Door 13: Open position

By Lukas Brandl, author at “Talentkritiker” and U11 coach at Wacker Burghausen

,,Open Position”; – as it is in the interpretation- and opinion-rich world of football, five different readers will probably also understand five different things under this concept. How different these could be is illustrated by small distinctions in the terminology.

For example, ,,open-ended position” would almost mean the opposite of   ,,obvious position”; ,,position”; could be understood by one reader as ,,attitude”, another as ,,body position”. That is why it is important to clarify what purpose an open position can pursue – the ,,what”; results, so to speak, from the ,,wherefore”.

There should be agreement that a player on the pitch always strives to be able to act, and ultimately the principle of the open position wants to help to implement this. For example, a midfielder who calls for the ball between the central defenders during build-up and receives the ball from the goalkeeper, takes it with him with the first contact in such a way that he now, turned 180°, has his own goal in his back again and action possibilities to the front.

Or a player in the front third, whose position while waiting to receive the ball will influence whether he will be able to go into a frontal 1vs1 or not – a prominent example is a scene from Manchester City training, in which Pep Guardiola tries to teach this to Raheem Sterling.

It is important to recognize, however, that such a positioning does not serve the overall purpose of comprehensive ability to act, because the value of a  ,,position”; is always dependent on the position of fellow players and opponents, on the game situation which is currently taking place and on the plan which there is.

As an example Sandro Wagner could be mentioned in season 15/16 for Darmstadt 98, when he regularly consciously took passes (often long balls) with his back to the opponent’s goal in order to see the midfielders and to be able to put the ball down accordingly, even if there was the possibility to take the pass forward. This simply corresponded to the plan and abilities of the players involved and was therefore more sensible than looking for an ,,open position”.

In the sense of the ability to act, a closed position can also be more open than an open position, for example to lure the opponent, as part of a feint in a broader sense (provocation), an example would be Neymar, who changes against RC Strasbourg from a seemingly open position to a closed one, while the opponent wants to restore his defensive basic order (look at the back four), but Neymar lures some players of the opponent to press him and uses the resulting gaps ( from second 18).

But it is precisely this example that shows how dependent an open position is on its actors and the situation.  Consequently, the desirable open position can not be taught by teaching generalized body-positions.

The training game

,,I try to have a picture when I receive the ball and know where everyone is. That’s one of the most important things for a midfielder”, tells Frenkie de Jong in a Guardian-Interview and hits the nail on the head when it comes to what an open position depends on.

Whether a player already has the ball or will get it – without knowing what surrounds him, he won’t be able to go into an open position. Therefore, the training of this principle can never take place in isolation from the context, in this case the perception and creation of an ,,inner map”.

The training goal should therefore be to make players aware of how important it is to always have an idea of the environment and to draw the appropriate consequences for positioning.

Structure: 4vs2 in a rectangular field, which in turn has a rectangular front zone, a small square in the center, and a decagon adjacent to the front zone (outer area of the hexagon in which the square is located). The apparently complex form of the field is caused by the intention to avoid passes within a few metres, which would not be helpful in this context, resulting from the decreasing importance of the position, since the password angles would become smaller.

Rules: The game starts by a red player dribbling in/playing from the lower edge of the field, where the ball pool is located. Red can now score by having one of the players play in the central square and then play to another player in the decagon (1 point) or in the front zone (2 points).

Blue can score points by conquering the ball (1 point) (hitting the ball does not score a point) and then passing successfully to the other player (2 points). In addition, blue may only enter the central square if a red player has touched a ball in it. Further rules are mentioned in context in the following exercise description.

Personal experience

In the practical test with my under 11-Team in the academy of Wacker Burghausen it turned out quickly that Blue accepts the 1-point passes of Red and tries to close any pass paths into the front third by positioning itself close to the upper end of the central square, following the logic of the cover shade. Red now had to find ways to lure blue from this comfortable posture – methodically this can be fired by adding as a rule for Red that five 1-point passes bring two extra points or the like, that worked well.

If blue had conquered the ball or even added a pass to it, the player from red who is next to the ballpool continues the game without being asked to do so, unless the ball was recaptured by red. I refrained from using counter goals for blue, as this would have put the intensity of the playing form too much on a different focus (in a 4vs2 there are some ball losses, especially with an under 11 team).

The game form now pursues the formulated principle to the extent that the player of team Red, who is located in the central square (or wants to occupy it), is permanently challenged to perceive and utilize the positioning and running direction of his fellow players and opponents.

In practice, an interesting process was discernible: in the beginning, the red center player almost exclusively bounced the ball back, and the other players also almost always positioned themselves to the side or below the square. When the attempt was made to play in the front zone, the ball was lost.

The next step was now to remind Red to look around regularly – this was implemented, and now it could often be observed that the current center player looked around, but until the ball was received, so much time passed, that attractive passing-possibilities had already elapsed.

At this point, the ,,open position”; came into the picture – the player in the center must, as a result of his observations, already initiate his next steps, his own position, in order to take advantage of the narrow timeframe of opportunity, although this does not mean that a generalized, forward-looking position should be practiced – this would be predictable for Blue and could easily be defended.

The red team also noticed this, and began to manipulate blue through body position, for example by suggesting a pass to the wing, waiting until the blue player would run to close this option and then, turning in the other direction with the first contact and playing deep.

Or by the centre player turning forward provocatively late, knowing that a blue player was about to attack him, and could beat the blue player in 1vs1 without any problems and play the pass into the front zone because of this knowledge.

These things cannot be trained explicitly, they are also associated with a lot of risk in their close situational dependence and the associated instability, but game forms like these force the players to risky and creative solution attempts.

Of course you have to take care to use the players evenly in both teams; ,,incidentally”, blue is of course also permanently challenged to come to defensive solutions in numerical disadvantage.

Basically, in my experience, the open position can be well triggered in training when a certain pressure to act is created for the players. Through an appropriate position, or even more fundamentally: through knowledge of the environment, other possibilities often arise that would otherwise remain undiscovered, or, in retrospect, an executed action appears to have had no alternative although it only became alternativeless through the position of the player (or his non-existent or out-of-date ,,inner map”).

The open position in the sense of the game is therefore rather a conscious position or an empowering position.

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