Pep Guardiola and El Rondo

“The intention is not to move the ball. Rather is it to move the opposition” Pep once said. The former Barcelona coach is synonymous with dominating games by dominating the ball. However, this is not something his team pick up straight away. It takes constant work in training along with high levels of concentration and tactical understanding from the players.

At Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City, Guardiola has used the rondo to get his players up to scratch, all with great success. As with many of his ideas, the Catalan coach was influenced in the use of the rondo by Johan Cruyff. In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, Xavi said “Our model was imposed by Cruyff, it’s an Ajax model. It’s all about rondos. Rondo, rondo, rondo, every single day. It’s the best exercise there is. You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball. If you go in the middle, it is humiliating. The other applaud and laugh at you”. But what is the rondo?

In principal it is a game of piggy in the middle, but it is played with the feet. Most commonly, Guardiola uses eight versus two. Eight players stand in a circle and attempt to pass to each other whilst the two in the middle aim to dispossess them. It may be a simple drill, but it has been proved to be highly affective. The players on the outside of the circle aim to reach a certain target, often 30 passes. However, if one of the players in the middle retrieves the ball, the drill restarts and the player responsible for losing the ball swaps with the player that won it.

The rondo has multiple benefits. It improves technique in tight areas and when under pressure, encourages intelligent movement whilst forcing players to pass in nest triangles. All of this is evident in game and Manchester City’s improvement in these areas is undeniable. From a defensive point of view, the rondo could be perceived as even more valuable. Those in the middle learn to press with maximum efficiency as they learn about positioning, how to cut out the most passing lanes as well as how to read the intentions of the player in positions. “Everything that goes on in a match apart from shooting, can be practiced in a rondo” Cruyff once said.

There are variations as well. It can be a six versus two, five versus two or even three versus one. Guardiola will sometimes change it to a positional game, similar to a “traditional” rondo but with an added element. The drill is four versus four and there are three neutral players that take the side of whichever team is in possession, so it is always seven versus four. Although whenever possession is lost, the drill doesn’t restart. The team that has lost possession can immediately counter-press to win the ball back. This has a greater emphasis on intelligent movement off the ball.

The intensity of the drills are crucial. Pep demands maximum focus and doesn’t allow any player to slack off or joke around. “Even the rondos: it’s with 100% effort or you don’t do them at all.” he said during an interview with FourFourTwo in 2016, “If the players don’t like them they are welcome to go mountain running, but in that case, we’ll never reach our potential”.

After the initial shock, gradually the players will become accustom to the intensity required for a rondo. The rondo isn’t a casual exercise to warm the players up before the training session takes place. It is a fundamental part of the development for the players in a Guardiola team. ffffff

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