PLAY: Inside the mind of Jose Mourinho – Tactics and Coaching part II: The Real Madrid training sessions

As part of ‘Play’ – our new section for playing, coaching and youth development on Just Football, our very own resident coach Gary Curneen offers Part II in a three-part series: an insight into the mind of one of the most successful football coaches of the modern era – Jose Mourinho. See here for Part I – Mourinho’s philosophy and how he motivates players and staff.

Having read so much about the Jose Mourinho “coaching experience”, I felt as though I was taking my place in the stands for something very special. Like his presentation earlier on that day, it did not disappoint. I can honestly say that every aspect of the training session was done with a higher level of organization, quicker tempo, and a degree of quality that I have ever before witnessed.

Clipboard on his side and always directing the exercises, the biggest thing that impressed me watching Mourinho was that he was actually coaching! His voice carried throughout the session while his body langauge was always positive and animated. Do not let the expensive suits on match day fool you, Mourinho is a “tracksuit manager” and his methods involve him and his staff working almost as hard as the players.

With the exercises changing as quickly as Ronaldo and Kaka were driving past players, I have done my best to record as much of the two practice sessions as possible.

First Session:

The players began with a warm-up with Assistant Coach, Rui Faria. This was dynamic and static stretching combined with speed and agility work. This lasted for 15 minutes.

After this, the players walked over to the session. There were 20 players taking part in the main session. This did not include the goalkeepers, who were working together alongside the Goalkeeper Coach. The players were split up into two teams, and then split again into four teams of five.

The multi-functional session involved two parts. The two teams of five on the inside played 5 v 5.

The two teams of five on the outside (A and B) did speed, agility work combined with shooting. The first player played two wall passes into the coach, before performing ladder work and going through mannequins and finishing with a shot. After the shot, player retrieved his ball from the goal and joined the back group B. Therefore, groups A and B were constantly rotating so that the players got about 5 shots in. (See diagram below)

You can see a short video on the quality of shooting at http://youtu.be/kXeMyv03qtE - look out for the Ronaldo strike at the end.

The group inside playing 5v5 did so inside approximately a 30×15 yard area. The blue team defended the goals marked “A” and the red team defended the goals marked “B”. There was a half-way line which prevented the the players from scoring within their own half. (See diagram below)

 Team Shape:

After a short break, the team then moved across to the other field where the next exercise took place. The goalkeepers joined the team and they set up to play 11 v 11. The field was organized with a 20×40 grid inside the halfway line.

Both teams played a 4-2-3-1 formation and Mourinho carefully explained the patterns that they would work on. After one team finished their pattern play with an attempt on goal, the other team then performed the same pattern on the other goal. (See diagram below)

First Pattern:

Ball starts with the goalkeeper.

1 – Keeper plays the ball to the right fullback

2 – Right fullback passes to centre back

3 – Centre back opens up the play and passes to advancing fullback on other side

4 – Left fullback passes ball inside to centre midfielder

With these four passes building up the attack, it allows the team to advance further forward as a unit, thus allowing the outside fullbacks to move beyond the halfway line.

5 – Centre midfielder plays wide to advancing right back

6 – Right back plays into centre forward

7 – Centre forward sets attacking midfielder

8 – Attacking midfielder can play either forward who is high up the field.

The four attacking players then combine for a finish, sometimes taking another five passes.

Second Pattern:

The second attacking pattern from play again started from the goalkeeper and worked the ball across the back four initially, allowing the team to push up as a unit.

1 – Keeper played the left back

2 – Left back passes to centre back

3 – Centre back passes to other centre back

4 – 2nd centre back plays the ball into the midfield and then goes for the return

5 – Midfielder plays a return to central defender in the midfield zone

Once the central defender ‘bounces’ the ball off the centre midfielder

6 – Central defender plays ball into centre forward

7 – Centre forward drops the ball back to attacking midfielder

8 – Attacking midfielder then plays the ball to either wide forward. Forwards then combine passes for a finish.

The four attacking players then combine for a finish, which sometimes took another five passes.

Both patterns took 10 minutes each.

Small Sided Game:

The Real Madrid players then took a 3 minute break before resuming on the same field. The six forwards involved in the pattern play before were then split up. Three of them became neutral players in the 7 v 7 game, while the other three did some functional training on the field adjacent.

The field was reduced and the players played a 7 v 7 game with 3 neutral players. The neutral players always played for the attacking team and combine with the midfielders for a shot on goal. (See below)

 Tactical Game:

The session finished with a tactical game. Six reds, along with four yellows, played against ten blue players in a tight area.

The yellow players were forwards from the earlier sessions and were placed in yellow, as oppose to red like their teammates, in order to highlight their movement. The objective of the game was to play the ball out from the back under pressure, and find the yellow players high up the field.

The blue team were ordered to press/pressure the ball in numbers at all times. Even at this level, the success rate was not very high, but the tempo and pressure on the ball put a huge emphasis on movement by the attacking players and it was still all performed at a high level.

