How would you have countered Mourinho’s tactics yesterday?


Having watched the Liverpool v Chelsea match this weekend, I got to thinking about how an attacking, attractive footballing team can overcome a team who ‘park the bus’ as Chelsea did on Sunday. So I’d like to explore the subject, using Liverpool v Chelsea as an example, and I’d love coaches to get involved in this conversation by adding your ideas and thoughts via the comments?

Liverpool have blown teams many away this season, especially at Anfield, by attacking at pace with very mobile, quick-thinking forward players. That starts with Gerrard in the holding midfield role, who is able to play long, accurate balls to players like Sterling, Coutinho, Sturridge and of course the newly crowned PFA Player of the Year, Luis Suarez.

Liverpool usually create space by exhibiting great movement and by attacking at pace. By getting the ball forward quickly and to feet, with movement off the ball, it often pulls defenders out of shape and creates spaces for the forwards to exploit in between defending players. They also have a forward line who can beat a man, which of course helps.

I can recall two occasions however this season where opposition teams at Anfield have ‘parked the bus’ in as much as they packed the defensive third of the pitch in order to limit the space in which Liverpool want to attack. Against Chelsea, that defensive mentality was ironically best illustrated by Chelsea’s first goal. When Steven Gerrard’s slipped, he was just in his own half and Demba Ba was the only Chelsea player anywhere near him.

A few weeks previously, Sunderland tried a similar tactic, but they defended with a slightly higher line and it took a free kick from distance to break the deadlock and for Sunderland to then come out and play.

So it got me thinking. What can you actually do about it as a coach, when faced with a team that have 10 men behind the ball? For long periods yesterday Liverpool were camped in the Chelsea half, passing the ball in front of ten Chelsea players, and finding no space to play in the final third. In the end, Gerrard, Allen and others resorted to shots from just outside the box, without any joy.


Although it didn’t work for Liverpool yesterday, I am thinking that shots from the edge of the box might be one of the tactics to employ when there are eight or nine players defending the penalty area. Trying to work the space to get as near as you can, and then aim to hit an in-off shot, sounds more like billiards than football, but it is difficult to know what else to do in such a crowded penalty area? To try and wriggle through that many players with dribbling and quick passing is extremely difficult. Maybe practicing hitting shots from the edge of the area, at pace, that are around knee high to the defenders would offer the maximum chance of a defender deflecting the ball past a partially unsighted goalkeeper? Or maybe even slightly higher than the knee to tempt the defenders into using their hands?

Yesterday, Mourinho set out to frustrate from the off by setting up with ten men behind the ball, and time wasting in order to take the pace out of the game. He closed off the space in the final third to stifle Liverpool’s attacking flair, and fortuitously nicked a goal at the expense of the slipping Steven Gerrard. His tactics ultimately worked, but it would have been interesting to see how Chelsea would have developed from there had Gerrard not slipped, because they never looked like scoring without that bit of luck.

So how would you have changed things if you were the Liverpool manager against Chelsea yesterday?



Training session – under 7’s tactics for goal kicks

Following a discussion on Twitter with Daniel Gregory about the retreat line rule in youth soccer, and the pros and cons of that rule, I have posted a few thoughts about how we set up our team to ensure that the defender who receives the ball always has a pass they can make.

More generally, we always tell our boys about movement off the ball and to imagine that there is an invisible line between the ball and them at all times. If that invisible line has an opposing player on it, you need to move in order to find space to receive a pass. Having that invisible line in their head is a way of them constantly checking to see if they are in a good position to receive a pass.

Specifically for goal kicks, we set the boys up very narrow in a 2-2 formation (Square) with both defenders roughly in line with the goal posts. This leaves space on the wings, as the opposing players who are waiting to charge from the half-way line will generally mark our players. So if our players are very central, so will the opposing players be.

On the training pitch, we show the boys what that looks like on the 24/7 Coach app (see picture attached) and then set the boys up in that position so they can ‘feel’ what that set up looks like.

The players set up very narrowly, to leave lots of space on the wings
The players set up very narrowly, to leave lots of space on the wings

As soon as the goalkeeper kicks the ball towards the defender on the left-hand side, the opposing players have started to run towards the ball from the halfway line. It of course varies from team to team, but it is usually 2 or 3 players that bomb forward. At least 1 of those players will head for the defender who is about to receive the ball.

The defender receives the ball, as the opposing players rush into your half.
The defender receives the ball, as the opposing players rush into your half.

As the defender receives the ball, they are close to being closed down from the opposing players rushing from the halfway line, but if the pass from the goalkeeper is solid enough there should still be time to control and turn. As the defender is receiving the ball, the forward on the left-hand side makes a quick run out towards the touchline, creating sudden space, which the defender can then use to pass the ball through before the opposing defender reacts.

As the defender gets the ball under control, the forward darts wide to create space to receive the pass.
As the defender gets the ball under control, the forward darts wide to create space to receive the pass before the defender can react.

