Posts tagged ‘EPL’

Stats Don’t Win Games

As an American I’m drawn to statistics to evaluate players and teams. The mainstream American sports of Baseball and Football are often viewed through the stats of the players.  They are evaluated and ranked based on batting averages, yards per carry, quarterback rating and earned run averages.

Soccer enthusiasts used to decry the use of stats to describe, ‘The Beautiful Game’. They felt that there was more to the sport than could be evaluated through statistics. Even soccer commentators have been slow to embrace statistical analysis. Only in the last 10 years have we started to see soccer games being broken down by time of possession, number of corners and shots on goal.

The four Premier League games that were played on November 10 are all examples of how there’s more to winning soccer than stats.

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In three out of the four games on this day the team with more shots, time of possession and corner kicks LOST. In the fourth game Stoke City was second in every category but was able to tie Swansea City with a penalty in the 96th minute.

So is it more important to, ‘Play the soccer’ or ‘Score the goals’?

There is an artistic element that is prized in soccer that makes it unlike any other sport. American Football fans don’t care if their team wins by passing or running, playing smash-mouth football or running the west coast offense…as long as they win. But in soccer it’s important to a lot of fans that their team, ‘Plays Soccer’ and wins. Most would probably choose winning if they were forced to choose but it wouldn’t be as rewarding as playing with style and getting the result.

Brazil is a great example of this attitude. They have had successful managers that were criticized by the public and the press for the line-up of their team or the way that they played much more than the results of the team.

I think there will always be a battle between the desire to play attractive, skillful soccer and the desire to find a way to win. At the youth level it’s a bit easier. For me personally, the satisfaction of playing, ‘Good Soccer’ and winning is far greater than playing pragmatically just to win. If that means there will be times that my teams play well and don’t get the result, then so be it.

How do you look at the difference between the stats and the results in these recent games?

Have a great day!


Small-Sided Games in Training

Small-sided games are a great tool for player development. But as with any tool they must be used correctly to achieve the best results. It’s not enough to create two teams of eight and drop a ball. The more specifically you design the game, the more your players will benefit.

Most coaches will choose a game that focuses on the technical or tactical elements that were worked on earlier in the session but many miss the one factor that can be the difference between a session that translates into improved performance in the next match: the formation that the teams use during the small-sided game.

Playing small-sided games in the same formation that your team uses on game day means that the players will get used to the shape and angles of support of your formation and know more about what to expect from their teammates and the opponents.

Here’s an excerpt from, ‘Formation Based Soccer Training‘, that talks about this in more detail.



Players and equipment: 7 players; square shaped grid large enough to play 3 v 4 to small, Pugg type nets; seven bibs, three one color and four a different color; two Pugg nets placed opposite each other at each end line.

Objective: To force the four players on one team (backs) when defending to stay compact playing flat and defending zonally; and to force the three players on the other team when playing offense to move the ball wide with centered balls to the vital area to create shots on goal.  This exercise is for the benefit of the defending players. Use four backs on one side. The other side should be the one attacking mid at the top of the diamond shaped midfield and the two front or the two outside midfielders and the one defensive mid at the bottom of the diamond. Remember, this is only a sample objective. The objective changes each time a training session theme changes but positional play remains the same.

Set up: Square shaped grid with small, Pugg type nets placed opposite each other at each end line large enough to play 3 v 4, two-way directional (about 40×40 yards). Two teams of three players on one team and four backs on the other team in different colored bibs playing against each other, no limit on touches. Place 3 soccer balls in each Pugg type net to be used to keep the game going after a shot on goal.

Exercise: Two teams in bibs, two-way directional competition to score to goal. Unlimited touches. Defending team must maintain flat shape. First team to reach three goals wins. Use multiple grids so all players are involved at one time.

Progression: From Pugg type nets to target players: Remove Pugg type nets and replace with a target player without a bib at each end line. The target player moves in the goal channel, behind the end line to stay open to collect a ball shot to him. The target player belongs to the team on his side of the grid. Rather than shooting to the Pugg type nets, each team now shoots or passes to the target on the opposite team who collects the ball and passes it back to a player on his team (the opposite team that passed the ball to him) to start play again. The pass made by the target player must be done quickly to keep the game moving.

