AS Roma in Boston 7/26 Training Session

After two interesting evening training sessions for Luciano Spalletti’s AS Roma at Harvard’s Ohiri Field, Tuesday evening’s session had some reoccurring exercises from Monday and work on set pieces.

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The building in the background is Harvard University’s American football stadium. It is unsuitable for soccer training as it is lined for American football and is not a natural surface.

One development worth mentioning however for AS Roma supporters, all four players who competed at the Euros, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, Stephen El Shaarawy and Radja Nainggolan, participated in the full training session with the main group. It was the first time they had done so in the evening session since arriving in Boston. The previous two nights they all dropped out early and did some running off on one side of the field.

The session began similar to the previous evening, with some juggling and no formal warm-up, before going into a 12v12 exercise. The pace of this exercise was not done at full intensity, same as Monday evening, so this may have been serving the purposes of a warm-up, albeit a more intricate one! At least some of the players did also walk from the hotel to the training ground, a distance of just over half a mile.

The 12v12 exercise once again involved two teams, with an extra center forward each as the twelfth player, playing combination passes simultaneously up opposite sides of the field. The field was again split vertically down the middle with cones and the ball and players involved had to stay on the same side of the field the play started on. Area was the width of the field and the goals were at the tops of the penalty areas.

Once again, they utilized several different combination patterns, like on Monday, but the two constants were the ball from the keeper was always to the holding mid and the winger always wound up checking into the half space from a wide position. One twist on Tuesday from Monday was the center mid moving into the fullback space and that served as the trigger for the fullback to push up the touchline and eventually put the ball into the center forward from a wide position. The crosses to the center forward were once again mostly played into feet and kept on the ground, high crosses were rare whether it was meant for Edin Dzeko or Totti.

This covered the first thirty minutes of the session. The next thirty minutes involved the two teams splitting up. One group worked on attacking right sided corners, while the other worked on attacking set pieces from about 30-35 yards out. After fifteen minutes, the groups switched.

For the attacking set pieces exercise, four plastic men held the offside line at the top of the penalty area. Two attackers would stand offside and four would run into the penalty area off the free kick delivery. The two offsides players would check back, one coming all the way out by himself about 7-8 yards past the wall and the other checked his run when he met the onrushing players and crashed back into the penalty area with them.

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The corner kick group worked only on the right side with a couple variants of attack. One was a short corner routine and the other was predicated on a player coming out of the six yard box towards the corner to take a ball into feet and then laying it off to the corner kick taker to put the ball in. Only thing of interest here was Totti got frustrated with his balls into the six yard box. He seemingly, again language barrier makes this difficult to asses, initially didn’t like the return ball he was getting to set him up and then was just frustrated as his service was a bit off.

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The two groups then came back together and finished with a 11v11 half field game and the extra goalkeepers did some work catching crosses in the opposite goal. The session ended around 7:00pm as a group of VIPs was brought down to the field to meet the players.

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Today instead of training, AS Roma arranged two friendlies against local sides with half the squad slated to play in each. The morning match was against a FC Bolts team from the Premier Development League, the fourth division of US soccer, which Roma ran out 5-1 winners.

Spalletti was quoted before the trip expressing some disappointment over only having one field with which to train. He said sometimes it was necessary to train different “departments” on separate pitches but that they would adapt and tighten the spaces for training. That raises the question of how Spalletti may have done some of the team’s work differently if he had two full fields instead of one. The goalkeepers did on one night jump over to an adjoining unlined field to work on punts and goalkicks, however.

Anyway, whether all the methods used were a matter of preference or necessity by Spalletti this week, it has been a delight to take in the training of such a high profile Club as AS Roma.

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AS Roma in Boston 7/25 Training Session

AS Roma’s week of preseason preparation at Harvard University’s Ohiri Field continued on Monday evening. The session ran from 5:30pm to about 7:00pm and like Sunday evening’s session, the focus was on team play. It was Roma’s second field session of the day. The first session at 10:00am, according to Roma’s website, involved the players doing fitness work, sprints, ball work and small sided games.

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Double sessions are an occasional controversial topic for soccer coaches as there is much debate as to how much these sessions can hurt a team’s fitness over the course of a long season. The foremost opponent of double sessions across Twitter is Dutch fitness coach, Raymond Verheijen, who has made a habit of attacking coaches who use double sessions.

Be interesting to see if AS Roma has a run of injuries or poor form this season if Verheijen swoops in and takes a knock on Luciano Spalletti’s training methods. He’d be joining a long line of top coaches mind you, Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham Hotspur drew the ire of Verheijen this past spring when Spurs did their annual collapse on the verge of achievement. However, Tottenham did have one of the best injury records in the EPL last year despite (or perhaps because of?) double sessions.

