Piggy in the Middle – Soccer’s Keep-Away Game

What’s that game that Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool or all the top soccer teams play before games and training sessions? It’s called piggy in the middle or rondos or just keep away. It’s the foundation of all soccer, keeping the ball while under pressure. The smaller the circle the harder it is to keep the soccer ball away from the two defenders in the middle.

Here are Bayern Munich’s top five rondos or piggy in the middle games. Above image credit goes to FC Bayern Munich of course.

Piggy in the middle, or 5 v 2 is the classic possession game used by all of the top clubs in the world. In the photo below, Chelsea players play piggy in the middle before a training session. Guess who’s one of the pigs in the middle in the photo? Well, that looks like John Terry to me. Wonder how long he had to spend in the middle chasing the ball around as the piggy. The piggy in the middle also usually has to hold on to a penny jersey to distinguish themselves from the rest of the players.

Here’s Barcelona warming up playing a little piggy in the middle. While this is just a warm up, this is a useful soccer drill for all levels of ability and skill. And more players can be added, say three defenders in a bigger space or one defender in a smaller space. You can make adjustments according to skill level. The main idea though is to get players used to keeping the ball.

Field size: 30 yards by 20 (adjust according to number of players playing)

Number of players: full team but split into groups

Age range: any age

Description: Four or five players try to keep the ball away from one defender, the piggy in the middle. But this drill can really work with any number of players, for instance, you could have ten players with two players in the middle. It really depends upon the ability of the players and whether this is a warm up exercise or a drill, where you want to go full speed.

This is a classic game that helps players work on moving the ball quickly and using their body to shield the ball. One of the keys is to get your body squared to the ball so you can make your next pass. And offensive players should always think about keeping their body between the ball and the defender.

Offensive players should focus on passing the ball to their teammate’s foot which is furthest away from the defender so they can’t take it. Start the defender off at half speed. Progress to one touch and two touch as the game progresses. If ball goes out or the defender touches the ball then the defender switches out of the middle and whoever lost the ball or kicked it out of the playing area goes into the middle, becomes the piggy.

This is a game that can be played at all levels.  For more advanced players make the playing area smaller and limit the number of touches they can use to keep the ball. See how many passes the players on the outside can get in a period of time. If the player in the middle gets nutmegged, the ball is played through their legs, then they stay in for another round.

Equipment needed: Cones and practice vests.

Extra: In an interview in the Guardian Barcelona’s Xavi mentioned how important playing the simple game of piggy in the middle was to his club.

“Our model was imposed by [Johan] Cruyff; it’s an Ajax model. It’s all about rondos [piggy in the middle]. Rondo, rondo, rondo. Every. Single. Day. It’s the best exercise there is.

You learn responsibility and not to lose the ball. If you lose the ball, you go in the middle. Pum-pum-pum-pum, always one touch. If you go in the middle, it’s humiliating, the rest applaud and laugh at you.”

Take a look at Liverpool playing ‘piggy in the middle’ prior to an English Premier League football match:

Here’s Barcelona playing piggy in the middle or rondos. If you watch any pre-game or practice video of Barcelona they’re always playing keep away with one or two players in the middle of a circle. Messi stops rondo as Dembélé nutmegs Jordi Alba.