To small cone goals: Leave the target player as is and add a cone about two yards to his right and another cone about two yards to his left creating a small goal area. The target player can move laterally within this small goal area to collect the ball. The purpose of this small goal is to give perspective to the shooter with an obstruction (the target) in goal. The shooter is to try to avoid the target rather than pass to the target as in the earlier progression. The target which could be a keeper using his hands or a field player not allowed to use his hands, tries to stop the shot on goal. He collects the ball and distributes to his team.

To full sized goals with no keeper: Replace the target and small cone goals with a full sized goal with no keeper. The full sized goals are at each end line.

To full sized goals with keepers: Add a keeper in each goal.

The square shaped grid marked with cones or disks remains the same for each of these 3 v 4 exercises.

Or, use four backs, flat, and two outside midfielders with a defensive mid at the bottom of triangle.

Next, restrict touches for the 3 attacking players to two touch.

Have a Great Day!


Advanced Tactics for the 4-2-3-1

The 4-2-3-1 formation has become the system of choice for many of the worlds top professional and national teams like Real Madrid, Manchester United and Brazil. As coaches at every level have watched these top teams play they have looked for ways to implement the system with their college, high school and youth teams.

The first step in introducing a new way of playing s to break the system down and identify the most important components. The was done very well by Continue reading ‘Advanced Tactics for the 4-2-3-1’ »

November Magazine Preview

Each month we add a new magazine update to the Member Drills Database. The magazine contains training sessions, videos and articles presented by top teams and coaches from around the world.

Here’s part of a training session presented by Chelsea FC Academy coach Chris Woodword. The session focuses on 1 v 1, 2 v 1 and 2 v 2 situations that lead to a zonal game. Continue reading ‘November Magazine Preview’ »

Defending Against the 3-5-2

Every systems has it’s strengths and weaknesses. In previous posts I’ve described why I feel that the 4-3-3 is a great system to teach players the game. While I believe in playing our own best game regardless of what the opposition is trying to do, playing against other systems provides challenges that the players need to learn to deal with. In the next few weeks I’ll show you how I’ve taught my teams to handle these differences.

Teams that know you are playing with three in the midfield might try to overwhelm these players by having five in the Continue reading ‘Defending Against the 3-5-2’ »

Learn What You Already Know

Learn What You Already Know

Have you ever been in a competition where it seemed as though everything you did went the right way? We often hear people refer to those moments as being “in the zone” or “on fire”. You’re in a state of heightened, yet calm sense of awareness. Maybe it’s the game of your life on the soccer field, your best round of golf, running a great road race; or maybe it’s a more fleeting moment like a crushing home run swing in baseball, a key three point shot in basketball, a phenomenal catch in football, or the perfect service return in a tennis match. We’ve all been there in one form or another. It’s a beautiful thing. And then, moments or days later, we’re right back to our plain old average selves.

Let’s take a closer look. There’s a clear difference between the average player in England’s top division, the Premier League and the average player in their second division, the Championship League. There’s also a greater gap between the average player in Championship League and England’s fifth Division, the English Conference.

However, in the FA Cup this year, we saw the Championship League’s Reading take down Everton from the Premier League in their run to the semi-finals. Reading’s Matt Mills cleanly finished past Everton’s experienced Tim Howard, while Reading’s back-up goalkeeper Alex McCarthy was able to stifle the talented Everton attack. The quarter-finals saw the English Conference’s Crawley Town our shoot and out possess mighty Manchester United en route to a narrow 0-1 defeat.

How does a second division team with seemingly inferior players beat a top half Premier League side? Even more surprisingly, how does a fifth division, non-league team even make it a competitive match with one of the top two teams in the world?

On the day, athletes from all four teams demonstrate mastery of the technical, tactical and physical skills it takes to be the best and are able to summon the proper mental state necessary to bring it all together. On the day, in most aspects, they’re equals.

The key is what separates the players, and thus the teams, over time.

The critical difference between the players at the each level is often minute and, at the same time, huge. Although each athlete is extremely gifted, the better player over time knows the state of mind he needs to be in to perform at the highest level. There’s an awareness of the cognitive processes that positively guide their performance. Equally important, the better player knows how to re-create those processes on demand and takes the responsibility to make it happen. That’s what separates the average Premier League player from the average players at the lower divisions. That’s why Everton likely beats Reading nine out of ten times and Man U likely wins all ten.

The less successful player may not be aware of his optimum state or know how to recreate it on demand. Many of us simply hope to have a good day, often chalking up that rare phenomenal performance to the right socks, weather, luck, or something else entirely outside of our control.