Id be very interested to hear your feedback on this, or any coaching points related to it in the comments?


Retreat line in mini soccer is a good thing … do you have a different view?

retreat line

In mini-soccer, the FA introduced a rule concerning goal kicks. The rule reads “Law 16. Goal Kick. Procedure. A player of the defending team kicks the ball from any point within the penalty area. Opponents must retreat to their own half until the ball is in play. The defending team does not have to wait for the opposition to retreat and has the option to restart the game before should they choose to. The ball is in play when it is kicked directly out the penalty area.”

I think that it is a good thing for the age group I coach (under 7’s) for the reasons I will explain below. Others disagree though. It is a rule that divides opinion, and I’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments?

Pro retreat line.

The biggest benefit of the retreat line is that it encourages players to play football, with the ball on the ground. Imagine the scenario without a retreat line … a goalkeeper looks up, ready to take a goal kick, and all four of his outfield players are marked. In that scenario, the goalkeeper is likely to try and kick it long. The understandable rationale being that if the ball is going to be lost then it is done as far away from their goal as possible.

I believe that the retreat line offers the goalkeeper an easy pass, to feet, and encourages the team to pass and move from there. Not only does that encourage the passing of the ball, it offers all players more touches of the ball, which will aid their long-term development. More touches = better ball mastery. Or as your parents used to drum into you, practice makes perfect. The whole reason that mini-soccer was introduced was to offer more touches of the ball to each player.

Too often in the past, English coaches would encourage defenders not to play with the ball. Cries from the touchline of ‘get rid’ directed defenders to lump it forward the big lad up front, and that tactic robs the other defenders and the entire midfield from a touch of the ball. That is one thing if you are a Premiership manager trying to set up to play to the strengths of the players you have, but if you are trying to develop young players, then I think it is better to encourage them to receive and pass the ball more often.

As with many things in youth coaching, I think it comes back to the fundamental motivation of the coach. Are you trying to win this game, or develop the players in it for the long-term? If it is the former then your thinking will be about getting the players ready for that game, if it is the latter, you will see the game as another opportunity for the players to develop skills.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts? Please leave a comment.

If you wish to submit an article to be published on the blog, then please email it to me at





Possession. My ideas and thoughts after completing online FA Licensed Coaches Club course


The FA Licensed Coaches Club recently released 6 new online CPD courses, to support coaches who are qualified to either level 1 or level 2. These courses take around one hour each to complete, and consist of watching coaching videos and then answering questions and they count as 1 hour towards your CPD quota.

I have just completed the possession course, aimed at 5-11’s and run by Pete Sturgess. The most interesting idea that I took out of the session on possession was the idea that players have to be completely comfortable with the ball at their feet before they can start to play with their head up. It makes a lot of sense, and I have probably been guilty in the pass of encouraging players to keep their head up before they are comfortable with their head down. I will definitely appraise my thinking on this very important topic as a result, and will probably encourage a head up approach far less for the under 7’s I coach.

The three video sessions showed Pete at St George’s Park, surrounded by coaches and with a team of boys to instruct. The games helped players practice keeping possession of the ball individually rather than passing when put under pressure. I had only just written a blog post about how England internationals seem to be far less comfortable on the ball when put under pressure than their Spanish or Brazilian counterparts, so the timing was interesting. I had long thought that coaching in England had produced a crop of players uncomfortable when pressed on the ball, so it was interesting to see how we can help players become comfortable keeping the ball at an early age.

The first game took place inside the centre circle of an 11-a-side pitch.  There were around 6 boys inside the circle with a ball, and 6 boys outside the circle without a ball. When the coach said play, the boys outside the circle went into the circle and tried to win a ball, while the boys in possession had to try and keep possession for as long as possible. It encouraged the players in possession to be creative in the ways that they can keep the ball away from an opponent without trying to carry out a specific shielding technique, and it is always great when you can give players the empowerment to improvise. To solve problems. Just keep the ball is the instruction. I think I would add coaching points when needed to show how to shield the ball, but I really liked the session and can see great value in it.

What are your thoughts about keeping possession under pressure, and how to best coach that to young players? Do you have a view on how coaching hasn’t prepared the current crop of England internationals to be more







Should coaches tell young players not to dribble?

An interesting debate started on Twitter recently when @tashapearson17 tweeted “Refd a u10 game this morning, where the coach discouraged any dribbling.completely wrong for the kids to hear at that age.”

My thoughts are that at under 10 level, the players should be encouraged to express themselves and develop all skills, not be moulded into playing just one way.

What are your thoughts on this?

Please get involved in the conversation by leaving your thoughts in the comments.





At what age do you move your squad from a policy of everyone plays the same time, to pick the players to win?


At some point in a player’s life they will have to face the harsh reality that the better players will play more football. The question is when?

