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Sunday football in Barcelona - The recovery begins

Total Football picks up the trail of Darwins, a Sunday League side in Barcelona, and Jasmit Jabbal, their beleagured coach. Jasmit talks us through the side's progress on the pitch and some of their training methods, Barcelona Sunday League style...

After the two thrashings we had suffered it was time for the Hollywood fixture of the season. We were playing Sitges. Sitges is a seaside town on the coast just outside of Barcelona, it is scenic and glamorous and the fixture we all look forward to, as it means an outing for the team.

However, this fixture would not be all fun and games, as we had to show strength and courage to overcome a physical Sitges side and hometown referee to put some points back on the board.

We had a stern telling off during training during the week and it was made clear that the very least that was expected was fight and commitment on the pitch; if you are not good enough technically then you must work harder.

Despite the festive season fast approaching us the weather was glorious, but what else could one expect in Sitges? We arrived on the pitch and had a thorough warm up. The team was changed so our strongest ball players played in the midfield and our best headers off the ball played at CB. The team looked focused, but also apprehensive, which can only be expected after two heavy defeats.

We started well, controlling possession and looking solid at the back. Julien and Toni won every ball in the air, although we were thankful for our opponent’s lack of pace as we tended to push too high up the pitch at times.

Right channel

Rodney had moved to RB and was collecting the ball from Ben and distributing play, but as our LB did not demand the ball and was not as comfortable in possession as Rodney our play tended to be directed down the right channel.

Ross, Ciaran and I were tidy in midfield and Michael, James and Matt provided lots of running up front. We won our challenges, we kept our shape to defend well and we passed the ball. However, we did lack quality and confidence to create any real telling chances and the game was scrappy.

The pattern of the half was Rodney bringing it out the back to the midfield the midfield trying to find the attacker or overlapping fullbacks but then the final ball would lack quality.

Although satisfied with the endeavour in the first half we knew we needed some quality to get the goal we deserved. Then on around the hour mark we got just that to get the break through our play had up until then deserved.

Matt received the ball on the right and avoided a couple of challenges to play it across to me in the middle of the pitch, Ciaran had made a run in behind the fall back on the right side, so I played a 40 yard diagonal pass over the CBs that Ciaran ran onto to nod past the GK to give us the lead.

Beginning of the end 

One soon became two as Matt headed home after Ciaran had crossed the ball to him and GK had missed it.

But, that very moment that gave us a 2-0 lead was the beginning of the end. In his exuberance, Matt taunted the opposing GK and earned a yellow card. This was in retaliation to what was a clear red card challenge by their GK on James when he was taken out, reminiscent of a certain world cup final.

As the game continued the refereeing decisions became more and more farcical, and we were no longer able to press and tackle as every challenge was blown as foul. For example, I chased down the FB and as he cleared I jumped legs up to block the ball, and it was given as a foul.

Sitges began bombarding us with aerial balls and pulled one back as Julien and Toni, who had won everything in that air, missed a ball and their Striker scored. Matt was then sent off for a second yellow for handball and we tried to hold. Some seven minutes into injury time, after brave resistance the referee gave Sitges another questionable freekick, from which they finally scored an undeserved equaliser.

All in all it was a hard earned point that felt like a defeat, but it was one point more than the zero we earned in the last two games, and disappointment that felt better than humiliation.

Onwards and upwards then!

Barcelona Sunday League - Training Matters

Darwins won 2 games all of last season. The main reason the team was so unsuccessful was because we did not create enough scoring opportunities, we gave away the ball too often and placed ourselves badly on the football pitch.

Therefore when devising the first few training sessions, the focus was on football fundamentals and keeping the ball. As the idea is to try to replicate the Barcelona style, the key drill Rodney implemented was the “Rondo” used by Barcelona in their training sessions at all age levels. The Rondo was introduced by Cruyff to Barcelona and is essentially “pig in the middle.”

The idea is the players in the circle, or in our case, square, pass the ball with limited touched to each other whilst the player or players in the middle win back possession. The beauty of this drill, much like Barcelona’s style of play, is in its simplicity. When you have the ball you pass pass pass and when you do not you press press press. That pretty much is the mantra that we will try to install as that is the Barcelona way at its very simplest.

Yet, much like with the way Barcelona play, it looks a lot easier than it is. This drill requires players to have a good touch, be decisive with their decision making, the players who do not have possession to communicate and be available and the players in the centre to constantly apply pressure in an effort to win the ball back.

Here is a clip of the masters in action:

Fighting Fit

The key aspect of Barcelona’s tactical system that sometimes goes unnoticed by the uneducated football fan is that, despite how easy they make it look with their mesmerising football, they work extremely hard off the ball.

The philosophy is to win the ball in the opponents’ half, press up the pitch, so when possession is regained it is in a dangerous area, so they can win back possession and immediately be in an attacking position. The pressing game also forces their opponents back and allows Barcelona to immediately win back the ball on the rare instances they lose it.

However, as most clubs who try to play World Club Champions at their own game find out to their deficit, is that unless you can keep the ball for long periods like Barcelona do, it requires a tremendous effort to continually press to win the ball back, only to lose it within a few passes.

So what does this mean for Darwins? That we have to get very fit if we are going to try replicate the Barcelona system, as it is easier and quicker to get fit than to learn to pass and move like Barcelona. That is, we may not be able to keep the ball like them, but we can try to win it back like they do.

Fresh Start

The great advantage Barcelona have over our amateur team, world class players aside, is that they can train continuously to perfect their style of play, whereas we train for 90 minutes every Thursday evening. In an amateur team, the purpose of training is to really maintain your touch and fitness and possibly tweak one or two subtle tactical matters.

However, we are trying to teach a whole new approach to football, improve the football intelligence of players who have limited experience and improve the fitness and football fundamentals of players who have more endeavor than natural football attributes.

This is a difficult task as it is impossible for players to absorb all that information and improve all these aspects in a single session, and therefore, we must aim to work on a single thing at a time. Therefore, we have decided to the two key things to work on are touch and passing, and fitness and formation.

Before we can have ambitious dreams of playing the Barcelona way, we must of course master the basics, simple pass and control, where to stand on a pitch and have the fitness to get up and down.

The players have worked hard in training and are putting the effort in, but the lack of football experience, or more pressingly, football experience doing the right things, has meant in the last couple of games the team has been found out. The year started with an impressive 3-0 win in a friendly, but two league defeats mean that we go into the second half of the season in Division 2.

The hope is that the lower level of competition will allow us to continue improving and evolving. The new season beckons, let’s hope it bears fruit.

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