Playing through the thirds with your number 10 as a playmaker


Up to 60x40 yards


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players

Up to 14

Session time

Each practice 20mins

This session looks at retaining possession in aiming to find the number 10 (the attacking midfielder) in between the lines.

We practise this because the area between the lines of defence and attack is the vital space for the creation of our own goalscoring chances and prevention of opposition breaks.

Working on this space and the principle of the attacking midfielder becoming the playmaker has led to us creating more chances and scoring more goals at a crucial point of the season, with our midfielder Jim O’Brien taking the mantle with a number of impressive displays in this position.

What do I get the players to do?

For each practice we create an area measuring 70×25 yards, although the size can be adapted to suit the standard and age of the players.

Passing crossovers

This practice represents the centre midfielder finding the number 10 (attacking midfielder) before playing the set pass. It allows the centre midfielder to play forward early into the centre-forward’s feet.

Mannequins are used to represent defenders (although discs or cones will suffice). The number 10 stays in the middle area at all times and can move between the two middle mannequins.

The ball is passed across the top edge. The receiver then plays first time into the number 10’s feet (the red player). The two blue players then advance, cross over positions, and one receives a set pass from the number 10. The ball is then passed first time, and always diagonally, to an end player back on the baseline (1a). Once crossed over, players continue their runs to the end mannequins.


• In Passing Crossovers, blues link up, thread a pass into the number 10, and one receives a return pass as the runs cross over. The ball is then played out to the other side

The practice then continues with the two new front players (1b).


• It immediately comes back in the other direction as a similar move starts from the baseline

How do I progress the session?

We now add a defender between the two middle mannequins, who must try to intercept the passes whilst getting tight to the number 10, therefore denying him time on the ball (2).


• In the progression, a defender is placed into the middle to try to intercept passes and move the number 10 off the ball

The number 10 must now make a movement away from the defender to create space for himself, allowing him time to play the set pass.

What are the key things to look out for?

Players must pass first time whenever possible. For the number 10, versatile body shape and creative movement is vital to the practice, and he must create space for himself in receiving the ball, looking for the type third man running and support play that is expected of the other working players.

5v2 possession

Here, the five attackers must complete five consecutive passes before playing forward into the number 10 who, from the opposite area, drops into the middle channel to receive. He must receive the ball on his back foot, turn, and play into the other area, where the practice continues (3). He then rejoins his group.


• In 5v2 possession, attackers must play five passes before feeding the number 10, who drops deep from the other half to receive a pass in the middle section

If defenders win the ball or if it is lost, play a new one into the opposite area for the practice to continue. Rotate players every few minutes.

What are the key things to look out for?

The number 10 must time his move into the middle area, and must be side-on to play so he can play forward quickly.

How do I progress the session?

When ball is passed into the number 10, a defender can also come into the area to try to win the ball (4). One attacker can also come in to receive a ball from the number 10 before passing into the opposite area. He then returns to his area. The emphasis is on third man running when the ball is passed into the number 10.


• In the progression, a defender can move into the middle section to close down the number 10. Here, the blue player evades his opponent’s attention and threads a pass into the top half

How do I put this into a game situation?

Play 7v7 in a 60×40-yard area split into three equal sections which players must stay in – 3v2 (in favour of defenders) in the first area, 2v2 in the second and 2v3 in the third. There is also a neutral player who plays with the attacking team and can receive the ball in the final two thirds (to create 3v2 and 3v3 situations). The emphasis is on movement off the ball in the final third to allow a team mate to receive in beyond the defenders, leading him to play forward (5).


• After the ball is played through the thirds in the 7v7 game, clever movement by the attacker produces a shooting chance

To progress, encourage third man running and creative, intelligent play by allowing one player from the middle third to move into the final area to create a 3v3 (6)


• In the progression, one attacking player in the middle third can join the final third to make a 3v3



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