I coach at under 7’s level, and rotation is definitely the ethos that I believe in for this age group. The benefits of this policy are many. Firstly, it promotes harmony and reduces conflict throughout the squad and feels fair to all concerned. It shows that the team is set up for the good of all, and not for the individual. You are unlikely to get negative hassle from parents complaining that their child isn’t getting enough game time, and most importantly, you are giving every player the same opportunity to develop.  If your primary motivation as a coach is to develop players for the long term, then I believe that this is the policy that best displays motivation.

The advantages of picking players to win the game are perhaps obvious. If you have a lethal finisher, or a beast of a tackler, it is understandable that in a tight situation you would want them on the field.  However, if they spend the entire match on the field it is in the place of another player and players develop through playing & training, not sitting on the bench. The gap between the players who are better and weaker is likely to grow, if the better players play more and the weaker players play less.

So if you agree with this so far, the question is at what age do you change the priority from development to winning?

The golden opportunity for development is up until the age of 11 in boys, as 95% of their neural pathways are set by that age. So does that mean that from 12 onwards the coach should focus on building winning teams, and concentrating on the better players? Is 12 the age that players should be moved into teams that match their ability level?

Personally, I think 12 still feels too young but I would love to hear the thoughts of other coaches on this subject! Players move to 11v11 football at U14 age, so maybe that is the right time?

Please write your thoughts in the comments.



Creating an environment where making a mistake is a positive thing


I believe that mistakes are a fundamental part of learning, and creating an environment where children are encouraged for their effort, not just the result is vital if we are going to produce a player who in willing to take players on or keep control of the ball under pressure. As Albert Einstein said “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Looking at today’s England players and comparing them to players from the Brazil or Spain national team for example, there are two differences that leap out at me. The first is how uncomfortable England players are in possession of the ball, when put under pressure, compared to their counterparts from South America and Spain. I believe this is at least in part down to the culture that existed in England of ‘get rid’ and of berating players for losing the ball.

The second difference is how willing players are to take on a man. I have watched Liverpool for 36 years and have been lucky to watch some fantastic players in those decades, but one player in particular stands out as a victim of the English mentality to berate mistakes and that is Steve McManaman. He started his Liverpool career so brightly, beating players for fun with his silky dribbling skills, but as the years wore on and he got used to being berated by the crowd when he lost the ball, he seemed to stop trying. He would jink towards a player, drop a shoulder, and then come backwards and pass it. It being both the ball and responsibility. To my mind, he learned that losing the ball was bad, and thus stopped trying and thus depriving the club of arguably his best attribute.

The Football Association have made great strides in trying to help with this by introducing mini-soccer and the Respect guides, as well as running coaching course for the coaches, but I still see managers moaning at players for making mistakes too often at U7’s level and it is even worse as the kids get older.

I believe coaches should praise the effort of players who try to keep a hold of the ball, even if they lose it, because it teaches them that they were doing the right thing and gives them the confidence to try it again. With practice, they will develop and improve. Criticising the mistake teaches them that it is better to pass the ball, and the responsibility to someone else. I think it is equally important that parents are on the same page with this, but that is another story!

Do you have any views on this? Any thoughts on how this can be coached? Does anybody disagree?

Please get involved my making a comment to keep the conversation going.


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Should coaches give players more time with the ball?


While on an FA Youth Award course, I came across an interesting idea that makes an awful lot of sense to me.

It was apparently a strategy implemented by Dutch clubs such as Ajax, in which the youth players were given 10,000 touches of the ball every day in the belief that more touches would equal better mastery of the ball. You can read more about the Dutch way in a Guardian article here. It makes sense, although despite Malcolm Gladwell’s theory in Outliers about 10,000 hours being about the number of hours it takes to achieve mastery, I am not totally convinced on the number. What I am convinced about however is that the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is as true in football as it is in most walks of life, and so the more touches of the ball a player gets, the more likely they are to progress. I believe that if you give two identical players separate training opportunities, and the first gets 1,000 touches of the ball a week and the second gets 1,500 touches, the second player will progress more quickly.

Pretty obvious stuff really, but it does beg the question should the vast majority of the time you have with your players each week be with the ball?

I see and hear training sessions in which players queue in preparation to carry out a skill or game, and others in which running without the ball in encouraged. On the FA course I was on there was a youth coach from Chelsea who said he’d get shot if his bosses ever saw boys standing around, waiting. So thinking of the 10,000 touch rule at Ajax and the practice makes perfect rule of life, should we be making sure that more minutes in our training sessions are spend actively with the ball?

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts below, either agreeing or disagreeing, which you can do by just adding a comment.

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Thanks for reading.



I am an FA Level 1 coach, and passionate about improving myself as a coach in the hope that I can help develop the next generation of footballers. I created this blog so that youth coaches all over the world can share ideas, and discuss their own coaching journeys. I hope you will get involved and find it useful.