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Whether you admire Tuchel, idolize Klopp or prefer Ancelotti’s classic style, the one evident principle here is that midfield dictates the game. We can hardly name a successful team in football records without solid consistent midfield performance. In this article we present three simple midfield drills that highlight how the midfield orchestrates the game mainly by directing a play, exploiting spaces, and supporting different roles in, both, back and front line.
Drill 1: Third man runs
In top-level football, compact defending can really be a tough nut to crack. One of the most common ways to break this down is third man runs. In this drill, the aim is to build up the play on one side between a few players and have a third player make a run in the blind area. Such build-up on one side naturally forces opponents to shift their lines and focus to this side.
While tempted to press in this area, defenders focus on ball exchange and lose attention to uninvolved players on the other side. If executed well, defenders should have hard times with quick-shifting and body orientation.
Seconds earned by such a surprise move can decide games and earn points.
Deep perfectly timed runs, accurate passes and sublime finishes earned them, combined, a total of 26 goals and 22 assists in all competitions this season. The German gaffer is undoubtedly proud of that.
Drill 2: Rondo with Box
This drill emphasizes how crucial it is to block in between passes in midfield. A rando is a classic squared set up in which players keep the ball in possession while a few defenders are trying to tackle it. By having defenders outnumbered, players get used to defending in an overloaded situation. Additionally, in this drill, a box is set up in the center of this rondo and the main coaching point here is to have defensive midfielders protect this box by moving together tightly while still trying to tackle the ball.
This box is often referred to as ‘Box 14’ on a full-sized field and is mostly considered a no-fly zone for all coaches. Finding your opponent in possession of ball in this box means your defense line is exposed and possibly forced to come out of position to defuse this attack before strikers find the needed time and space to finish it.
So, unless you are blessed with a top-tier shield like N’golo Kante or Casemiro in your squad, as a coach you want to make sure your midfielders know how to move as one block not allowing any passages in the defensive half. This is best demonstrated by Liverpool’s cohesive combo – Henderson and Fabinho. One can easily see how they shut down this area completely, forcing opponents to go around them and send deep crosses that barely cause any harm.
Drill 3: Two Men Triangles
How can two men form a triangle?! This oxymoron name is confusing and that is exactly why it works. Confusing a well-organized defense is what you should pursue in order to score goals.
In this exercise, like the first drill, the aim is to exploit undefended pockets in your opponent’s side of the park. We start with two midfielders positioned horizontally or slightly slanted. After passing the ball from player A to player B, the player who just made the pass (player A) runs to receive the ball again in the vacant apex of the triangle. It is important that the second pass is well-timed by Player B. A bit too early is likely to create a 50/50 challenge situation for Player A. While a late pass can give defenders enough time to mark Player A and lose the advantage of this dynamic possession. When watching Real Madrid’s midfield trio, I am astounded by the level of perfection Modric and Kroos can perform this simple yet effective movement to break the opponent’s midfield line.
Every coach has his own system of playing and to see this system fruitful, he has to tailor a given squad or create his own apparatus when such luxury is available. Nevertheless, midfield remains, literally, the centerpiece of any successful system. With consistent adoption and progressive training, midfield drills can enhance the quality of midfield performance over time and help coaches find prolific formulas and midfield combos that gel well and last for seasons long.