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Author: Daniele Lo Monaco

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It often happens during important competitions like the ones that are currently taking place – Copa America and Euro 2016 in particular – that the curiosity about which play strategies will prevail works its way into football enthusiasts’ debates. What is sometimes forgotten is that the individual plays will be the ones that really make the difference. And quite often, even if the most superficial spectators do not realise it, every single play is the result, especially for the most organised teams, of specific drills that are run dozens and dozens of times in training.

Roma coach Luciano Spalletti reminded us of this once again in a recent lesson held before almost 500 amateur coaches and sport science students at the Roman Tor Vergata University. As a coach, this writer had the good fortune to hear this speech, but because of confidentiality restrictions signed ideally with the speaker, the details of the issues discussed will not be mentioned in this brief article.

However, a bit of leeway can be granted to illustrate at least a general concept that Spalletti was able to convey to the interested audience: the attention that every good coach must give to each individual football precept, even at the cost of rethinking certainties that have been passed down over the years. Like the concept of a “covered” or “exposed” ball. In every lesson on the topic, thousands of tactical trainers have always admonished the ranks of future coaches on the movement of the defensive lines: “retreat” back if the opposing ball carrier is able to control the ball and has a good view (exposed ball), “move up” toward the midfield if, on the other hand, the opponent receives a back pass, perhaps with his back to you or with another player challenging from up close (covered ball).

Well, Spalletti is trying to deconstruct certain precepts, training his players in the ball possession phase to confuse their rivals. Therefore, he asks his midfielders, for example, to make “covered” balls appear to be “exposed” to the opponents: and so, if a wing passes the ball back toward his midfielder, maybe turned from the opposing goal, the rival defenders will move up together, assessing the situation as a “covered” ball. And at that point the midfielder must make a one-touch pass, trying to play the ball with a high, or at any rate, curved trajectory to his forwards behind the defensive line where, thanks to specific training drills, they must be ready to attack the spaces behind the backs with the right timing and without going offsides.

Now see if you can find dozens and dozens of similar plays by Roma (and notice how many times De Rossi does the same thing on the National team with Conte) and you will begin to understand why even extemporaneous plays like these in top level football are actually specifically planned out.
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Daniele Lo Monaco
Journalist and UEFA B Coach

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