With all that has been going on in the world recently, you may have missed the news that Roger Schmidt was unveiled as PSV’s new Head Coach ahead of the 2020/21 season. 

Having become a hit with the hipsters with his high octane, vertical and press heavy style of football at RB Salzburg and Bayer Leverkusen, he is now back in Europe after a stint in China with Beijing Guoan.

With the Eredivisie side putting Schmidt’s first session on YouTube I thought it would be an idea to analyse some of the training practices in that session, how they link to his game model and some of the details contained in each exercise.

Watch full session here on PSV’s youtube channel

Practice 1

After some rondos & physical activations (big hi to my friend Yannick who led one of these exercises) the team splits up with Roger Schmidt working with a smaller group running through this practice:

Most coaches will probably recognise this one, but as ever with coaching the devil is in the detail. Here Schmidt uses this practice to begin the process of embedding his in possession principles. In this he uses one constraint on the players which allows his philosophy of play to come out organically in the exercise.

This relates to Schmidt’s desire to play quick vertical football, with a reference for playing risky, forward line breaking passes through the smallest of 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. By allowing the outside players to counterpress when they lose the ball, with the inside three players looking to escape that pressure, he is already implicitly building the principles synonymous with his game model in his very first session.

The constraint Schmidt adds to the practice which makes it an effective one is by doing the opposite of what so many coaches do in this situation — instead of asking his players to complete 5 passes before transferring the ball across(why??), he places a maximum of 5 passes as a limit before the ball must be played forward to the opposite end zone. A simple constraint, but one that subconsciously trains verticality into the practice — he wants his players to play forward as often and quickly as possible.

In terms of coaching points, it isn’t always totally clear what Schmidt is saying, but he is constantly reinforcing his players to take positive first touches ‘don’t just stop the ball’ and to reinforce the necessity of providing good supporting positions behind the opponents by opening up passing lanes for quick forward passes. 

Practice 2

Away from Schmidt another practice is run for the other half of the group by an assistant coach — again the focus is on the game model in possession. This practice is slightly different in that it is a technical practice that does not feature opponents and is used to primarily train combination play, specifically the up-back-through movement that is a key component of Schmidt’s style of play.

Without delving into the opposed vs unopposed debate, a regular source of argument on coaching twitter, 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, they key aspect is that it remains consistent to 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.

It is unclear as to the detail coached in this practice, but is likely centred around the weight of pass being firmly punched to the correct foot of the receiver, the receiving player’s body orientation to play a one touch layoff and the timing of the third player run to receive a first time layoff. 

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.

From training to the game;

Up -> back -> through… goal!

Practice 3

The group now joins together to take part in a 7v7 small sided game under the guidance of Schmidt. The dimensions used are roughly around 55–60 yards long and 44 yards wide (width of the penalty area). It is a usual 7v7 game with goals at each end, with one condition that looks to elicit certain behaviours from his players in how they press, and their transition to defend on turnovers. There are two gates placed on each wing of the practice area, whereby a player advancing through these gates with a dribble gains his side a bonus goal. If it is your thing, the gates are where the halfspaces on a full pitch would be — this is likely to be a concept that Schmidt uses in his coaching.

Before they get into the practice Schmidt explains why the condition on the wing gates is in place. He emphasises the requirement of his teams to ‘defend forward’ when out of possession rather than fall back into shape, and by including these gates it implicitly motivates the defending side to step up when out of possession to prevent the opponent progressing forward with pressure applied as quickly as possible. He also speaks about how this movement forward should trigger teammates to shift aggressively across to maintain compactness around the ball and minimise distances between each player. 

In this he speaks of ‘ball orientation’, a key aspect of Schmidt’s defensive system where in the defensive phase he wants his players to be focused on pressing where the ball is, with minimal distances between teammates where constant pressure can be applied to the ball carrier and potential receiving players. This style means that players will often leave their ‘starting’ positions in a different manner in which some players may be used to; in Schmidt’s system full-backs often engage the opponents full-back with central defenders shifting across aggressively to engage the winger — this practice design implicitly reinforces these defensive principles.

This ultra aggressive style necessitates players being comfortable in pressing forward and shifting across to the extent that large spaces are left in behind the defensive line and on the opposite flank. If the press is compact and aggressive enough however opponents find it difficult to access these spaces as the game is contained in the smallest possible area.

Ball oriented pressing — defending forward, aggressive shifting towards the ball

Similar to the first practice, this 7v7 with dribbling gates is the type of design that I have seen used many times before by coaches, but the importance is always in the detail and the behaviours that the condition (in this case the gates) elicits from the players. Here the gates provide an incentive for the team out of possession to step up and engage to prevent an easy goal being scored, a behaviour that Schmidt will seek to implement in his PSV team.

It is also crucial that the attacking team is able to advance centrally, so the defensive team has to cover the centre as you would expect — too often well meaning constraints on practice design have unintended consequences that hamper realism rendering the practice ineffective.

Notice also how each game is played at high intensity for 3 minute intervals before rotating teams, and Schmidt does not once use a ‘stop, stand still’ approach, allowing the game to flow without disrupting the rhythm of the session. He coaches and corrects between practices and during drinks breaks, which is likely to be appreciated by the players.

Conclusion

It is evident from Roger Schmidt’s first training session with the Eredivisie outfit that he intends to bring his unique style of play to the Netherlands. Whilst in the video a majority of what Schmidt was saying was inaudible, the focus on the practices clearly demonstrated his preference for vertical football and aggressive pressing. The bits that were audible confirmed this.

It must be taken into account this was the first contact Schmidt had with his players and the very first step in implementing his playing style. It would be expected that the level of detail as well as execution of the style by the players will develop somewhat over the course of the season.

From a coaching perspective, the practice design was remarkably simple and not dissimilar to exercises that you will see used across all levels of the game. The detail however is in how the constraints and conditions in each practice led to behaviours consistent with Schmidt’s game model — they were there for a specific reason and did not affect the realism and flow of the play. In time, these behaviours will become embedded and become automatisms.

Roger Schmidt at PSV is going to be a really interesting combination, and one thing for sure is that they promise to be an incredibly fun team to watch.

Categories: MRKT Insights

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