Updated: Aug 21, 2022
"I think that Pepijn Lijnders is one of the modern game's greatest player development coaches." - Jed Davies
With Liverpool's success in recent years, the reputation of assistant coach Pepijn Lijnders has risen and risen in the coaching community. Even recently with the absence of head coach, Jurgen Klopp, due to COVID, we wrote about Lijnders impact on the Liverpool bench against Chelsea. I came across Pepijn Lijnders' work a few years ago when he was a youth team coach with FC Porto and was immediately struck by the element of creativity and variability in his training session. Below you can see an example of Lijnders working with young Porto players on bicycle kicks and volleys. This was the first time that I had seen them being practiced in a group setting and it immediately got my thinking about potential restrictions that we have around session design and structure.
In this article, I want to take a closer look at some of Lijnders' session design from videos that we are fortunate to see through YouTube and social media. The elements of his design that jump out to me are the way that he can challenge players in his sessions, both in terms of technique and opposed work, as well as how he navigates the flow of an exercise. If you get either wrong as a coach, positional work can disengage players or the tempo can drop and all of a sudden the realism can disappear. In each of the videos below however, I believe it is a great example of important tempo is and how each exercise looks to have the Liverpool players performing at their maximum speed. Below is a quote from Pepijn Lijnders that I felt was fascinating in how he looks at session design in terms of "create and contextualise." For me, this means similar to a tactical system, there are principles that he wants to stay consistent with, but allowing ideas to evolve means that you are constantly looking at new ways to challenge and inspire the players. This is an extremely skillful process for a coach to master.
Below are some examples of Pepijn Lijnders' work and exercise design.
Five-Ball Shooting Exercise
From an organizational standpoint, this exercise is fantastic in terms of the flow and the different timings involved in the exercise. In just one set, there is a shot from a central area and then two diagonal passes at the same time, one resulting in shot and one in a cross. Then there's a finish from close range which is similar to a pull-back, and finally a combination which leads to a cross and a finish. With five balls per set, it can be extremely difficult to balance complexity and simplicity, but Pepijn Lijnders manages to strike it perfectly in this exercise. It gets players thinking while still prioritizing instinct around the box, and every finish looks to be a specific to what they could expect from the game. You can watch the breakdown and Liverpool doing the exercise below.
The exercise can also be tapered to work with smaller groups (see below) where it becomes more positional work than a team finishing activity. Again, you can see the detail in Pepijn Lijnders' work with regards to timing of the activity. Every action is planned to precision so that there is no waiting around and this achieves the realism of a match-day in terms of tempo and intensity.
3v2 to Goal Multi-Functional Activity
This is another multi-functional exercise with a creative design. Two players play a diagonal pass at the same time for two forwards to finish from wider angles. In order to prevent both forwards finishing at the same time, one takes an early shot while the other dribbles and finishes a 1v1 with the goalkeeper. This gives the goalkeeper a chance to save both efforts, which keeps the level of challenge high on the forwards. Immediately after the second finish, the two servers now play with the help of a neutral in a 3v2 scenario to goal. Finally, the two teams switch roles with the defenders becoming attackers and the attackers becoming defenders. The neutral player remains in the overload. The difference in this exercise is that it is opposed and therefore quite physically demanding, particularly for the initial group of forwards. You can watch the exercise below.
Shooting and 1v1 to Goal
This activity again challenges the attacking players to score from a variety of different finishes. The set-up is quite simple with a central shot on goal, followed by the central player combining with the wide player to shoot from an angle. Immediately following the second shot, the wide player then turns and sprints to the other goal where they receive a ball from a coach to go 1v1 against the goalkeeper. I really like this addition because 1v1 finishes are sometimes difficult to incorporate into sessions and as a result, are not practiced as much as they potentially should be. You can watch the exercise below.
Game Day Warm-Up
Another example of Pepijn Linders' positional design that we have seen has been in the Liverpool pre-game warm-up, which I witnessed in 2019. Again, the initial set-up looks like the five-ball exercise, but there are a couple of changes. The objective seems to be here that each individual (attacking players) gets three finishes in a row. The first one is a pretty straightforward dribble and shoot from outside the box. The second is a pass when the attacker is facing away from the goal, and must turn and finish. Then the third ball is from a cross on the opposite side. The fact that players have three finishes and then have time to recover may be aligned with the physical plan for a pre-game load standpoint, so it is not as physical or intense as his training work, but also has the variety and the specificity. You can watch the exercise below. You can also watch the full Liverpool pre-game warm-up here.
Individual Forwards Finishing
Although this individual exercise may seem simple, there is still very much an element of detail involved and transfer to the game. Three cones are organized on the edge of the box with the player starting on the wide cone and bouncing a pass back to Lijnders, who is a server. The attacker must then spin into the other side of the cones where a ball is played in for them to finish on goal. Yet again, the timing is critical for the forward to perform the actions at maximum speed and the organization of the exercise also allows them to easily switch over and work on the other side. You can watch the exercise below.
If you would like more session ideas, please check out the new eBook: MSC Positional Training Exercises for Forwards, by clicking here.