Chris Ramsey – Session Report

We had a great session from Chris Ramsey on Wednesday the 24th of February working with players on Closing down in front of some 33 members and guests.

There follows both a report and pictures of the session.  Thanks are due to Steve Haslam for the report and David Cumberbatch for the photos.

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Here now is the write up of Chris Ramsey’s session at the LFCA on 24/2/16.

THE SECRET OF SUCCESSFUL CLOSING DOWN – CHRIS RAMSEY (TECHNICAL DIRECTOR – QUEENS PARK RANGERS FC)

Chris Ramsey introduced his session by saying that there are two fundamentals in the secret of successful closing down.
One is timing and the other is support.

By timing, the playing going to close down the opponent  in possession of the ball must ask himself the question – can he affect the ball? Can he win it or, if not, can he make the opponent’s play predictable?

The pressing player must receive support from his team-mates: one player goes to press  and then other players go to support. Support requires communication, either verbal or non-verbal. In verbal communication, the supporting player informs the pressing player down which side he wants the opponent in possession to be shown so he can tackle him should the opponent successfully beat the first team-mate. Non-verbal communication is provided by the pressing player adopting the body shape so that it is clear to the supporting player where the opponent will go if he successfully beats him and so the supporting player can cover that space.

Tactical considerations are provided by how high up the pitch a team attempts to close down. Chris provided the example of the QPR team last season, when he was first team coach, and the policy was to attempt to close down as high up the pitch as possible because, in the Premier League, they were found wanting when defending too near their own goal. So engaging opponents as far away from their own goal as possible became a priority.

The work on the training area began with a simple practice but all the subsequent work built up from it. A line of players face two players and the first player in the line runs to close this player down. This forces the player in possession to pass square to his colleague and the second player in the line is now sprinting forward to press this player, arriving on his first touch. The players are coached to press each of the two players so that they are forced to play the ball across the field. The space to the outside, replicated in match play as areas where supporting full backs would be situated, available as ‘get out’ pass for their centre backs, is therefore blocked off. Chris worked on the defending players in correctly adjusting their bodies as they arrived to cut off that outside space and force the next pass across. So the pressing player each time is making the opponent’s next pass predictable.   Chris also   pointed out how important it was for the pressing player not to run past the ball in his enthusiasm to close down, but to slow down in the final yard and stop, thus preventing the player in possession from evading the pressing player by moving the ball to one side and putting him out of the game.

c_ramsey6Chris  clarified the game element of this practice by putting in two wide players on each side of the two players who were similar to centre backs, and also placed a little further forward in the positions of full backs looking to get into high areas. The line of players continued to close down as before, but now if there body shape and stance was not correct then they were punished by the ball being passed to the fullback on their side. So they became aware  of how vital it was to cut out the pass to that side and so the objective of what they were doing became clear in their minds. Basically, they were preventing the opposition from coming out of defence through their full backs and so strikers, often lazy when required to perform defensive duties, were left in no doubt of the vital role in this aspect of the team’s play. Chris made the point that forwards, when they are asked to close down, often show that they have no defensive attributes. So it  often requires much hard work and firmness from the coach in improving this side of the game with his strikers.

Chris now progressed the session so that players were combining in their defensive work. Two small gate areas were introduced and two defending players had to prevent an opponent in possession from playing the ball through  either of them. One of the two defending players, having passed the ball to the first in line of the players opposite to them, had to go and close down as that opponent advanced forward with the ball. The defending players had to work as a pair to prevent the opponent in possession making a penetrating pass between either of the two gates.  The two fundamentals that Chris had spoken about in his introduction to the session now came into play. One of the two defending players played the ball to the first in line and the nearest of the two went to close down. His aim was to affect the ball and having done that it was a question of could he win it or, if not, could he make the play predictable?  This was the question on each attack and Chris coached  the players in making the right decisions and the execution of their task. The pressing player had to show the ball carrier one direction and the correct jockeying action. The supporting player had to take the trigger from the body adjustment of his colleague and also provide communication in informing him the area where he wanted the player with the ball guided into.

From a 2 v 1 overload in favour of the defending players, the work was then progressed into a 2 v 1 overload in favour of the attacking players. The pressing player now had to force the ball carrier as far away as possible from both the gate and his team-mate who had come forward in support after the initial pass  into the first player’s feet.

As the work progressed more players were gradually introduced into each scenario as the practices took on the appearance of game situations. A third gate was added for the team in possession to play through and they were also given a third player who followed up behind the other two, as if from a sweeper position. The situation now was that the two defending players   were improving in the fundamentals of closing down the two opponents: they were understanding the importance of affecting the ball and making the correct decisions of whether it could be won or whether the priority was to make the play predictable. The support player was giving the correct information and taking up the correct supporting positions. So the attacking players were being nullified and so the third player introduced, coming from a deeper position, gave an option and posed a new problem for the defending players. Chris now gave them a third player, and his starting position was just behind the gates which they were defending and he came forward as the players in possession came forward and started to use their sweeper player. Chris was now working on when and how to engage an opponent coming from deep with the ball without losing the balance provided by the two pressing players who are closing down the other two attacking players.

The addition of extra players was leading to many situations which Chris stepped in to coach.  There were now challenges in the players having to make decisions on  affecting the ball and what to do when affecting the ball was not possible. Chris coached the players that when they couldn’t affect the ball then they had to get together in a compact unit and let the attackers play the ball across the playing area until it was possible for them to get tight, (close down), again. He emphasised to the players that if they could not affect the ball then they must stay in their positional unit. But if they could affect the ball then they had to decide if they could win it or else make play predictable.

The climax of the session was reached when two gates were placed at each end of the paying area and both teams worked on the closing down fundamentals. Both teams were continually instructed to keep the ball in front of them and if they couldn’t affect it then don’t go. The players behind the pressing players had to talk and Chris made the point that if there is support behind you then you feel more comfortable to go and close down.

The final adjustment to the practice was when Chris put a target man just beyond the gates and the opposing team had to try and hit him if possible. So the other team had to be mindful of this in their closing down and try and prevent this long pass. If the target player did successfully receive this long ball then he had to play out short to the  other team and so now the problem was set of the team now out of possession having to press forward quickly and try to prevent the opposition from playing out from the back – which, of course, had been the starting point of the work right at the beginning of the session.

A tremendous amount of ground and detail had been covered in the session but everything revolved around the two fundamentals which had been explained at the outset – timing and support.
It had been an excellent session and all the members present  gave Chris Ramsey a warm ovation at the end. No matter at what level you coach,  there were vital lessons in his work and there was no doubt that everyone felt that they had benefitted enormously.