Tactics Analysis

What Kind of Rondo Should You Do in Warming up? [Football Tactical Analysis]

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Rondos, or possession games are one of the most popular sessions in training or warming up before the game. Most of all teams use rondos as an introduction of the main session on the day or preparation for a game. This is because it contains technical skills against opponents or decision making in live situation. Additionally, it is also easy to control the physical loads or the tactical objective of the session, so it is suitable to do it before the main session or game which is both physically and mentally intense.

The point is, therefore, to understand how to control the physical loads or the tactical objective in rondos. In this article, the differences of each type of rondo are going to be discussed from both views of physical and tactics. I hope you will enjoy this.

Type of Rondo

The Number of Players

Specifically, in warming up before a game, starting players and bench players are separated. As a goalkeeper also prepares for a game individually, therefore, mainly 10 outfield players are available for the possession game. In some cases, however, one or two of players on the bench join them and make it 11 or 12. The reason of this is that some managers prefer the specific format of the rondo. For example, Pep Guardiola loves 4v4+3 with 11 players or there is a rondo of 5v5+2 with 12 players.

Overall, the number of players is usually in the range of 10 to 12 with one or two extra players who do not start in a game. Basically, when the number of players is 10, the rondo is 5v5 or 4v4+2, when the number of players is 11, it is 4v4+3 or 5v5+1 and the number of players is 12, it is 5v5+2. As it is obviously noticed, there are rondos with or without neutral players, and the differences are going to be discussed in detail.

Neutral Players

There are mainly two types of rondos depending on the presence of neutral players. The huge difference between these two types is whether there are spare players or not for a team in possession. If there are two neutral players, the team in possession is guaranteed to have two spare players, so the objective is finding them. On the other hand, if there are no neutral players, the players off the ball need to offer passing lanes by losing their markers because there are no spare players for a team in possession. From the defensive perspective, the players of the defending team can mark and follow all opponents in a rondo without any neutral players. In contrast to this, if there are neutral players, the team out of possession tends to defend zonally because they need to nullify the overload for the team in possession.

In terms of the role of neutral players, there are two ways, freemen in the middle or outside servers.

Freemen or Servers

The freemen are the neutral players who can move freely in the area while the servers are fixed on the side line of the area. The freemen can provide a consistent overload in the area. On the other hand, as the servers cannot come inside, when one of the servers possesses the ball, there are no overloads in the area, although the direct pass to the opposite side server is still available.

Another difference is whether there is a direction of attack or not. It is possible to regard the servers as the goals, so this is more realistic than the rondo with only free men or no neutral players.

Specifically in the rondo of 4v4+3 which Pep loves, there are two servers on each side line and a freeman in the middle.

In this rondo, there are characteristics of both rondos with servers and a freeman.

Tactical Considerations

In this chapter, the tactical considerations of rondos are going to be analysed. There are tactical differences especially depending on the presence of neutral players or type of neutral players.

As it was mentioned earlier, thanks to an overload with neutral players, the tactical objective for the team in possession is finding an extra player. However, if there are no neutral players, they need to create a passing lane by losing their markers. In other words, they need to create a spare player by their movements. They are completely different concepts. The former one demands the players to be positioned in a proper area to make the situation easier while the latter one encourages the players to solve the difficult situation by their individual skills.

Another factor is the type of neutral players. Let’s say the format of the rondo is 4v4+2 but one has two freemen and the other has two servers.

(4v4+2 with two servers)

(4v4+2 with two freemen)

In the rondo with two free men, there is always a 6v4 in the area. Additionally, there is no direction of attack, so defenders will start to keep a compact shape in the middle of the area and the defender who is closest to the ball triggers the pressing on the ball.

On the other hand, in the rondo with two servers on each side, there is no numerical superiority in the box, but the difference is the ball can be possessed by one of the servers quite safely and there is a clear direction of attack. Thus, defenders need to think about how to screen the direct passing lane to the opposite server who can be considered as the goal and who to jump to apply pressure on the ball possessed by the server. In the rondo with servers, therefore, the team out of possession tends to form two lines to protect the opposition progression.

