Possession principles


Up to full pitch


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players

Up to 23

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 build-up 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.

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.


In the first practice, red and blue lines denote alternative combinations – here, an attack on the right wing and a move that progresses through the middle


Two alternative combinations – marked as orange and pink passing lines – develop offensive moves in alternative areas, namely with the ball arriving from the flanks

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).


1. The keepers protect the long side and can progress from their areas when their team is out of possession, in order to promote a high line, as seen in the top practice
2. The bottom practice shows the consequence of a defending team not pressing high enough up the pitch – their opponents have a free shot into one of the lateral goals

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 the 9v9 game, neutrals (in grey) assist the attacking aims of the team in possession and can move between any zone


Only one designated team member can join neutrals in moving out of his zone – in this instance the blue midfielder moves forward to create a 6v3 attacking overload in the final third

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.


1. One point scored for crossing this line
2. An additional point scored for crossing this line


1. In the Formation game, reds, who are 4-3-3 and attacking a wide area, score one point when the attacker receives the ball past the first line
2. Blues attack the central goal in 4-1-3-2 formation

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.


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