Improve possession to penetrate


Up to two thirds of pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, 2 mini goals, 2 full size goals

No. of players

Up to 16 players + 2 goalkeepers

Session time

Total: 60mins, Warm-up: 10mins, Restricted space: 15mins, One goal with counter: 15mins, 9v9 game: 20mins

This session is all about improving a team’s possession in order to penetrate more effectively and it is very match realistic in its approach. Through a series of activities, it stresses the importance of combination play, both in the central midfield and out on the wings, and it encourages players to change the point of attack with clever switches of play.

It creates numerous situations where maintaining possession is of vital importance, with players encouraged to keep hold of the ball until the opportunity to make a penetrating pass presents itself. Further more, it tests decision-making and awareness because players need to recognise when – and when not – to play that final penetrating pass.

Our sessions are always possession based, but focusing on different aspects of the game. We would look to run this session, or similar, every few weeks.

What do I get the players to do?


We set up an area of 15×10 yards for the warm-up. We’re using eight players, split into five possession players and three defenders. We play a 5v3 possession game and the team of five must try to keep the ball away from the defenders by finding as much space as possible to receive and pass, as shown [1]. The defenders press and try to block or intercept the ball. If they gain possession, they must clear it out of the area.

Shape is important and the possession team should look to use the full width and depth of the area and keep changing the point of attack. We want to see good combination play and quick ball movement from the passing players in order to keep it away from the defenders.

We would run this with two teams of eight taking turns.


1. The team of five uses good combination play and quick movement to keep hold of the ball
2. The possession players must make good use of space and find positions to receive and pass
3. Defenders try to block or intercept the ball. Here they intercept and clear the ball out of the area

What do I get the players to do next?

Restricted space

We set up an area of 30×20 yards with a 10-yard end zone in front of an unguarded goal. This is a 6v4 game using 10 players split into an attacking team of six and a defending team of four. Two of the attackers and one defender are positioned in the end zone.

The coach starts by passing a ball to the attacking players, who must pass and keep possession in the midfield zone, as shown [2]. When they have achieved a set number of passes, they are free to look for an opening to play the ball down the pitch to their two strikers in the end zone.

Once the ball is played into the end zone, one of the attackers and any of the defenders from the midfield zone can follow it into the end zone. The attackers must try to score.

We want to see players making the correct decisions about when to keep possession and when to play the ball forward. We also want to see the strikers continually making runs, checking to receive a pass and spinning out if they don’t get the ball.


1. The coach plays a ball in to the attacking team, who try to keep possession in the midfield zone
2. The attackers pass the ball until they spot an opening to play it forward to a team mate in the end zone
3. Once the ball is played into the end zone, an attacker can follow to support the attack
4. Any of the defenders can follow the ball into the end zone to help stop the attackers scoring

One goal with counter

Setting up in the same 30×20-yard area, this activity is the same as the previous practice, but we now add two target goals at the end opposite the main goal. This gives the defenders an opportunity to counter-attack if they win the ball, as shown [3].


1. The coach passes in to the attackers, who must pass the ball until spotting the chance to play it to a team mate in the end zone
2. This time the defender wins the ball and passes back to his team mate in the end zone
3. The defending team launch a quick counter-attack and score in one of the target goals

To progress this game, we could add more defenders. We could also remove the the end zone restrictions and make it free play.

How would you put this into a game situation?

9v9 game

We set up for this game between the 18-yard lines using the full width of the pitch, with a goal at either end, as shown [4]. It’s a 9v9 game including goalkeepers and we play with normal rules, with one team set up in a 2-4-2 formation and the other in a 3-3-2. We focus on coaching the team playing 2-4-2. This formation operates with more width and would stretch the 3-3-2 team, creating more space to keep possession.


1. Good combination play out wide helps the 2-4-2 team break forward with quick and effective passes
2. A clever dribble from the forward puts him in a position to switch the point of attack with a well-timed cross

What are the key things to look out for?

Effective combination play is important to all of the activities in this training session, particularly quick passes through the central areas and those using combinations with players out on the flanks.

We also want to see players looking to change the point of attack, switching play to exploit space in less congested parts of the playing area.

Team shape is important to all the activities and we want to see that players are prepared to use the full depth and width of the playing area.

Players should also be able to show us they can improvise with their dribbling and that they can finish clinically.


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