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Cage tournament gets boys to think outside the box

3 Feb 2019

Premier League's 6v6 U15 National Finals gave academy teams new skills with more intense game

Six teams of boys gathered in Birmingham at the weekend to be tested like never before in the Premier League Under-15 6v6 National Finals.

U15s from Arsenal, Birmingham City, Fulham, Leicester City, Middlesbrough and Sunderland competed against each other in a caged pitch under lights and with music pumped out.

"After feedback from clubs, we are looking to create an atmosphere that will provide the players and coaches with an experience they are not exposed to regularly through the current Games Programme," Dean Smith, the Premier League’s Games Manager, said.

"Players will also learn to develop 1v1 attacking and defending skills."

For the coaches, it was a test as much as the players.

"It’s forced us to think slightly differently," Dan Micchice, coach of the Arsenal U15 team, explained. "You cannot take the 11v11 game into this format."

New skills tested

The format of an enclosed pitch got the players to think creatively.

"You have to be comfortable in 1v1 situations, even if you have your back to the goal or back to the board, you have to use your surroundings and try to beat your man," said Taylor, captain of the triumphant Arsenal team.

The aim of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan is to get more homegrown players appearing for the first teams.

To do so they need to be technically as good as some of the best players in the world if they are going to compete in the Premier League, Smith said.

"We think this format will aid that and is certainly a piece of the Games Programme jigsaw," he said. 

Arsenal win the Premier League Under-15 6v6 National Finals
Arsenal beat Fulham in the final of a tournament that gave the players a weatlh of knowledge for their personal development

As well as gaining the skills that many youngsters obtain in cages and ball courts in urban areas, the enclosed nature also enhanced the mental development of the players’ game.

With the ball unable to go out it forced higher levels of concentration and control among players, who knew mistakes will result in goalscoring opportunities for the opponents. 

"You can’t hide in that small arena, everyone’s got to want the ball and be able to deal with the ball," Micchice added. 

Goalkeepers using their feet

This was true also for the goalkeepers, who in today’s game must be as adept with their feet as their outfield team-mates, and often were used as sweepers in the tournament. 

The 6v6 format also gave them increased involvement through repeated shot stopping and increased touches of the ball. 

"We are developing goalkeepers that can do what the top goalkeepers in the Premier League can do with their feet in particular," Micchice said. 

Arsenal lifted the trophy, beating Fulham in the final, but all six clubs gained a wealth of knowledge to apply to their regular play. 

"We should do more of this," Mark Atkinson, a Sunderland coach, said. "It can only benefit the players."

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