Even though the defenders need to defend zonally in both types of rondos as they are underloaded, the detail of pressing is different. In the rondo with freemen in the middle, the defenders become more flexible and the main focus is pressing around the ball, but in the rondo with servers, they are required to concentrate on more preventing the opposition team from playing through than pressing around the ball.

Moreover, in the rondo with freemen, the transition can be more unstable than the other. This is because the freemen will play for the opposite team as soon as the ball is lost and where they are is more unpredictable than the rondo with servers which they are fixed on each side line.

The most realistic rondo is, in my opinion, 4v4+2 or 5v5+2 with two servers on each side line. This is because the servers can be regarded as the goals and it is neutrally equal in the area, which is a similar structure of the game. Additionally, from the defensive perspective, defenders need to think about both players and the server behind them, so the defending type should be altered either zonally or man marking at a proper moment. Considering this rondo as the standard, a rondo without any neutral players focuses on more individual skills on and around the ball such as keeping the ball or providing an option properly and a rondo with freemen in the middle emphasises on the decision making such as finding a spare player rather than skills on and around the ball to solve numerically equal situation. In addition to the format of rondos, the area size makes a difference. Rondos with no neutral players tend to be played in a bigger area to help players to find and exploit space under pressure. On the other hand, in a rondo with neutral players, the pitch size tends to be smaller to force players to make a decision of finding a spare player under tight pressure of time.

In short, the rondo of 4v4+2 with two servers is the standard, a rondo without any neutral players demands individual skills and a rondo with freemen requires quick decision making. Therefore, teams need to consider these tactical elements when applying a rondo for warming up.

Physical Considerations

In terms of physical influences, the presence of freemen in the area, the size and shape of the area and the difference of the servers and players in the area are thought to be important to consider.

With an overload thanks to freemen in the area, there is no need for players to move a lot because there are always spare players. Therefore, what they need to do is not running a lot to lose their markers but making a few steps to offer a passing lane. On the other hand, a rondo without any freemen requires endurance of players to keep moving longer to lose their markers to receive the ball.

In relation with the presence of freemen in the area, the size of area makes difference. As it was discussed in the previous chapter, a rondo without any freemen is often played in a bigger area than a rondo with freemen in the area. The bigger area encourages players to cover longer distance, so it can influence on endurance of players. On the other hand, the smaller area does not provide players space to run a lot. Instead, they need to create a passing lane by just stepping aside of the opponent. Additionally, the shorter distance between each player means passes are played quickly and forces them to change direction repeatedly under pressure of time.

The shape of the area is also important especially in a rondo with servers. The vertically longer rectangle shape is often used for a rondo with servers on each side. This type of rondo is realistic because there is a direction of attack and are the servers which can be considered as goals. In addition to this, if the shape of the area is a rectangle, it becomes more realistic as the real pitch is a rectangle. Thanks to this realistic design, players can play in multiple situations. Thanks to the vertically longer area, it is possible for players to sprint longer distance than when playing a rondo in a usual square area. However, as it is horizontally narrow shape, they also need to move and change directions quickly. Therefore, it is possible to say that players can experience both physical activities.

When playing a rondo, they usually do it multiple times rather than doing it once without any rest. By dividing the session in some sets, they can repeat high intensity actions. Additionally, it can help players to experience similar physical loads. Especially, there is a huge difference in physical loads between the players in the area and the servers. Thus, they need to swap the role to make it similar experience.

These physical loads should be controlled by S&C or physical coaches rather than a coach to use proper type of rondo for each team.


As a conclusion, rondos, or possession games can be used for some objectives from both physical and tactical perspectives. Therefore, it should be planned for the proper purpose for each team with the combination of head coaches and S&C or physical coaches. And for fans, it is extremely valuables to watch the warming up to understand the objectives of both teams, and it gives you a deep insight about philosophy beyond tactics. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this.