The same process applies to all sports and other performance related activities. Male or female, it’s the same. We’ve all had days when everything comes together… when we’re “in the zone”. As such, we already know what to do. We have the resources. The key is learning to know what we already know, learning how to re-create it on demand, and taking responsibility for both. There’s no magic formula. Learning what we already know takes time, practice and commitment. The exciting part is that it’s in our control. While most of us will never play for Crawley Town or Reading, much less Everton or Manchester United, we can all increase our own chances of re-experiencing that beautiful moment when it all comes together.
This post has been guest written by Paul Harbin of and

Who Would Be Your Pick For Best Player?

Lionel Messi was just named as the FiFA world player of the year.  The awards were based on the votes of the coaches and captains of national teams as well as global journalists.

Messi scored more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues in 2010, with 42 goals in 36 La Liga games, as well as finishing top scorer in the Champions League in 2010 with 12 goals in 12 games. He totaled 60 goals for the year for club and country.

To be honest, I didn’t realize he had scored 42 goals in 36 La Liga games.  And quite frankly, that is an astonishing goal scoring record.  I can’t think offhand of any other player in modern times who has scored at more than a goal per game in one of the world’s top leagues.

Just a quick comparison with Wayne Rooney’s great 2009/10 season shows how good Messi was last year.  In the 2009/10 season, Rooney was incredible…at least he was for the first 2/3 of the season.  During that season Rooney had by far the best goals tally of his career so far with 26 goals in 32 EPL games.  So Messi’s 42 goals in just 36 La Liga games is at another level and almost beyond belief.

And this brings up another question.  Is Messi really the world’s best player?  I have a simple way of answering this question.  I don’t bother with what position the player plays or how he performed last season or any of those criteria.  I simply base it on picking the best team in the world and who would be my first pick, bearing in mind that someone else will have the next pick for his team.

In the past that pick has been players like Theirry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Steve Gerrard.  But today I don’t know if one particular player stands out to me.

So let me put the question out there.  If you were up against someone else and had the first pick to put together the best team you could, who would you pick and why?

I’ve Changed My Mind – Man U For the Title

Okay, here’s a quick quiz.  No looking online for the stats.  Just give a quick answer within five seconds.

The EPL’s top four teams in order are, Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea and Man City.

  • Which team has the fewest wins?
  • Which team has fewest losses?
  • Which team has the best goal difference?
  • Which team has scored the most goals?
  • Which team has conceded the second most goals?

If you answered Man U to all of them, you are correct.

After just five games, I was ready to give the title to Chelsea hands down.  Since then they have lost 4 of 11, which some quick math shows they have lost over one third of their games since a 5-0 start.  Now, it looks like a toss up.  All of the top four teams look like they are doing their best to give the title to one of the others.  None of them are dominating.

But I did find the Man U statistics interesting.  They haven’t lost a game.  That’s right, not one loss.  Yes, I know they have only won 8 games out of 15, but not losing is pretty important I think.  More important than drawing instead of winning at least.

So I am looking at Man drawing seven games instead of winning them as something that is positive for the future.  To me, it’s not a sign of a bad team, but more a sign of a good team that isn’t on top form yet, a team that isn’t firing on all cylinders so to speak.

This fits when you consider the tear that Rooney was on this time last year compared to his below form and injury plagued start to this season.

Now the question is, will Rooney, now that he is rested and once over his injuries, be able to hit the form of the first half of last season?  And if he can, will this make the difference between Man U winning games or settling for draws?

It’s an interesting scenario but I can’t come up with any other reasons to think Arsenal, Chelsea or Man City can go on to win the title.

So as of now, my pick for the EPL is Man U.  But this could change again…watch this space.

Circle Drills

There are a number of high level coaches that use a lot of circle drills in their sessions including Barry Gorman (long time coach at Penn State) and David Williams (Manchester United Academy). I’ve had the opportunity to watch both of them run sessions at our International Coaching Seminar so I’ve used some of their ideas with my teams. Here’s a session from David Williams that he presented at our first seminar in Connecticut.

Organize the players in a 40-yard circle with four cones placed in the center as shown in diagram 30.  Start with two balls.  Dribble into the center square, dribble out and pass to another player, then take his place on the circle perimeter.

