Possession has become a huge trend in football coaching. But are we educating our young players to retain the ball well enough? Is our practice design representative of the game? PDP Technical Advisor, Dan Wright discusses how we can help our players master 1v1s and cites Renato Sanches & Alexis Sanchez as examples of players excelling in this area.

Most coaches practice 1v1’s but are we doing it right and more importantly are we meeting the demands of the game?

Recently I analysed two players, highlighting superb moments of individual possession; the first was Portugal’s Renato Sanches and the second was Arsenal’s star man, Alexis Sanchez.  In both instances, the player in possession shows the ability to receive the ball under intense pressure and wriggle away with ease, using two very different, but equally devastating skill sets.

This got me thinking, if these football actions are so useful how often do I give my players the opportunity to practice it and more importantly is it something that happens a lot in the game?

In the elite game approximately 80% of all receiving situations occur with pressure coming from behind, yet so many 1v1 type practices I see are face-to-face or side on, this is naturally something that does occur in the game, but not nearly as much as we perhaps think. Perhaps we need to rethink the term 1v1’s, as I think this paints a picture of Ronaldo, Messi and alike, dribbling past players and using “skills”.

Furthermore, most 1v1 situations have no opportunity to pass, this actually benefits the defender as he knows the attacker has to take him on…its not representative of the real game.

“I’m not strong, nor fast, nor skilful. I try to always find the space but most importantly the defender must never win the ball off me in a one v one.””
— – Xavi Hernandez

Some coaches use the term “outplay” which is more appropriate, I’m currently trialing the phrase “individual possession”.  In my opinion, this is something we should encourage all young footballers to be comfortable to perform. It is obvious that this a very useful skill to have, to outplay your opponent in a 1v1 affords you so many more attacking options than having to pass.

The practices below are sessions I’ve used with players, 10-15 minutes a week to try and replicate the moments that these players deliver at the highest level.

Receiving skills/Outplay 1v1.

  • Red looks to receive ball from blue and score in goal. Yellow adds pressure from behind.

Practice Variations

  1. Red receiving on the move and playing forwards (Alexis Sanchez video)
  2. Red receives, gets pressure, must stay on the ball. (Renato Sanches video)
  3. As above but red gets a point every time he travels from blue box to red box
  4. Free! Blue passes in, red must score, decision is his.

Receiving to Play Forwards

  • A. Blue receives the ball under no pressure so is able to pass into target goal
  • B. Blue receives ball tightly marked, bounces back to retain possession. Might bounce quickly to lose marker
  • C. Blue player is tightly marked but clears the passing lane between reds. He can quickly receive the set to play forwards. (Up, back and through)
  • D. Blue shifts the ball, plays into the target and looks for return pass to score (1-2)

Key points

  • Hide the ball from your opponent, don’t show it too easily so they can toe it away!
  • Don’t fear the pressure, too many players want to dump the ball off under pressure, when in reality the game changers enjoy these moments.
  • Players must scan and be aware of the angle, approach and speed of the defender.  This will allow them to make the best choice, to turn or hold the ball.
  • In some instances the weight of pass and speed of defender might allow the attacker to “beat the defender without actually beating him”, something that Alexis Sanchez does quite often by using his body to feint before receiving.
  • Use what you have.  If you are strong, use your strength.   If you have good control, turn sharply.  If you are quick, explode with pace.  You get the picture.
  • Use your body…Hands, Hips (and Bum) to feel the pressure and roll out
    When you’re free…eyes up to make the next decision.  Once you’ve eliminated the defender, make it count.
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