Pep Guardiola: Rondo to Exception
This is the one exercise used everyday. Journalists attending training sessions report that Guardiola dedicates at least 20 minutes on a daily basis, whether it’s a hard session or a light session, to the Rondo.
The Rondo is a possession based training game in which players pass to strict patterns and rules within a circle. The intensity can be raised and lowered as appropriate and forces player to think at ‘match-speed’.
“The manager loves the possession game,” says Arjen Robben. “In the warm up we do the little circle. Every day. He wants us to play it serious. If you know you always have to make the game, dominate, surprise your opponent by playing the ball very fast, this is the kind of training you need.”
Guardiola will often vary between 5-8 players forming the circle and 2-3 players in the centre. This way he is able to break up his groups in order to ensure maximum participation by all of his players. The players on the outside (possession team), form a circle formation and are tasked with keeping the ball away from the players within the circle (defending team). The defending team must attempt to force the possession team into making a mistake and turning over possession. Once this is done, the teams are mixed up to ensure everybody practices each element of the drill.
One thing that is vital is to never have just one player on the defensive team, chasing passes alone. A key benefit of the Rondo is that when multiple players are asked to work together to regain possession inside the circle, they’re able to work together and position themselves as a team. Guardiola demands that his players work in unison, so the defender closest to the ball immediately closes the man in possession down, while the other defender(s) position themselves in an efficient way to block passing lines. This means using their bodies to entice the man in possession to pass in a certain direction. Doing this effectively allows the defenders to ‘read the game’ as they’re forcing the pass to go towards a direction that they can anticipate – making it easier to intercept the ball.
The game can be made harder by changing the number of touches that the possession team takes. By lowering it to just one-touch passing, the possession team must think ahead of time to ensure they able to pass quickly and accurately in an instant.
“If you want to play dominant football you need to get the ball and play quick combinations in small spaces. It makes you think fast and be extremely concentrated. This kind of training I love. It makes you better.”Arjen Robben