Defensive progressions

This session is about working defensively… as individuals, as pairs, as a back four, and as an entire team.

It’s always important to include a technical element to any coaching session, and combining that with defensive practice is important in stopping leaking too many unnecessary goals.


Final third
Balls, cones, goal
Number of Players
9 (4 attackers,
4 defenders, 1 keeper)

What do I get the players to do?

We begin working in twos or threes, practising half-volley technique. A player who receives the ball in the air has to pass it back along the ground, while anyone receiving along the ground has to return it in the air – then switch. We do this for 15 minutes.

For the main exercise, we use the final third of the pitch with a coned line running down the centre and through the penalty spot, thus creating two channels.

In front of the keeper in each left and right channel is a 1v1 ‘attack versus defence’ set-up.

The defender starts five yards outside the box, facing away from goal, with the attacker eight yards further away, facing him with a ball at his feet (1a). The attacker advances with the ball, attempting to beat his opponent and score past the keeper (1b). Play stops if the ball crosses the line of cones, and is restarted in the event of a tackle or a goal.

Each channel goes in turn at high intensity with additional players ready to come in to ensure the drill remains at high tempo. We play this for 15 minutes.


• A coned line marks out two channels of 1v1 plays


• The attacker edges past the defender and prepares to shoot

What are the key things to look for technically/tactically?

We are looking to ensure that the defender does not let his opponent get behind him. If he is turned, he must attempt to show the attacker to the wing in order to prevent a shot (2). While defenders are always trying to win the ball, they must ensure that tackles are clean, and must never give away free-kicks or penalty kicks.


• Here, the defender does his job by forcing the attacker wide and away from goal

How do I progress the session?

We progress the session by playing 2v2 on both sides, looking for team mates to communicate and combine in what has become a much tighter playing area (3a). Removing the cones offers us a 4v4 scenario where the principles remain the same (3b).

Strikers are expected to use overlaps and overloads in creating space and goalscoring opportunities, and each additional progression lasts 15 minutes.


• Progressing to 2v2 in each channel, attackers combine to find space and move forward


• Removing the cones creates a 4v4 scenario

How would you put this into a game situation?

To put this into a 20 minute small-sided game we add another goal 18 yards back from the 18-yard line and play 8v8, looking for attackers and defenders to put into place the skills they have developed from the main session (4).


• Doubling the area lengthways and adding a second goal creates the small-sided game

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