Front to back


Up to full pitch


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players

Up to 23

Session time


I will have an idea in my head of what I want to achieve in every single session. This can be done by designating key factors, which we write on our training sheet.

Throughout this session we work on possession principles, focusing on buildup play from the back and the mobility of the team. We also touch on the principles of our defensive organisation, working on the distance between players when they’re not in possession of the ball, and use of the offside law.

It’s important that in training you return to the foundations of what you are trying to achieve in terms of style of play for your team in the context of your upcoming fixture. In that way, week after week, you consolidate your team’s organisation and the players’ comfort levels and habits to do what you are proposing.

In this particular session – and running towards the game at the weekend – we worked on our possession play with lots of interchanges of position because we were expecting a game where we would have the ball a lot.

Generally you as a coach are looking for the team’s behaviours to express themselves in various ways during the game, then, of course, it’s up to the players to make and take the best decisions possible during the game in relation to the situation they are confronted with. We provide specific feedback when needed to help the player but bear in mind that their decision making is key. This kind of flexibility must always be promoted in your training sessions as it stimulates the players to have a key role to play.

What do I get the players to do?

Offensive combinations with finishing positions

Having run a 10-minute functional activation and mobility warm-up to get players loosened up and in the right frame of mind, we then move on to the first practice. This uses cones to mark players’ starting positions, and mannequins to give a reference of opponents’ possible positioning.

Using two touches, the players go through passing and attacking combinations, as shown (1a/1b). There are four set patterns that we rehearse – each time, a player receives the ball deep from the keeper and lays it off to a supporting player who is facing play. The objective is for players to have a variety of options as they play from the back. This means that if any man receives the ball with his back to goal and under pressure, a supporting player should quickly show up in front of him in support. Each passing move should finish with an attempt on goal. Run for 15 minutes.

What are the key things to look out for?

Each combination requires players to move in different ways, so we want to see them master the quick passing and clever movement off the ball that enables us to maximise the benefits of each move. It’s important that each combination ends with a shot on goal, either from a ball played through the middle, or a cross from the wing.

As you would expect, good communication between team mates is essential in ensuring combinations work.

Lateral and deep small-sided game

Next we move to a 6v6 small-sided game including keepers, using target goals. The premise here is to work on compactness and an appreciation of distance between players when not in possession. This is done by constructing a compacted, shortened playing area. So that every player is involved, we’ll set up two together, as shown (2).

Each team has two target goals on the long side to defend, but the team that’s out of possession also has to protect the two lateral goals on the short side of the playing area.

Each keeper is central to the coordination of offside and the use of a high line. When his team is out of possession, he steps forward from the deep outlined rectangle to help his colleagues defend high. Defending high enables players to cover the lateral goals, and this behaviour incentivises the team to take a step up to press rather than a step back to drop lines. When in possession, the keeper must remain inside this rectangle and supports his team from behind.

The game improves players’ reactions and awareness as they have to concentrate not only on the deep goals but also the lateral ones. Run for four periods of three minutes, with recovery time in between.

What are the key things to look out for?

We’re looking for quality possession and smart transitions, so it’s important for players to adapt clever and intelligent body positions when pressing, showing inside or showing outside. It all depends on the different situations they are confronted with, but they must be flexible and versatile to the threat.

For keepers, when their team is in possession, they must be the last men behind the ball. When not in possession, they must come out.

9v9 game

This next game displays the importance of building up from the back by using correct choices and rehearses players in the idea of jumping through zones to support, whilst still remaining aware of their defensive duties. We set up using two portable 11-a-side goals (or one fixed goal at the end of the pitch and one portable goal) (3a/3b).

In addition to designated teams, there are three neutral floaters – who are one touch – plus a keeper in each goal. Players are assigned to each zone according to their natural positions; floaters can play anywhere.

The idea is that one attacking or defending player from each team can jump the zones, but only player one at a time. So if a team mate is already on the move, other players must remain fixed until that player gets back to his designated zone. Run for three periods of four minutes, with recovery time in between.

What are the key things to look out for?

There are different objectives at play in this exercise. Offensively, the objective is to create alternative passing options for the player in possession by the use of players changing zones and the increased mobility that brings.

Players must support in the build-up without overcrowding, must bring in switches of play and penetrate well to produce a finish. The game relies at all times on correct timing. We also want to see active pressure in all sectors and good transitions. Defensively, players must focus on having active pressure on the ball, and reducing opponents’ time and space. The fact that only one player at a time can jump zones can also help defenders decide on the correct zonal- or man- marking behaviour they need to apply to the situation. For instance, if one of your central defenders is confronted with a striker going short to the middle zone, should he follow or should he pass over the responsibility to his midfielders? To ensure these sorts of positions are made quickly and positively, players must remain alert and aware at all times.

Formation game

In the final exercise we test the structure, movement and dynamics of players in 4-3-3 and 4-1-3-2 formations. Practising this set-up is important in the days leading up to a game, such as our match against Norwich, where we were expecting to have the lion’s share of possession.

The objective of the exercise is to press the opposition high up the pitch, whilst retaining control of the space in behind (and, in particular, the distance back to the keeper). The blue team attacks the main goal, while the red team has two scoring lines to aim for (4a/4b). They score one point for each line they drive past, but once past the first line, must overcome the keeper as well, who is allowed to come out.

When possession is regained the blue team must be patient in finding ways to break their opponents’ defensive block which will be deep and low. Run for two periods of eight minutes, with recovery time in between.

What are the key things to look out for?

Staying in formation will help teams in their task of attacking very different scoring areas. Whilst they must play with rigidity, we’re also looking for them to use the flexibility and versatility practised in the earlier parts of the session.

We complete the session by going into a final recovery period that features a cool down with stretching.

Progressing the session

The coach should always promote necessary changes according to what he sees and according to the players’ response to the exercise and their ability to do it. The first practice,

Offensive combinations with finishing positions, for instance, might benefit from the addition of defenders. Whilst one team performs the combinations the other team defends passively outside the box and actively inside the box.

In the 6v6 game, we have on occasions increased the number of players, and replaced the function of each keeper with a central defender. Similarly, on the 9v9 game, we have performed this without floaters, thus increasing the difficulty.

We have also introduced offsides in the final third. But these progressions are not set, and the important thing is for the coach to judge what works and what doesn’t work in real-time, and to adapt the plan as he sees fit.


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