Back three tactics


Just over half a pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, 2 full size goals

No. of players

Up to 20 players + 2 goalkeepers

Session time

Tactical circle: 12mins, Tactical game: 30mins

The back three is a vital part of the way we play – they provide the forward motion in attack and squeeze play in the central areas in defence, with options for passing routes and wide play.

Although focused on tactics for the back three, this session rehearses many aspects of our game. It gives players the opportunity to defend the box as a three, and move the ball forward, either by playing through the midfielders, passing out to the wingbacks, or playing the ball directly to the forwards through the channels either side of the midfield.

What do I get the players to do?

Tactical circle

This session would begin with a warm-up of 10 minutes and a technical warm-up of 10 minutes [not shown]. Next we set up an area of 12×10 yards. We are using nine players, split into six possession players, who are positioned outside of the area, and a team of three, who play inside the area, as shown [1]. 


1. The six outside possession players have one touch. They pass to each other and must try to keep the ball for as long as possible
2. The three inside players must try to press, block and intercept the passes
3. If the defenders win the ball, they clear it out of the area

The six outside possession players have one touch and must pass between themselves, trying to keep hold of the ball for as long as possible in the time allocated. The three inside players must try to press, block and intercept the passes. If they manage to gain possession, they should clear the ball out of the area to score a point. 

Play six rounds of two minutes, swapping the pressing players with three outside players each time. The three players that win the most balls when in the centre are the winners of the challenge.

What are the key things to look out for?

Support and positioning are important for the three pressing players, as they must be in the right position to block or intercept passes. They must also show a level of anger to win the ball. Players will have to be aggressive and be clever when covering, so they are able to intercept any through balls. Communication is vital and they must help each other by passing on useful information.

What do I get the players to do next?

Tactical game

We set up on just over half a pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We mark out a 36×10-yard central zone and create two crossing channels on the wing, as shown [2a]. Each team has three defenders in the defensive half of the pitch and three attackers in the attacking half.

The central zone contains three players: two neutral midfielders who play for the team in possession, and a neutral defender who presses the midfielders. Each team has two wingbacks on the halfway line, one on each side of the pitch.

Play starts with the goalkeeper, who passes out to one of the three defenders in front of him. They are put under pressure by three opposition attackers, who must try to win the ball and counter-attack. 


1. The keeper starts with a pass to one of the three defenders, who are being pressed by three opposition attackers
2. The defenders combine to get the ball to their three forwards in the other half
3. Passes can go through the two neutral midfielders in the centre zone. They have only one touch and are pressed by a neutral defender
4. To score, the attackers either go 1v1 with the defender or use the help of the wingback in the wide channel, who can cross into the box

Playing a 3v3 in their defensive zone, the aim for the defenders is to combine to get the ball to their three forwards in the other half of the pitch. Passes can go either through the two neutral midfield players in the central zone, who only have one touch, or directly from defence to attack through the inner channel between the central zone and the wide channel, as shown [2b]. 


1. If using the help of the neutral midfielders isn’t possible, the defenders can also pass into the other half through the gap between the wide channel and central zone
2. If the defenders win the ball in their own defensive zone, they can counter-attack. However, this time they concede a goal

When the forwards receive the ball, they should either go 1v1 against a defender, combine with each other to create a shooting opportunity, or use the assistance of their wingbacks in the wide channels. The wingbacks are tied to their channel but can cross into the box. 

If the defenders manage to win the ball from the attackers, or intercept the cross, they can counter-attack but can only play the ball into the forward half of the pitch using the same passing options a before.

Play two 15-minute games.

What are the key things to look out for?

When under attack, look for the three defenders to help each other through good communication. They should also be able to defend 1v1 or, if possible, 2v1. If the attackers play the ball out wide to the wingback in the wide channel, it’s important for the defenders to get in the right position and to mark accordingly in case of a cross.