Possession & transition

This session involves many important topics from our football philosophy, such as possession and transition after winning or losing the ball in narrow spaces. The players are encouraged to perform the activities at their highest levels of intensity, which is important because it gives them the ideal load.

These activities also provide a lot of mental pressure in terms of quick decision-making, as they demand that the players swiftly react in moments of transition.

Technically, the players need to be at their best regarding their first touch and, tactically, they have to find a good structure to create passing options if they are going to execute the exercises successfully.

We would usually run this session the day after a match for players who were not involved on a matchday, but we would also run similar exercises on a Tuesday or Wednesday of a normal week, as they are crucial to educating the players in our playing principles.

SET-UP

Area

Up to half a pitch

Equipment

Balls, bibs, cones, 2 goals

Number of Players

11 players + 2 goalkeepers

Session time

Box possession: 5mins

Box transition: 10mins

Transition/possession: 15mins

End to end: 15mins

Small-sided game: 15mins

What do I get the players to do?

Athletic warm-up

We start the session with an athletic warm-up [not shown]. We would run this for 15 minutes and it would include many short, quick movements, with changes of direction and simple ball contacts.

Box possession

We set up a box of 9×9 yards. We’re using 11 outfield players split into a possession team of nine and a pressing team of two. The possession team must pass the ball one-touch and try to string 25 passes together, as shown [1].

1

1. The blue team of nine are one-touch and must string 25 passes together to score a point
2. The red team of two press to win possession. If they gain the ball, they should clear it out of the area


Box transition

We progress the Box Possession activity by adding a second 9×9-yard box next to the first one. This time the possession team of nine must keep the ball for seven passes in one box and then pass into the other box, as shown [2]. The player who moves into the empty box to receive the ball is allowed two touches to give the other players the time to follow, as all the players switch boxes. Then they should again try to make another seven passes in the new box under pressure. The possession team should aim to switch boxes three times. We play for 10 minutes.

2

1. The blue team of nine are one-touch and must pass to keep possession
2. The red team of two press and try to win possession
3. The blues make seven passes and play to a team mate in the other box, who changes boxes to receive. All the players follow and the blues keep possession
4. The receiving player is allowed two touches, to give his team time to change boxes


What are the key things to look out for?

In the Box Transition practice we want to see players composed enough to complete the necessary number of passes and capable of finding the right moment to switch boxes. As soon as the pass is played, the possession team should quickly move to the other box to create new passing options.

The team without the ball should press with intensity. It is especially important to press aggressively at the moment when the ball is being switched between boxes, as it provides the best opportunity to win the ball.

What do I get the players to do next?

Transition/possession

We set up an area of 26×13 yards divided into two halves. We’re using 11 players, split into two teams of five and one floater, who plays for the team in possession and who should be a central midfielder.

The reds begin as the possession team and all five of their players start in their own half, passing the ball using no more than two touches. Three blues press to win possession, while the two remaining blues wait in the other half.

If the pressing team wins the ball, they should immediately clear it out of the area, as shown [3a]. As soon as the ball is played out of the area, the coach can play a new ball to the two waiting blues in the other half. The waiting pair are soon joined by their three team mates, who switch halves. The red team that lost possession sends three players into the new half to press and play continues, as shown [3b]. The floater also switches halves and continues to help the team in possession.

3a

1. The reds pass to keep possession in their half. They are two-touch
2. Three blues press to win the ball
3. The yellow floater plays for the team in possession
4. Two blues wait in the other half for the transition
5. If they win the ball, the blue pressing team must clear it out of the area

3b

1. As soon as the ball is played out of the area by the pressing team, the coach passes a new ball to the two waiting blues in the other half
2. The three blues that won the ball switch halves and join their team mates in becoming the new passing team
3. The red team that lost the ball sends three players into the new half to press
4. The floater also switches halves and plays for the team in possession


We play four games of two and a half minutes, with one minute’s break between games.

What are the key things to look out for?

When in possession, it’s crucial that players find a good structure to help them keep hold of the ball. Once in their positions, it’s important that players keep to them and just to adapt slightly to create angles to receive the ball. Spaces are limited, which restricts unnecessary movement. The quality of passing and the first touch are also very important because of the limited space.

