Mostly due to ignorance and turning a blind eye to detail, many teams and top coaches take one thing for granted. I must admit that until I watched the last El Classico myself, I would not have noted this to write an article. It is something I had done with my teams, especially at amateur level.
Let us think this way for a while and see if we can make head way. I will draw contrasting examples to make a point, but this is applicable at high level, as it did in the Barcelona versus Real Madrid a few days back.
Say Barca, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or Spurs are drawn amateur clubs in big Cup encounters. Does it matter who wins the toss and they get to kick-off the match? It does, and by how much? A long way.
First and foremost, the questions of whether it is a home or away fixture comes in. This takes into account the home crowd; whether it will be a happy full house or it is an away encounter without any spectatorship.
Take it the big team is playing away. In this case, they may be the ones to kick off the match. The ball should be meant to go around and make every member of the team touch it as often as possible. This has two effects. It settles the nerves and ascertains the superiority of the team before the novices get excited of playing against the Wayne Rooneys and the Rafael van der Vaarts. Train this with your team.
The ball possession also sends the message to the terraces that the big boys are in town. The coach must therefore make his team understand this. Here I am assuming the big team has their first choice players in the park, which they should most of the time. Possession for extended periods at the beginning is key.
Reversing the order of things, the smaller team may be the one getting to kick-off. Being amateurs and their coach not following this on www.tsendex.wordpress.com, they will be very nervous and trying to figure out how to get autographs of the accomplished pros. The big team will have to pounce like a hungry wild cat onto the prey and get the ball back lighting fast.
Your team may be the small amateur side playing in front of your home crowd. The responsibilities are the same. Make sure that the big team and their fans get the memo that you are here to stay, by simply keeping the ball, moving it around fast and accurately. This settles the nerves of everybody in the team. It will give you an earlier indication as to who is in it and who is not.
The other advantage of this is that it brings the crowd into it and the boys will love when the stadium breaks into song. From there on, it is the bigger team to question if they can cope. Some may even start looking at the stage to see where they are and what is happening.
Be warned about failing to win the kick-off. It is not necessary to dive into tackles and try to win possession in swift sweeping motion. It will be essential to be patient and steady. The normal tendency will be to lose shape and the discipline of the strategy when the experienced professionals move the ball around.
Your team will need win the vital first tackle and get the applause of the home crowd, and then keep that ball for extended periods of time. Less emphasis should be placed in rushing forward to score. Failure early on may sup all the confidence the players have and they may withdraw.
The other scenario when you are the top dog and playing at home and you have to kick-off, is to send the long ball into the small team’s box and chasing looking for the early mistake before the nerves settle. The message to the novice boys is, ‘Here comes trouble’. They quickly note that they are in the wrong league and are in danger. The same can be done even if the smaller boys kick-off and they send the ball back. Sprinting to the ball and crowding them will make them feel outnumbered and then they will be prone to make mistakes.
This brings the point of the El Classico. This happens even in the big league. Real Madrid were on the score sheet with less than half a minute on the clock. They could have doubled the matters minutes later. The problem with big clubs of equal egos, it goes beyond the tactics and Barcelona were back in the game after being let loose by Real.
Real had matters under control for the first 12 minutes and Barca had no answers to their movements, but they let themselves down by their sloppy attitude in scoring. Cristiano Ronaldo could have killed the game, not once and not twice.
The point is, the way Real started the match was not a dressing room issue. I can tell you they spent so much time working on their strategy which worked well, albeit temporarily. At least, fortunately for their preparation, they knew they were at home. It just came to who was going to kick-off.
That classic example also showed a point I would have missed. At high level, that kind of pressing must produce results quickly, because the pace cannot be sustained by men who are not on steroids. The energy demands are extreme and you need the positive results when fatigue takes its toll.
At lower levels of the game, the difference may be minimal, but if you have a good eye, you will not miss it. Take time to plan and practise kick-off, just as you do with corner-kicks and penalties. It may be the one thing that saves you a point, a Cup or a job one day.