Add the following conditions:

• Left/right foot only
• Perform a turn in the center
• Change of pace, go in slow, come out fast.
• Change direction

Coaching Points
•  Don’t let gaps appear on the circle perimeter
•  Communicate, and move around the edge to fill any spaces
•  Start with two balls – add or take away balls as necessary

Once the player has been through the center square, instead of passing the ball to another player, the receiving player ‘takes’ the ball in a take-over move.

In this example, player A dribbles the ball into the center of the circle and passes to player B.  Player B passes back with one touch to player A who then passes one touch to player C.  Player C continues the drill by dribbling into the center of the circle.  Again, start with two balls and adjust accordingly.  This exercise helps build quick play around the goalbox.

Coaching Points
• One-touch passes if possible
• Always be ready ‘off’ the ball
• Fill the gaps around the circle as the players move
• Be aware of where the other balls are and don’t dribble to that area
• Try to increase the speed of drill
• The ‘set up’ pass must be of good quality to allow the next player to pass with one touch

This exercise helps the following:
Technical – pace and angle of pass
Fitness – sprinting, running
Mental – always thinking

Third Player Running
The same as the previous exercise, except this time after player B has made the return pass to player A, he moves into the center to receive the pass from player C.  Player A moves into the spot vacated by player B.

Coaching Points
• Timing is vital – don’t make your runs too early
• The ball must keep moving
• The third player must be aware of where he will receive the pass

Center Player
Start with a player who stays permanently in the center of the circle.  Player A starts by passing to the center player, D.  Player D plays a give-and-go with player A who then passes across the circle to player B.  Player B continues the drill by passing to player D.

Coaching Point
The player in the center ‘runs’ the drill, communication, speed, etc.

Add a second player in the center.

Two Center Players
Start with two players in the center.  Player A passes a firm pass to player B.  Player B lays a pass into the path of player C.  Player C passes across the circle to player D.  Each player follows his pass.

Coaching Points
• Players on the outside must always be ready
• The central player ‘without’ the ball makes the decision for his team mate as to where to pass the ball

Two Center Players
In this example, the players perform an “over”.  Player A passes to player C who allows it to run through his legs or by the side of him to player B.  Player B lays the ball off into space for player C who has spun round into the space.  Player C passes across the circle to player D.

Coaching Points
•  Player B must be the one to shout “over” – this communicates to player C to let the ball run by him
•  Player C must spin quickly to receive the ball

Small-Sided Game
End practice with an 8 v 8 game and look to incorporate all the moves learned during the circle practices.

Drugs – Are They Rife In Soccer

I am a keen cyclist. I ride my bike 5-6 days a week and enter the occasional race. I only got into cycling about two years ago, but even as far back as the 80’s, I used to watch the Tour de France on Eurosport. I then became more interested about eight years ago and started watching the Tour de France every morning (here in the U.S.) and then a couple of years ago, I became aware of other professional races, some that were on TV and now I watch whatever I can get, even using the second screen of my computer to watch races that are not broadcast on TV.

So what’s this got to do with soccer? Doping? Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs)? Professional cycling has been rife with doping and PEDs since the early 90’s. It can often be the main topic of conversation before, during or after a race. It’s pretty much taken for granted that most professional riders, including those that have won the TDF and other major races, took PEDs up until the last few years when better testing seems to have cleaned it up for a large part. Having said that, there are still riders almost every few weeks who are caught, having failed drug tests and even Alberto Contador who won this years TDF has failed a drug test apparently.

Anyway, enough of cycling and their problems. My question is about soccer. I have often wondered if there is a PED problem in soccer. Do players take drugs to help them get fitter, faster, and be able to run all day? Do they take them to help recover quicker from injuries? Let’s face it, PEDs are a problem in all sports. Athletes have been caught in swimming, NFL, Baseball, Golf, track and field, even snooker! So why would they not be prevelent in soccer?

I’ll be honest, I haven’t done my research on this. I don’t know if players from the EPL and other leagues are routinely tested after games and/or what are they tested for. Is there a list of illegal PEDs for soccer players? For instance, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) can be pescribed by your doctor and apparently has some incredible benefits. Athletes of many sports would benefit and improve their performances if they took HGH. But I’m not sure HGH is banned by all sports or tested for by all sports.

As I said, I am a little green on this issue but my main questions are, “Do soccer players take PEDs?” “Are they tested routinely?” “And what are they tested for?”

I would love to hear from you if you have any knowledge on this. Post a comment below.