For the defending team, the easiest way to regain possession is to press quickly with all three players before the passers have had the chance to find and settle on their structure. Once the positions are covered, it becomes more difficult to win the ball.

What do I get the players to do next?

End to end

We set up an area of 33×16 yards, which includes a five-yard zone at each end for the goals and the goalkeepers – no other players are allowed to enter the end zones.

We’re using 11 outfield players, split into two teams of five and one floater. The team in possession tries to keep the ball using the help of the floater and the two goalkeepers, as shown [4a]. If they complete 10 passes, they score one point. The goalkeepers are one-touch, while the possession players are limited to two touches.

4a

1. Play starts with a pass from one of the goalkeepers
2. The red possession team scores a point if they string 10 passes together. They are two touch
3. The passing team uses the help of the yellow floater and both goalkeepers to maintain possession
4. Only the keepers are allowed in the end zones. They are one-touch
5. The blues press and try to win the ball

4b

1. If the blue pressing team wins the ball, they must try to score in the opposite half to where the ball was won
2. On winning the ball the blues have unlimited touches to attack but they must score with a one-touch finish. For every goal scored, a point is deducted from the reds


If the pressing team wins the ball, they must try to score a goal in the opposite half to where the ball was won. They have unlimited touches but they must score with a one-touch finish. For every goal scored, a point is deducted from the tally of the possession team.

Rotate teams so they each have two turns in possession. Play four three-minute games.

What are the key things to look out for?

In the End To End practice, it’s important for the possession team to be composed on the ball and demonstrate a good positional structure, accurate passing and a good first touch. It is also important for them to quickly and aggressively counter-press when losing possession.

How would you put this into a game situation?

Small-sided game

We set up in one half of our pitch with a goal and goalkeeper at each end. We cone off the flanks of the playing area tapering from the width of the six-yard box at either end to a point 25 yards in from the touchline at the halfway point, as shown [5].

5

1. Play a normal game with no offsides. Outfield players have unlimited touches but keepers are limited to one touch
2. The yellow floater plays for the team in possession, giving them a midfield overload
3. With more width in the centre, the possession team should stretch their opponents and look to play vertical passes through to the strikers


We’re using 11 outfield players, split into two teams of five and one floater. We play a game with unlimited touches, except for the goalkeepers who must play with one-touch. There are no offsides.

The coaching focus should be on all the topics covered in the previous exercises.

We play two five-minute games, with a two-minute break.

What are the key things to look out for?

The pitch is both narrow and long, with more width at the halfway point – this should encourage the team in possession to stretch the opposition in midfield, in order to play the final vertical pass. It’s also important to have good positional structure and create depth for vertical passes.

Technically, a good first touch is required because space is very limited, especially in front of the goal when opponents are sitting deep. In this situation, players often try to finish too quickly, so we try to encourage players to be composed and move the ball quickly in midfield areas, using the overload to create good goal-scoring chances and vertical passes.

When winning the ball, it is important to look for quick vertical passes as long as the opponents are not in their defensive shape. If it is not possible, it is important to keep the ball and to use the overload to bypass the pressure and prepare the final vertical pass. Good decision-making is crucial as players need to decide whether to counter-attack or to keep possession, because it is hard work to win the ball back in this exercise.

How do I progress the session?

All the exercises can be adapted easily depending on what we are focusing on. For example, if we want longer periods of possession, we can start by allowing more touches and then reduce the number.

Another way would be to enlarge the area sizes. If we want to focus on the transition moment against the ball, it will be the opposite way around.

What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them? 

When in possession, players often fail to cover the spaces in a good way, or quick enough, so that there will be fewer passing options and therefore more losses of the ball. To remedy this, we insist on a good positional structure to keep the ball.

A poor first touch can make it difficult to keep possession, so we make sure players pass the ball to the correct foot, which will allow their team mates to open up with their first touch if possible.

Sometimes players can pass too quickly, using their first touch when it’s not necessary because opponents have just shifted. It’s important that players take a touch if they have the time and to pass when they get pressured and not before, dragging the opponent out of position.

When the team is out of possession, it’s important that pressing is synchronized. If the first pressure is bypassed, it becomes hard to get the ball back, so it’s important to act together in a narrow shape and react on triggers together, rather than one player pressing the ball while the others are resting.

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