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Midfielders – Manchester United – Espanyol

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Barcelona, Spain!

When you last heard from me, we were finishing up the Individual Fundamentals per Position (IFP) of the full-backs and I was talking about our experience at the Camp Nou!

This past week included everything from the IFP’s of the midfielders, attending the Espanyol vs. Valencia match, and hearing from a coach that worked at Manchester United.

Let’s first begin with the IFP’s of the midfielders. Once Dr. Rude began explaining the IFP’s of the midfielders, one thing became clear, coordinating the movements (offensively, defensively, and in transition) of the three midfielders (in 1-4-3-3) is a complex process. Due to the continuity of the midfield position, each player must constantly link and merge tactical fundamentals in order to execute the optimal response for each situation.

Just as we discussed with the full-backs, the midfielder IFP’s are organized into two categories, offense and defense, and then further categorized by blocks. The organization is as follows:

Offensive Fundamentals

IFP Blocks

  • Maintaining the Balance

  • Offering Support

  • Guaranteeing the Start of the Game

  • Seeking Information

Defensive Fundamentals

IFP Blocks

  • Maintaining the Balance

  • Identifying the Player to Mark

  • Defending the Space

  • Defense of Crosses

After explaining the IFP’s to us, Dr. Rude reiterated the idea that the coach must clearly define the responsibilities of the midfielders (the IFPs), in accordance with game model (the team’s playing principles). To better explain myself, let’s examine the midfielder block, “Guaranteeing the Start of the Game.” To understand this fundamental, one can go ahead and research the Mexican coach, Ricardo La Volpe.

The idea of ‘Guaranteeing the Start of the Game’ or building the game from the back includes the strategy to create numerical superiority against the opposition’s forward line (1 or 2 forwards). The structure includes 2 center-backs (one at each side of the penalty area), one holding midfielder on top of the penalty area, and the goalkeeper. By the center-backs splitting to the edges of the penalty area, space is created for the holding midfielder to aid the build-up, and allows the full-backs to push higher and wider, forcing the opponent to pick their poison in terms of deciding who/how to press.

Take a look at the video below of a FC Barcelona build up. At the 18 second mark, notice the position of the center backs and the holding midfielder who is able to create numerical superiority against the opposing 2 strikers, in addition to the full-backs pushing higher, allowing the team to build from the back.

At FC Barcelona, utilizing the midfielder IFP of ‘Guaranteeing the Start of the Game’ is essential to their game model, however, if a coach does not want their team to build from the back, the midfielders (and team) would not implement the IFP into their playing responsibilities. In order to ensure an organized playing style, the coach must transmit clear instructions for each position, line, and for the team as a whole.

During the course, Dr. Rude arranges a guest speaker once per month, and on Wednesday, we were lucky enough to have Xuxu Batlle come speak to us. The structure of Xuxu’s presentation was excellent as he shared many of his experiences with us (coaching at Manchester United), and more specifically, he shared important lessons that he has learned throughout his current coaching journey.

During Xuxu’s presentation, many points made lasting impressions, but in particular, I would like to share two things. For starters, I am sure some are wondering how Xuxu joined the coaching ranks at Manchester United. Well, let me explain. As coaches, we are constantly telling our players, “You never know who is watching!”, well, Xuxu’s road to Manchester proved that the us coaches should be mindful of that as well!

At the time, Xuxu was coaching the Under-12 team at his club in Catalonia, and his young team was set to play in a tournament. During the tournament, Xuxu’s young team played against Manchester United U-12. Xuxu went on to explain that during the game, his team played extremely well, as it was 0-0 at halftime. The game went on to end with Xuxu’s team losing 3-0. However, the Manchester United coach approached him after the game, and congratulated him on a great performance, and before the conversation was over, the United coach invited Xuxu to meet at the hotel for a pint. Xuxu explained that the two spoke about football for hours. In fact, the two would get together multiple times during the tournament.

When the tournament came to a close, the Manchester United coach asked Xuxu if he would like to be his assistant coach at Manchester United for the following season! The United coach was incredible impressed with the performance of Xuxu’s team, but more importantly, he was captivated by Xuxu’s footballing knowledge and demeanor with the young players. Needless to say, Xuxu’s journey to Manchester was eye opening and inspiring.

The second aspect I would like to share pertains to a lesson that Xuxu expressed to us. Very simply, he said, “If there is a ‘why’, no decision can be a mistake.” The reason why that statement struck me was because when the opportunity to take part in the MBP Master in High Performance Coaching in Barcelona was presented to me, I had excellent reasons to attend, but I also had reasons to stay home and continue along the coaching journey I started two years ago. There is no question that I took a risk by leaving college soccer for one season, but in the end, living a dream by studying soccer in Barcelona was something I had to live. We all have perfect vision in hindsight, but after just completing our fourth week, I know now more than ever that following my dream of studying soccer in Barcelona was the best decision I could have made.

To conclude, here are some photos from when the MBP crew went to the Espanyol vs. Valencia match on Tuesday! The atmosphere was incredible and we saw a terrific game between Espanyol’s 4-4-2 and Valencia’s 4-1-4-1!

Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing my experiences next week!​

Twitter: @BrettUttley & @TOGSoccer

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