Central midfielders are essential to build up play and playing out from the back. As a result, it is necessary to teach players in the position where to be on the pitch during build-up phases. This conditioned game will teach all players how to involve the central midfielder in playing out from the back, in addition to inspiring the central midfielder to make the most of their movement with and without the ball when their team is in possession.
17 players 1 ball 8 bibs (e.g. 7 blue, 1 pink) 6 cones 44 x 50 area
The game is set up with two teams of eight players, including a goalkeeper for each team + one neutral player – the central midfielder. For an 11 v 11 team, the players are set up in a 4-3-3 formation, but with only one of the central midfielders in play. The one central midfielder is to act like a number ‘6’ or ‘8’, rather than a number ’10’, as they need to be an integral component to the build-up.
Teams set up with a 4 v 3 in each end, with the defenders having the advantage over the attackers. This is to encourage adequate build-up play and to emphasize the importance of the central midfielder’s movement in creating even more of an advantage for the team in possession. The central midfielder is the only player that can cross the half-way line, marked by the orange cones. As a result, their role becomes even more vital in all build-up phases. If the central midfielder and goalkeeper can work to create an adequate advantage, a 6 v 3 can be created. Ultimately, the goal is to utilize the central midfielder to break into the opponent’s half and score. Different modifications can be put into place, such as any goal being scored through touching the central midfielder in the build-up being worth two points or any goal being scored by the central midfielder being worth two points.
It is also important to note that the number of players can be adjusted to 3 v 2 in each end (13 players) for a 9 v 9 team or 2 v 1 in each end (9 players) for a 7 v 7 or 5 v 5 team. The size of the area should also be adjusted if working with anything less than a 9 v 9 team.
All restarts should start with the goalkeeper to emphasize playing out from the back and the central midfielder’s role in build-up play.
There are many possible combinations that can be created through this conditioned game. In each of them, the positioning of the central midfielder is crucial. This activity is all about teaching players to scan the field, read each unique situation and decide what the best course of action to take is.
SPLIT THE PRESS
In this situation, the blue centre forward has remained central, while the blue left winger has cut off the potential passing option to the right winger and right fullback. The central midfielder’s movement towards the ball then creates an option for the centre back in possession. If they stay put on the half-way line, the blue right winger may recover in time to cut off the pass. If they come closer, the right winger or centre forward are very unlikely to adjust their position and if they do, a ball can always be played to the other centre back or back to the goalkeeper to readjust instead of the midfielder. After receiving, the central midfielder can break through the line with a dribble or pass and connect with their teammates at the other end.
In this scenario, the blue left winger has held a more central position to try and cut off the potential passing lane to the central midfielder. This then creates room to either play the right fullback or instantly go for a more direct approach and play in the right winger. With the right winger currently the wrong side of a 2 v 1 disadvantage, they can then use the central midfielder as the appropriate option to connect with next. Unlike the previous scenario, the central midfielder’s ability to hold their position higher up the field is now more advantageous than if they were to come towards the ball as the blue attackers are playing very narrow. Coming towards the ball isn’t always the best option, although it can be depending on the positioning of the attackers.
SPLIT PASS UP THE MIDDLE
In this instance the blue centre forward and left winger have attempted to cut off both natural passing options of the goalkeeper, eliminating the centre-backs. However, this frees up the space for the central midfielder to move into. If they receive on the half-turn and on their back-foot, the central midfielder can advance before the blue attackers even have time to react.
These are just three of the potential options for utilizing the central midfielder in build-up play. The key is to teach the players in possession of the ball and the central midfielder themselves, how to effectively read each situation and read the positioning of the opposing team to effectively engage the central midfielder. It can also be very easy to adjust to fit the needs of your team, such as creating a 3 v 3 in each end and adding a second central midfielder, or lowering the amount of players involved altogether.
KEY COACHING POINTS
- Off the ball movement of the CM
- Scanning (all players)
- Weight of pass
- When to play forwards vs. backwards
- Engaging the central midfielder lower and higher up the pitch, not just centrally.
This small-sided game works wonders in teaching central midfielders how to engage with the build-up-play. It will help all players involved in the build-up to become uber aware of how to change their approach based on the positioning of the opposing team and how to utilize the central midfielder as a key cog in breaking lines and in attack.