After changing the attacking players, along with the reds and blues changing roles, they performed one set each of ten minutes. The players then stretched together for ten minutes before concluding the practice

Session 2:

The second session of the day took place at 5pm. Again, the Real Madrid players did a 15 minute warm-up routine with Rui Faria before taking a short water break and playing 8v2′s in a small area for ten minutes. This exercise was designed to get the players loose and was not part of the main session.

1st Exercise:

Players were split into two groups of 10. 5 players were inside the grid with a ball each and 5 players stood outside the grid. On the coach’s first whistle, the players inside the grid dribbled around under no pressure for 10 seconds. The second whistle allowed the players on the outside to come in and challenge them, only after doing the short explosive exercise at the cones.

The players inside the grid had to protect their ball for 10 seconds. On the third whistle, both sides recovered back to their initial starting position. The exercise lasted for four minutes before the players inside and outside the grid changed places. Overall, there were two sets before the players took a break.  (See diagram below)

 2nd Exercise:

The squad was split into two groups and each one worked inside the 18 yard box. Four reds attacked four blues, with two yellow players acting as neutral players. The objective was to create chances playing in a tight, congested 18 yard box.

Different movement patterns were used by the attacking team, while the blues made sure they always pressed the ball and kept a solid line. If the blues did win the ball back, they were to try and keep possession while the red team tried to win it back as quick as possible. This added a transitional aspect to the exercise, which Rui Faria had earlier told us was crucial. (See below)

Exercise 3:

The Real Madrid squad then moved on to what looked like a simple possession exercise with target players. However, this was a lot more tactical than I first believed. The target players outside the area (in yellow) were all the defenders – Pepe, Ramos, Arbeloa,Varane etc.

The target players instructions were to ‘bounce’ the ball off a player in the middle, and switch the point of attack to another yellow, who would attempt to do the same. With a small area and a lot of players, this would seem like a difficult exercise. However, with the red and blue players both opting to play the ball straight back to a yellow player and let them change the point of attack, it really flowed well.

You can see in the diagram below that the short combination passes (1 and 3) draw in the opposition, while the long passes (2 and 4) open the play up. This is a pattern that you will see time and time again when watching the back four in possession at Real Madrid.

Tactical Pattern Play:

The team then moved across to the other field to work on pattern play. Similar to earlier in the day, the attacking team (red) were set up with three attackers playing high and wide, and then with a withdrawn forward so it looked as if they were attacking with four high up the pitch.

Blues were set-up to defend with seven players (back four + three centre midfielders), while the reds attacked with eight (four across midfield and four high up top).

First Pattern:

The pattern started with a continuation from the last exercise. The ball went across the back four and ‘bounced’  into the midfielder as the defender then opened up the play to the other side. After this happened three times, the fullback received the ball and looked forward (1).

As he opened up, the outside forward checked out of his area, creating space for the center forward to go in (3). The fullback the played a ball down the line for the forward to come onto and try to get turned (2). When the forward received the ball, the other forwards had already made their way to the box to combine for a finish. (See diagram below)

Second Pattern:

This again involved the ball being circulated across the midfield line three/four times before the attack started.

This time when the full back received the ball (1), he passed it short to the outside forward (2). The outside forward came inside with the ball (3) and the center forward check into space in the channel, creating space (4). The outside forward then played a cross field pass to the other outside forward (5) who had space to create a shot on goal himself, or combine with a supporting player.

The last 15 minutes of training involved a 9 v 9 game in a small area with plenty of opportunities for attacks and shots on goal.

Despite the second session of pre-season training, when Jose Mourinho called time on the game, the players were complaining and begging to continue. I was right there with them. Following two training sessions with this kind of organization and quality, I could have kept watching very easily.

Mourinho was having none of it however. The backpack was on and he was done for the day. The rest of us were not too hard done by: I got to experience something that was very special indeed, and the players get to do it all again the very next day. Everyone is a winner with Jose Mourinho.

In Part III – the inner workings of Mourinho and his staff. To stay updated follow Just Football on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

Gary Curneen is Head Women’s Soccer coach at Wingate University, North Carolina and Just Football’s resident coach in PLAY. Images are his own.

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4 Responses to “PLAY: Inside the mind of Jose Mourinho – Tactics and Coaching part II: The Real Madrid training sessions”

  1. H
    September 11, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Really interesting to gain insight into how the very best practice. I wish I could adapt some of these exercises for my U14 team, but I think things might get a little too complicated for them and we wouldn’t see a high success rate. Regardless, great read, keep them coming.

  2. Jonathan F
    October 21, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    Absolutely fascinating insight here Gary, truly brilliant.

    One question I have, regarding the two patterns you write: “Both patterns took 10 minutes each.”

    Just wondered, is that 10 minutes without any opposition players (i.e. a free, open field)? If so I assume they perform the move over and over for 10 minutes? Or does completing 1 pattern take 10 minutes?

  3. Sport Saturday
    January 28, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    Wow, this has been bookmarked, the special one has every angle covered… I can’t wait to read part III :)

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