we established our playing vision first, we were able to introduce all aspects of the game at the correct learning times and develop them on to completion.

  8. If anyone is on here prior to the two finals it shall be interesting how each team plays off the play-rounds?

  9. I have played most of this season using a 4-2-2-2 and the two deep lying mids are always looking to come short for the ball….this is definitely a problem for the opposition rather than us and is the key to our ability to get the ball out from the back…we have 7 players (incl gk) available in space and because of the numerical advantage we can play tiki taka …we do not have to play sweeping 20 yard balls across the back all the time because there are two or three 5-7 yd possibilities. At our level oppositions nearly always fancy pressing us and so penetration is easy. What distinguishes the Barcelona style under Guidiola is the closeness of players to each other in the central areas.That is what I have tried to do in the last two seasons. The ball travels shorter distances and is therefore more certain to reach its destination without an interception. The point of play arounds is to draw out the opposition to play through them but 4 players is often not enough….also if your distances are wrong you remain stuck where you are.

  10. Hi Fletch. I am interested to read how you have been having your team play during the last two seasons. Your adoption of the Barcelona method of players playing close together in the central areas so that the ball travels shorter distances and consequently possession being maintained for longer periods, is very impressive.By the same token, I assume that you have approached regaining possession of the ball when it has been lost, in the same way. That is, because your players in that area are never more than 10 yards away from the ball, they therefore never have to run more than 10 yards to press the opponent who robbed them to get the ball back. This contrasts with the typical English game of long passes, when balls are too often played long for team mates to chase over longer distances. With possession being given up much more often, then this necessitates running longer distances to try and get the ball back again. So you get a typical English game of endless long running, with and without the ball, and fatigue, mental and physical, which results in poor quality play which we too often see.

  11. And Steve by definition a lack of the possibility of ‘clever’ play-rounds aka West Ham! – what is going on there? and Chelski! Ron and John will be turning in their graves and a penny for the thoughts of Shanks at this time.

  12. Hi Brazil94. Although West Ham United have been, for many years, ‘My Team’, I was actually sorry that it was they, and not Blackpool, who won the Championship play-off final at Wembley last Saturday. Judging Blackpool on this match, and even more against Birmingham in the 1st leg of their semi final, they have a playing style which is much more in keeping with the the old West Ham.
    Blackpool are better when they have Gary Taylor-Fletcher at centre forward but he was injured for the Wembley match and Kevin Philips deputised. Taylor-Fletcher does not have as much pace so their play then seems to be built around playing up to his feet and working off him as he shields and protects the ball. Philips, on the other hand, makes quick, darting runs into space and they then adjust their approach and the ball is played more into the space behind the opposition defence. But, either way, Blackpool have a nice possession style which reflects well on their manager, Ian Holloway.
    Sam Alardyce was appointed West Ham manager after their relegation because it was considered that he had a good record of getting teams up from the Championship to the Premier League, but with the emphasis on physicality and long passes played often from back to front. Holloway, on the other hand, got Blackpool into the Premier League playing good, technical football although it failed to keep them there for more than one season. To his credit, he has persisted with that style during the last season but, at the end, it just failed to get them the promotion they deserved.
    Holloway now deserves a bigger club in the Premier League to develop along the lines he was working on at Blackpool, but obviously with better players at a higher level. But, just as important, it is vital that the assistant coaches that he has had at Blackpool are allowed to continue to progress the work there so that they proceed along the same game style. This is the problem in English football, because what usually happens is a new manager comes in, brings his own coaching staff, and the work of the previous manager goes out of the window. The result is that all the previous good work goes to waste and the English game, as a whole, does not make progress.

  13. It was good to see Crewe deservedly win promotion to League 1 via the Wembley Play-off Final yesterday against Cheltenham, because their game-style, based on possession play, has been their trade-mark for many years, ever since Dario Gradi has been associated with them.
    I said previously that it is very unsatisfactory when a team changes to a totally different playing style following a change in manager which usually results in a change in back-room staff and the new manager brings in his own coaches who he has worked with at other clubs. Over night a team’s playing style can change and this is a cause for concern. If we agree that a playing method based on ball retention and clever play is the way forward for our national team in international tournaments, then a club which has followed these principles for many years should not be thrust into a position where their playing methods then change to a direct approach in which long passing and hard running become the essential ingredients.
    I am not criticising out of hand those coaches who decide, for whatever reason, that a long-ball, direct approach is the way forward for them. There need not be just one playing style and if we favour the short-passing, possession-based style then we have to show that we can play it well enough to beat and outplay the long ball teams. But there should be some sort of legislation that prevents a totally different game style being imposed on a club who, until that point in time, has always played in a different manner and whose coaches have all been schooled in that approach.

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