Jack Rodwell: How to play box-to-box

Sunderland's midfield dynamo shares his six-step guide to bossing the entire pitch. Bags of stamina, knowing when to gamble and a dose of versatility are what you need...

Conserve energy
“If you’re playing box-to-box you’ve got to save your energy between runs. To do that you have to work on your positioning by trying to make your run early – whether that’s to get in the box, receive a pass or track a runner – so you don’t have to sprint into the position. Resist the temptation to steam around the pitch, especially in big games. Get in better positions and read the game to conserve energy.”

Read the game, get into position early

Keep them guessing
“If you’re playing against a box-to-box midfielder, try and stop them from playing first and then get them worrying about you. You can be clever about it – in the first half, limit your forward runs so that he thinks you’re just there to mark him and play more defensively. Then in the second half, depending on how the game is going, start making more forward runs to confuse him so he doesn’t know what you’re going to do next.”

More after the break

Be smart, get the opposition chasing you

Take calculated risks
“If you’re defending a lead or holding out for a point you’ve got to limit your forward runs, but there are times when you have to gamble. Last season against Manchester United we were 2-1 up when I came on and my role was to help see out the win with five minutes left on the clock. But when I got the ball in the middle of the park, I exploited the space and scored – that sealed the game.”

Assess the situation, know when to gamble

Guard the back four
“Concentrate on breaking up the play and stopping the strikers from getting the ball at their feet. The opposition will play the ball into the striker and you’ve got to turn and be quick on his second touch. If someone like Wayne Rooney drops into the hole, keep your cool, keep your position and realise you can’t always get the ball. You’ve got the back four behind you so if Rooney wants to drop off it’s not necessarily your problem; let the defenders deal with it if he’s their man.”

Seize it on his second touch

Run late into the box
“If you know where your wide men are going to put the ball, nine times out of 10 you’ll get on the end of a cross. If the defender is watching you, you’ve got a headstart on him already – he’ll always be running backwards. Jog towards the penalty area and then explode and race into it. Drop your shoulder, dart forwards and get in the right position before your opponent manages to get there.”

Lose your marker and bust a gut

Forge a partnership
“Build an understanding with your team-mate and play to each other’s strengths. When I play with Tim Cahill and the ball goes out wide I know I’ve got to hold my position in the middle of the park to balance the team. If I’m playing with Marouane Fellaini and he’s holding, then I’ve got license to make forward runs. Then there’s Mikel Arteta, who likes to play on the edge of the opponent’s box, so then I have to protect the back four.”

Know your team-mate’s game inside-out

For more football tips see:
Lucas Leiva: The spoiler
Xavi: Master the pass
Mario Gotze: Be a creative spark
Patrick Vieira: How to be a midfield destroyer
Ramires: Stand up to the big boys
Mikel Arteta: Pass your opponents off the park
Yaya Toure: Dominate the middle of the park
Jack Wilshere: How to keep possession
Michael Carrick: Protecting the back four

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