After having become a hit with tactic-hipsters and modern coaches all over the world with his high pressing, vertical style of football at RB Salzburg and Bayer Leverkusen followed by a short, but successful stint in China with Beijing Guoan, Schmidt is now back in Europe coaching an incredibly talented side at PSV Eindhoven.
Therefore I thought it would be a good idea to start our Advent Calendar by analyzing some of the training practices he used earlier this season, mentioning some details within them and how they link to his game model.
You can watch the full session here.
The training started with a few rondo forms, followed by a warm-up program by the athletics coach and a short team sprint competition. However, I will not go into detail about this initial program.
First exercise: 4+2 vs. 2 transition game // 16 players
The first exercise I want to analyze from this training session was an extended Rondo form with some positional play and counter-pressing elements, combined with Roger’s typical vertical play (but more about that later).
The basic form of this exercise is widespread and very popular in professional football. There usually 3 teams with x players are formed, each playing alternately on ball possession/pressing.
For this exercise, 4 teams with 4 players each were formed.
Similar to the basic form just mentioned, this formation consisted of two squares placed diametrically to each other and two poles in the middle. Here the first variation comes into play, which refers to Schmidt’s game model. The field and therefore the distances the players have to cover after they lose the ball are very long,
Red plays a 4 vs. 2 against yellow with the support of the two white players, resulting in a 6 vs. 2 Rondo. The possession players a limited to one touch. Here it is important to note that the white players always support the ball possession team. Only the blue, yellow and red teams can act as a counter-pressing team if needed.
As far as I could tell, specifically central midfielders like Jorrit Hendrix who were given a white shirt.
The team in possession aims to move the ball to the other square after a certain number of passes. This shift took place via a pass between white players, who then moved to the other field and brought in a new dynamic.
After the successful relocation the basic formation looked as follows:
Here you can see a short clip:
What role did the white players play?
At first glance, this small rule does not seem to be very special. In fact, adding third-man passes into your exercises is something many coaches do.
Here is a small excursus to which I attach great importance. My good pal and great coach Chris Summersell (you can find his twitter here) published an analysis about Schmidt’s first session, where the following exercise was discussed.
There Chris explained the effectiveness of this exercise as follows:
This practice is used to embed the key concepts of Schmidt’s style of play where up-back-through automatisms are created through repetition even, in this case, without opposition in the way. Even with a simple enough practice design, the key aspect is that it remains consistent with the style of play Schmidt will implement. Vertical passes, one-touch layoffs, supporting third player runners — all done with rapid ball speed and good timing of movement. (…)
Even for skilled professionals, these habits must be trained repetitively to become second nature, and professionals are not immune to sloppy play either. This is the kind of exercise that doesn’t end until all passes are zipped on the deck at the correct speed, layoffs are well cushioned to the correct foot of the receiver who has timed the run to play the layoff forward in one pass themselves. Thus it (in theory) becomes habit, and habit should translate on to the pitch come match-day.
Option 2: The team in possession of the ball loses the ball and tries to recapture it by counter-pressing.
Thus, one would start again from the initial situation, the 4 plus 2 vs. 2.
Second Exercise: Pressing into Counterattacking
In the second exercise presented today, there is an even stronger reference to Schmidt’s game model.
Here a small 4 vs. 2 starts in a very small field as above. 4 players of the defensive team wait around the field. If the defensive team (white) wins the ball, the players on the outside can quickly switch over and play an interface pass to the remaining players scattered around the field.
This simulates very well game situations in which Schmidt wants to get his team. White wins the ball after a pressing trap and can counter quick
It is also crucial that the attacking team is able to advance centrally, so the defensive team has to cover the center as you would expect — too often well-meaning constraints on practice design have unintended consequences that hamper realism rendering the practice ineffective.
There are also other advantages:
For example, players see the effectiveness of their pressing and recognize the value of a well-coordinated pressing.
Another example is the enormous intensity of the exercise. Both the offensive players and the defensive players have to perform their follow-up actions (counterattacks, counter-prevention) with high speed and precision.
This relates to Schmidt’s desire to play quick vertical football, with a tendency to play risky, forward line-breaking passes through small gaps. In his game model, his teams do not tend to switch the ball side to side to create openings in the opposition block, instead, they overload narrow vertical channels and look to play forward constantly. This adds up very nicely if you have creative midfielders with qualities in fast, vertical combination-play (as well as excellent technical qualities) like Ihattarren and Götze.
Conclusion, Learnings, Notes
#1 The focus on the practices clearly demonstrated his preference for vertical football and aggressive pressing, while focusing on possession elements as well.
#2 Schmidt does not once use a ‘stop, stand still’ approach, allowing the game to flow without disrupting the rhythm of the session, rather using high intensity 3 minutes long intervals.
#3 Here one could list all explicit coaching points that occur during regular position and counter-pressing exercises. (Attract pressure to overplay, Looking for target player, Playing into depth, etc…). The effectiveness and the explicit connection to a trainer’s game idea, in the case of Roger Schmidt, is more based on the connection of the exercise with the transfer in game principles (exercise 1) and game situations (exercise 2). You can see how Schmidt tries to implement his own model using unopposed exercises as well as game-near / high complex exercises.
*Small side note: This article is quite similar to the one Chris Summersell published some months ago. You can find his (very very good) analysis here.