Playing forward in a 4-3-3


Up to a full pitch


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players

Up to 22

Session time

Technical warm-up 20mins, Possession exercises 20mins, Game play 20mins

This session is about playing forward in a 4-3-3 formation, outlining passing options to three rotating midfielders and three advanced forward players.

The session enables us to emphasise the idea of passing forward in between rigid opposition units to break through an opposition’s midfield and defence. It’s possible to beat even the deepest deep defensive block with clever combination and link-up play.

The practice also enables us to control possession through multiple passing options, meaning we can manage and dictate the game when we have the ball, and can rest when in the lead.

What do I get the players to do?

Technical warm-up

This practice uses 12 players – a keeper, eight attackers (reds), three defenders (yellows) – and four mannequins. Setting up as shown, we work on the rotation of the three midfield reds, numbers 4, 8 and 10. Players must keep possession (1a), and after a succession of passes or a command from the coach, they attack the goal.


1. In the Technical warm-up, central players 4, 8 and 10 pass the ball to one another and rotate positions, before taking the ball forward for a shot on goal
2. 10 moves away under pressure
3. 8 rotates into space left by 1
4. 7 moves to space left by 9
5. 2 makes a quick run into the space left by 7

Yellows take on positions of two centre-halves and a centre-midfielder and play realistically.

To progress, we encourage players 7, 9 and 11 to come infield or drop deep. When this happens, players 2, 3, 8 and 10 must advance and make quick forward runs (1b). Again, end with a shot on goal.


• Play is quickly switched right, with player 4 driving a pass in behind the mannequin for the advancing wide player

Possession exercise

Setting up as shown, the numbers indicate how to make the exercise position- and game-specific. This practice features three teams – reds, who play vertically; yellows, who play horizontally; and blues who chase the ball down (2a).


• In the Possession exercise, reds must work the ball from one target area to the next, with yellows working at 90 degrees and blues looking to intercept

Reds and yellows must work together in transferring the ball from the red player in one target zone to the red player in the opposite zone (2b).


• Reds and yellows link up and successfully feed the ball through to the red target player

The five players in the central channel (reds) represent centre-backs, centre-midfielders and centre-forwards. There is one player in each zone plus a central  floater.

The five players across the middle zone (yellows) represent full-backs and wide midfielders. There is one in each of the wide areas plus a floater.

Blues (the chasers) can go into any zone to chase the ball down.

Swap the chasing team after five minutes, or when the chasers have regained the ball five times.

11v11 game

Once again, the player numbers relate to positions in an 11v11 game (3a).


• In the 11v11 game, the pitch is divided into zones so as to aid midfielders’ spatial positioning

Setting up as shown, the two centre-backs cannot leave the defensive zone – this is to maximise the space for central midfielders to play in.

Other zones are included to aid midfielders’ spatial positioning, and to enable a rotation of players between the three quarters.

How do I progress the game?

We can progress this game by allowing one centre-back to leave his zone and travel into midfield in order to create an overload.

We might also move the opposition defensive zone higher in order to increase space in behind for forwards. At the same time, this decreases the space for midfielders to work in (3b).


• In the progression, the defensive line can be moved up. This creates less room in midfield and space ‘in behind’ for forwards to run into

What are the key things to look out for?

Position and body shape…

players to open up so that in receiving the ball they can see other players’ movements across the whole pitch

360 degree awareness…

players must check over both shoulders both before a pass is played and as the ball is travelling towards them

Step onto the ball…

players cannot be stationary for their first touch

An active first touch…

players must move the ball into the space and away from defenders

Open up forward passing channels…

players 4, 8 and 10 must occupy different quarters of the central area of the pitch and not block passing options to the front three

Stretching the pitch…

players 7, 9 and 11 must enlarge the playing area and offer killer pass options in behind the opposition defence

Player rotations…

rotations, forward runs and switches of roles and positions must happen all the time (for example, 11 comes infield to overload possession and 3 or 8 advance into the vacated space)

Technical and tactical understanding builds throughout the session, which ends with a game situation into which warm-up, possession practice and game play can all be practised. 


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement