After a layoff for the holidays, coaches are usually very keen to get everyone back to the previous levels of fitness that were already gained throughout the first half of the season. Below are three ideas to re-establish principles in terms of possession, defending, or even simply highlighting the attitude and energy required at every level of the game. These exercises can be used as warm-ups or at different phases of the session and can also be adjusted to suit game models and physical demands. As always, monitoring load and fatigue are crucial to the success of a training program. You cannot get a team fit with one training session, so it's important coaches are deliberate with their planning and always getting feedback from players on how they are experiencing the work physically.
1 - AC Milan Fitness Rondo
This is a simple but effective exercise to differ the intensity levels of a traditional rondo. Six players are organized around a 10x10 square with a group of balls located approximately ten yards away from the playing area. On the signal, one player must go, get a ball, pass it back to the group, and then recover into a defensive presser as it becomes a 5v1. When the ball is knocked out of the grid, the next player must go and the exercise continues.
Below is an example of the AC Milan team, under Stefano Pioli, doing the exercise. You can see that he is highlighting the moment the ball goes out of the grid as an immediate reaction for the next player to go, almost like a transitional moment. The pace of the pass from the defender before they return is another aspect of this exercise that stands out when the Milan players are doing it.
2 - Patrick Viera High-Intensity Transition Drill
This exercise is great for exposing players to overloads, 1v1 situations, and transitional moments of the game. Players are organized into two teams with a central playing area and two wide corridors with a mini-goal on each side. The red team starts attacking in a 2v1 situation with 10 seconds to score. Immediately following the attack, the two wide blue attackers play 1v1 in the wide corridors and look to score against the initial red attackers. Teams play for 3 minutes and then change roles.
Below is an example of the exercise from Patrick Viera and Crystal Palace. You can see that they have added a pole to go around closer to the goal prior to the 1v1. Conditions like this modify the physical load and, in this case, increase the challenge of for the red attackers, as well as allowing them to face the defender to potentially replicate a pressing situation in a game.
3 - Roger Schmidt 8v8 Pressing Game
This is a perfect game for a team who prioritizes high-pressing and targeting the wide areas to win possession. Teams play 8v8 on a 30x40 yard pitch, with a 6-yard gate on each side of the halfway line. If a player dribbles through the gate, they are awarded one point, with a goal worth two points. Coaches can progress or manipulate the exercises to allow completed passes to count as well, increasing the challenges for the defensive team.
Below is an example of this exercise from Roger Schmidt at PSV Einhoven. The body shape of the defensive team stands out here as they are almost inviting their opponent's towards the wide gates initially. This is then the trigger for the defensive team to shift across, apply aggressive pressure and win the ball. The extra point for the goal also incentivizes the defensive team to be positive in the transitions and look to take advantage of a potentially disorganized opponent.
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