Penalty box battles

Defending is a skill that needs practice, as much as dribbling or passing. Within that, it’s vital that players win their 1v1 duels, particularly in and around the penalty box.

When we look back over matches where the team has emerged victorious, we’ll often find that our defenders have performed the defending principles well. We believe that, despite all the other scenarios played out on the pitch, the core defensive elements are key.

This session provides a straightforward yet vital method of ensuring that those key parts are performed well.



Penalty box, plus a marked area three yards in from each side of the box extended to 10 yards outside (i.e. 32×28 yards)



Number of Players

11 (5 defenders,
5 attackers,

1 goalkeeper)

What do I get the players to do?

Line up a row each of attackers and defenders on the right-hand side of the penalty box. Invite one defender and one attacker to take up a position in the middle. Another attacker moves to the edge of the larger marked out area where he will receive the ball from a team-mate in the row. He passes in to his fellow forward, who must control the pass and get a shot away.

The defender must be in a position where he can see the ball, and quick decision making is paramount – can he intercept it? If not, can he stop the attacker turning?

If the attacker does turn, the defender needs to adjust quickly in order to block the shot. Offsides apply, and always rotate players after a shot or clearance.


• The ball is fed into the lead attacker.


• He swivels past the defender and shoots.


• In a 2v2 scenario, both teams must stay organised.

How do I progress the session?

We will switch play to the left-hand side of the penalty box. We’ll also invite an additional attacker and defender to create a 2v2.

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

Repeating this move provokes good decision making by defenders.  We look for balance, quick feet, and the ability to stay upright. Good defenders restrict either time or space, will direct attackers away from goal, and are aware of the danger of follow-ups resulting from goalkeeper saves.

How would you put this into a game situation?

Mark out a pitch 40×50 yards, the length divided into two 25-yard halves. Add in 18-yard lines – offsides apply at this point. Play 6v6, using a keeper at each end, with six attackers starting in the middle sandwiched by two banks of three defenders.

Attackers link up to create space, and overload situations. They should try to remain in their respective left/centre/right channels – if they stray outside, they only have one touch. Defenders need to make quick decisions – when to mark the player and when to mark space.

When a move comes to an end, play switches direction and the six attackers now look to score in the other goal.


• The middle bank of six attackers combine.


• Defenders need to organise blocks despite a 6v3 overload.


• A new move starts by switching play to the other end.

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