The concept of breakout rondos have fascinated me for a number of years. Along with so many coaches, I fell in love with the possession style and attacking fluidity of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team from 2008-2012 and desperately wanted to replicate that dominance in possession with the teams I was working with. However, I found difficulty in making significant progress in this area for a number of reasons initially. In my opinion, coaching the concepts of ‘Positional Play’ is one of the most difficult balancing acts on the training pitch where structure and freedom seem to be constantly battling with one another. If you get that balance even slightly wrong, positioning can easily become step-by-step instructions, which diminishes the fluidity, and in the same way highlighting passing options can become prescriptive, which dilutes decision making. Without confidence in decision making and movement, it’s almost impossible for any team or player will thrive in possession.
Although rondos are synonymous with Barcelona, training a team to become fluid in possession involves much more than setting up a 4v2 inside a 10x10 area. In recent years, we've seen the game move towards verticality in possession and coaches like Tuchel and Klopp building up and progressing their possession with the speed that many would love to counter-attack with. Recently I made a video on my YouTube page around the making the rondos more realistic and questioning if verticality and possession football can live in a traditional rondo format. We talk so much about realism as a coaching community, but surely if teams are conditioned to keep a ball inside a small area, they will miss opportunities to exploit the specific spaces that the rondo is designed to open. You can watch the video below and if you enjoy these types of breakdowns, please subscribe to the page by clicking here.
Utilizing breakout rondos in training sessions has helped me to strike the balance between getting that verticality in possession, along with having the patience to initially solve the problem of accessing certain spaces. Timing is so important in a possession system and I think moving into verticality too early in an exercise, can often misguide players what the reality of the game will be. Often teams will be required to move their opponents and trigger some form of pressure, in order to create spaces in-between and potentially behind defensive lines. The higher level of the team, in my opinion, the more skilled they typically are in opening spaces that they have planned to exploit.
Below are a three breakout rondo games that I have selected as my favorites and I believe that they can be utilized at every level, with room to modify depending on philosophy of the coach or conditions of the upcoming games.
7v4 Breakout on Dribble
This breakout game is intended to replicate a situation where the possession team (red below) may have a potential overload in the central midfield area. Once five passes are completed inside the area, a player can breakout on the dribble and another player can join them moving to attack the isolated defender towards goal. The dribbler can opt to use the 2v1 once they break out, or go alone and beat the defender 1v1 on the way to goal. If the defensive team wins possession, they can score in the mini-goals. A coach can change the conditions in terms of passes required to breakout, or even adding recovering defenders to that players face a greater challenge when they do breakout and move towards the goal. The reason that I enjoy it is that it adds a greater variety to the skillset of attackers in a possession system. "Today, without players who can dribble, nothing can be done," said Pep Guardiola and designing attacking practices where players can dribble and pass will can highlight it's importance in breaking down compact defensive units.
6v4 Breakout into Wide Areas
This is a game where the picture is again presented as a central overload against a compact defensive unit. Once again, there is a pass number required in order to breakout of the initial area and then look to play to either wide player in the areas outside the 18-yard box. Once the breakout ball is played wide, the outside players are crossers who are limited to two touches. This restriction means that support must arrive quickly from attackers to finish the cross. Another change from the first game is that if the defensive team wins possession, they play an outlet pass into a forward who looks to score in the other goal, instead of the mini-goals. Below is a video example of the exercise with Racing Louisville last season.
8v8 Central Breakout Game
This game starts with a very specific scenario for the rondo as the goal is to replicated a three-player midfield (in blue) against two midfielders. Once they breakout, all three blue midfielders can attack the goal, along with three forwards and two attacking-full-backs. I think a key difference in this game is that it's still quite challenging to score once a team breaks out against the two defenders initially. The defending team still have a back four and two holding midfielders, along with a goalkeeper, so it presents a challenge to the attacking team where they should look to exploit. This game also gives the full-backs the trigger on when to move into the final third and a sense of timing in the relationship with the 7/11s. If the defensive team win possession, they can score in any of the mini-goals. An interesting progression is for a coach to play a second ball in after an initial attack and then challenge the attacking team to counter-press and prevent forward passes into the red players who try to win the ball back initially. You can watch the video for this exercise below.
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