Stepping out and creating overloads in a 3-5-2


Up to a half-pitch


Balls, cones, discs, goals, mannequins

No. of players


Session time

Warm-up and progression 20mins, Boxes set-up and progression 40mins

The 3-5-2 formation remains hugely popular in modern football, though with so many teams becoming smart to its threat, we need players to be adept and precise in their execution of the set-up if it is to continue to reap rewards.

For me, it’s always been a formation that offers strength across the middle of the park, yet this practice emphasises how the real impact of the set-up isn’t in fact created by five across the middle, but the flexibility and versatility of the attacking and defending areas in front of and behind.

And not only will mastering the mechanics of this session help players become proficient in the elements of 3-5-2, they will notice increased technical ability and smarter movement as well, both in their own game and that of their team mates.

What do I get the players to do?

Passing warm-up

The warm-up is played in a relatively small area – perhaps 40×40 yards – to enable lots of repetition and full involvement by all.

Reds start in possession of the ball (1) – when every player has had a touch it’s switched to the whites who must do the same. Teams must avoid tackles or interceptions through communication, organisation and good technical skills.


• Reds successfully involve every player in the passing move without white pressing opponents able to successfully tackle or intercept

Once mastered, we progress the session by introducing picture cards to the team in possession. The card will depict a ‘picture’ of play that has to be followed – this, for instance, could be the ball being passed only clockwise (2), or just on one side of the playing area, or each player receiving the ball and dribbling forward a yard before passing. Whatever the instruction, the card must only be visible to the team in possession so that pressing opponents do not know the game plan.


• After the initial passing moves are mastered the team in possession are asked to make specific moves – for example make all passes clockwise

We can then move the session on again by adding a goal at each end (3). Now teams play to a finish once every player has had a touch of the ball, breaking towards goal against three defenders and shooting.


• In the progression, reds have passed successfully, and here manage to break through to score past the three white defenders

What are the key things to look  out for?

We’re looking for good awareness, movement, excellent technical skills and positive passing moves . In the case of the defending team, we want excellent pressing ability and, if possible, the psychological wherewithal to work out their opponents’ game plan.

Boxes set-up

Now, setting up as shown (4), red defenders can only have one of three midfielders in a box at any one time. Whites, meanwhile, must make sure they occupy each of the four boxes by using wide players, strikers or even centre-halves stepping into the free box. The objective for whites is simply to find the spare man in a box, then attack from this trigger.


1. The white attacker drops deep to ensure each box is filled
2. He receives the pass and moves it to the team mate who isn’t being marked in his box
3. A direct pass through the middle finds the attacker
4. His fellow frontman now breaks for the box
5. He receives the pass and a goal is scored

In the event of a turnover, players must reorganise quickly.

What are the key things to look out for?

Awareness of team mates is key, finding the spare man with clever passing. Speed of play is also vital, particularly when the ball is switched into the final third, while players supporting others in their movement (for instance, the opposite wing-back getting into the box from crosses) is essential.

In the progression, we set up a scenario that mimics opponents defending narrow (5) by dropping two more red players into the central boxes. The emphasis is now on whites to circumnavigate the narrow block by switching play and moving the ball outside the boxes. 


1. Two extra reds now work in the boxes to present a narrow block
2. Whites move the ball smartly and a pass is fed to the wing
3. The opposite winger makes a run into the penalty area
4. The cross is attacked and a goal scored


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