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Paul Pogba will once again be an integral part of France’s midfield in the upcoming Euro 2016

Building player combinations is a vital factor in developing a successful team.

Perhaps more so than individual skill, tactical formations or fitness, combinations can be incredibly powerful in differentiating the good teams from the great.

Many elements of football across all levels can be copied if the expertise is available to players or a club.  But combinations are much harder to copy because they rely on a number of individuals becoming a harmonious unit.

Offensive combinations are vital to break down the opponent.

To be successful, combinations are dependent on individuals understanding what each other are going to do at a certain time.    Players need to be able to think ahead and read a developing situation.  They also need to be creative and be able to problem solve instinctively.

When a combination clicks, the synchronicity of action across a number of individuals is very difficult to stop.

From a youth development perspective, this is why players need to stick together year on year as much as possible and, during the course of the season, play in different positions.

The French and Spanish Midfield Combinations
The European Championships kick off with France vs. Romania at Stade de France (Paris) the morning of June 11 NZT.  The success or failure of combinations is likely to dictate who wins the trophy.

France are the favourites for the tournament and much of their success will be driven by their midfield combination of Paul Pogba (Juventus), Blaise Matuidi (Paris St Germain) and (probably) N’Golo Kanté (Leicester City).

The French midfield three stay very central to stop the opponents attacking through the middle of the pitch.   This can make it more difficult when they receive the ball given the centre midfield can be congested, but once they have it, they can initiate quick passing interactions, while protecting each other, which draws in defenders and opens up space for quicksilver attackers Anthony Martial (Manchester United) and Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid).

Given the group operates in close proximity to one another when defending, they also have the ability to initiate a quick transition to counter-attack if they do lose the ball.

It will be fascinating to see if this combination is effective, particularly as the three midfielders play at different clubs.

Compared to the French, the Spanish may have the better combination through the centre of the pitch with Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets Barcelona veterans.   When paired with Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas the Spanish midfield has immense knowledge of how each other play.  Despite a disappointing FIFA 2014 World Cup, the current European Champions are certainly a threat.

Combinations Lead to Awareness
By focusing on how to work together, individuals learn awareness.

In a 40 year professional playing and coaching career former Ajax Amsterdam star Gerard Van Der Lem has won plenty of trophies.  At the heart of his coaching philosophy is individual awareness.

“Every player has to understand the geometry of the whole pitch.”

Spatial awareness is of primary importance.

Players also need to be aware of where teammates and opponents are at all times.

Given the dynamic nature of the game this is no easy task, especially when being put under pressure by the opposition.

Good players are able to make the right decision at the right time.  This decision-making is helped dramatically if footballers, regardless of age, understand what their teammates are likely to attempt in certain situations – be it a turn, creating a passing option, or changing direction of the play.

This understanding takes time to build up.  But once embedded it can make a team very hard to beat.

For Top Flight Football Academy, 2016 represents another step in building combinations amongst our players.  Watching the best in the world at the 2016 Euros it will be apparent that collective understanding can be all the difference to the final result.

Football and Chess by Adam Wells

(Euro 2016 tactical preview)

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