While every approach to training is open to critique and doubt and praise and so on, the session put on by Spalletti last evening was quite interesting to take in and provided another night of possible useful exercises for coaches to put into practice with their teams this year. Let’s get onto to the session itself.

Straight from the off the session was interesting as the AS Roma players spent a short amount of time juggling and then went straight into a 12v12 exercise. There was no formal warm-up or stretching prior to this.

The setup had full size goals with a keeper in each at the top of the penalty areas and eleven outfield players per team, for a total of 24 players, 12 per team. There were five cones splitting the playing area in half vertically. The extra player in each team was a second center forward and the teams were set out in a 4-3-4 with one center forward from each team either side of the cones splitting the field.

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What looked a bit odd, the extra center forward, quickly made more sense once Spalletti explained the exercise and the players got underway. Each goalkeeper would roll a ball out to their right centerback, thus having the teams moving the ball up opposite sides of the field, and the teams would simultaneously play up their right side and finish with a shot in goal. Then both teams would play up their left side. The ball and players involved in the passing were restricted to one side of the field and the center forwards alternated their involvement accordingly.

There was no defending, there were players from the other team in the way of the passing and movement but they did not actively defend the play. It is not uncommon for a team to go out and work through various passing patterns against no one(shadow play) but this twist of asking two sets of players to do so at the same time did add an element of difficultly.

Shadow play with plastic men as defenders is used as well but the advantage to actual humans is that their positioning would alter slightly, giving at least some movement to deal with and more of a fluid element to the exercise.

Now many coaches may love this idea but not all of us routinely have twenty-four players at one session in which to try it out!

The patterns used both involved the winger checking in from a wide position into the half space and then either the fullback or centermid making a run into the space vacated by the winger. From there a ball was put into the center forward who then laid off to the same winger who had checked into the half space as he would then make a central run into the center forward’s space.

Afterward, the teams then played a game of 11v11, the extra center forwards now gone. The restriction in this game was that once the ball had moved into the defending team’s half, only the back four could defend. The three midfielders could drift into their half but could not actively defend. The forwards had to wait at the midfield line. Initially, both teams looked to get into the opponent’s half as quickly as possible and then use the 6v4 advantage to patiently create a chance. This seemingly allowed them to work both on fast transitions out of their half and then patience in creating chances further forward.

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About two-thirds of the way through the approach of both teams changed, as Spalletti looked to begin instructing them to play back to the keeper, open up and build methodically out of the back upon regaining possession. The language barrier, of course, made knowing exactly what Spalletti was asking difficult but he did shout repeatedly at one point while pointing back to the keeper and the team obliged and played back to him.

From there, once again as on Monday, four players dropped out of the main group and did some running and jogging on the far side of the field. These were returning players from the Euros, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Florenzi, Stephen El Shaarawy and Radja Nainggolan. This was their last involvement for the session.

The main group then played a half field game of 10v10 with no apparent restrictions. Both teams seemingly played a 4-2-3.

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For the second night in a row, after working together largely in one group, they split into smaller groups to finish out the session. The goalkeepers and some of the forward players worked on finishing and some of the midfielders worked on playing either passes or chipped balls through or over two lines of four plastic men.

The two back fours, with the help of four other players, worked on defensive shape again. The back fours took turns defending an empty goal against a 1-3. The focus was on pressing the wide player on the ball and then dealing with a ball chipped into the center forward from the lone midfielder after the winger laid off to him. The key seemed to be on quickly stepping the line on the back pass and then tightly marking the attackers as they made their run onto the chipped ball.

The above group of twelve then finished with a game of 4v4v4 in which one line of four played between the other two. The two outside lines had to keep possession and attempt to play through the middle line to the group on the opposite side. Interception of a through ball from the middle group got them out of the middle as they would switch with the group who’s pass they picked off.

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At the conclusion of the session just about all the players went over to the supporters and signed autographs and took selfies. The Roma associate working the check in said they had made a point of telling the players they needed to go over after each session for a bit. The previous evening only Florenzi made an extended effort to go over. Even Spalletti was coaxed into posing for a selfie by one overzealous coach taking in the session 🙂

Right before the above, Spalletti was alone with one of the younger looking defenders talking to him for several minutes about something from the previous exercise on defensive shape. Apologies to AS Roma fans who may find who this was to be interesting but my familiarity with the squad is not the best! A picture of their chat is below, if anyone can identify the young lad, let me know in the comments!

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Another evening of great insight into how top teams prepare for a coming season along with some excellent technical ability on display, the likes of which is not seen in person around here all that often! Worth the trip to Harvard if you can make this week.