Updated: Sep 21, 2021
The objective of these articles is not to copy or generalize that a coach works in a certain way, because without knowing the coach personally or sitting in on the staff meetings, we simply cannot have a full appreciation of aims and objectives for each session. Instead however, I believe that by taking a closer look at how some of the world’s best coaches structure their training, and in doing so we can see that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this game. In addition, although two coaches can do the exact same exercise, there can be massive differences in the detail. It can be especially hard to judge the work of an international coach who has players for limited time and at different physical levels, but there are still some interesting concepts that we can look at.
Luis Enrique is a coach who has fascinated me for quite some time. He was one of my favorite players growing up, playing for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Spain. However, despite playing for some of the top teams in the world and playing a key role in the attack, Luis Enrique was a very industrious player, almost relying on his work ethic over his ability on the ball, and I have often wondered how this impacted his coaching style. Below is a short video from his time as Barcelona B coach, talking about his philosophy when it came to coaching. Again, you can hear how clear he is with his idea of how the game should be played, but also a real collective approach to both sides of the ball.
Although there is not a lot of training footage available of Luis Enrique online, I did manage to find a few exercises that looked to bring out certain aspects of his philosophy and the playing style of his teams. The first training exercise that I found to be really interesting was this passing activity, which is done at an extremely high intensity and with limited recovery time. The context of an exercise like this could be exposing the Spain players to bouts of high intensity work as they came off a break at the end of their domestic seasons. An international manager does not have the luxury of a pre-season camp prior to tournaments so this may have been a way to generate physical outputs that they required for their players. Below is a video breakdown of the exercise, along with a clip of Spain working through it. Immediately, the speed and intensity of the activity jumps out at you, but I think the quality of each action in terms of technique is also really impressive.
With Luis Enrique's background as a player at Barcelona, you would expect him to be an avid believer in possession games that can move and manipulate opponents. The 4v4+3 game is almost built for coaches who can create and utilize combination play in small spaces, and then combine that with extremely aggressive defensive actions if possession is lost. The set-up is very simple: two teams of four players each compete against each other, with three neutral players creating a +3 overload. The objective is to keep possession with the overload and transfer the ball from one end to the other. If possession is lost, the teams switch roles immediately. The positioning of the team can create tactical concepts that can be used to communicate certain principles within the game model. The team in possession position themselves in the periphery and the overload works directly through the middle. That structure can create angles and ideas that are easily transferable to 11v11. Below is an animation of the exercise, along with an example of Luis Enrique's Barca team doing it.
A very similar exercise to the 4v4+3 is an 8v8+3 exercise that Luis Enrique did with his Spain team. This looks to be a simple possession game without many constraints or conditions, so it could be an activation activity before some specific tactical work was introduced to the session. However, although the exercise may be quite simple, the quality in possession and the intensity of the transitions are both at a very high level. The directional aspect of the game also looks to bring out certain concepts where the team in possession can unbalance the opposition and create space in other areas. Below is an example of this exercise along with an animation.
The next exercise is one that Luis Enrique did with his Barcelona team where they look to replicate an organized attacking scenario against a low and compact defensive block. It set-up into a 10v9 situation with three zones. The first zone is a 2v1, second zone is a 4v4 and third is a 4v4. Teams are structured with their starting positions and, while the defensive team are limited to their zones, the team in possession can use their numerical advantage anywhere on the pitch as they have the freedom to move between zones. The focus here seems to be to find key attacking positions in-between defensive lines, playing in behind a low defensive block, and an awareness of counter-pressing opportunities when initial possession is lost. The objective for the team in possession is to receive the ball inside the penalty area, behind the last line of defense. Play begins in the first area where there is a 2v1 situation, where the two center backs look to progress the ball into the next zone, and finally into the penalty area. Below is an example of the exercise. One of the highlights for me is the positioning of Iniesta throughout the build-up. Quite often in possession exercises, players move towards the ball and can miss key spaces that can cause damage in games. Iniesta was one of the world’s best midfielders for ten years and it’s fascinating to see the detail of his movement in an exercise like this.
The final exercise is a finishing activity that Luis Enrique did with his Barca team at the end of a training session. Again, although the set-up may seem very simple here, it is certainly a challenge even for some of the best players in the world. A wide player pulls the ball back to an oncoming attacker at the edge of the box and they must finish the long-range effort with one touch. On this occasion, intensity is definitely not an objective and the players seem to use it as a fun challenge to finish the session. Below is a video example of the exercise.
Although this shooting exercise may initially seem that it lacks transfer to the game, given the nature of defensive units that Barcelona constantly played against, the opposite may be true. Up against low blocks with minimum space between lines or behind center backs, often full-backs were sent into attacking areas to stretch opponents, and attacking players were positioned on the edge of the box. Below is a Messi goal against Atletico Madrid with a similar picture shooting from range, which was definitely within his and his teammates capabilities. Was this something that Luis Enrique deliberately worked on with his Barca team or was the exercise just a fun shooting challenge? This would be a question that I would love to ask him if I ever had the fortune of meeting him.