Improving defending

This session is all about establishing and improving defensive principles. It is essential that players know how to defend in all situations: in 1v1s, as a defensive unit, and as a team. This practice allows me to show them how I expect them to defend, both as an individual and in conjunction with their team mates.

I ran this session in my first week at West Ham and I will regularly use parts of the session throughout the season, in order to remind players of their roles and responsibilities.

SET-UP

Area
Up to half a pitch
Equipment
Balls, bibs, cones, 1 full size goal
Number of Players
Up to 19 players + 1 goalkeeper
Session time
Practices 1 & 2: 15mins each
Practices 3 & 4: 20mins each

What do I get the players to do?

Practice 1: 2v2

We set up on half a pitch with a 20-yard channel marked out and a goal at one end, as shown [1]. We are using a goalkeeper and outfield players, divided into attacking pairs and defending pairs, who go 2v2 against each other in waves. The attacking pairs wait at their starting point in the centre circle and the defending pairs wait just outside the penalty area.

1

1. The defenders start play by passing the ball to the attackers
2. The attack becomes live when the attackers receive the ball. They go 2v2 against the defenders to try to score. The offside rule applies
3. A new attacking pair goes with each wave. Swap defenders for each attack too, or rotate at coach’s discretion


To progress this practice, we can add a third attacker who takes up the position of a striker to go 3v2 against the defenders.

Practice 2: 3v3

The same basic principles apply, but this time we widen the channel to 30 yards and are using waves of three defenders and three attackers. Play again starts with a pass from one of the defenders to an attacker, who receives the ball and combines with team mates to attack in a 3v3. The offside rule applies.

To progress this practice, we would add a fourth attacker, as shown [2], who takes up the position of a striker to make it 4v3 in favour of the attackers.

2

1. Now working in waves of three, the defenders pass a ball to the attackers to start play and then defend the goal
2. After receiving the ball, the three attackers combine to attack the goal in a 3v3
3. To progress this practice, add a fourth attacker who takes up a striker position to make it 4v3


Practice 3: 6v4

For the next practice, we make the channel the width of the penalty area, and we play six attackers against four defenders, as shown [3]. The coach starts play by passing a ball into the defenders, who must clear with a first-touch header or volley. If the clearance is picked up by an attacker, the attack starts from there; but if the clearance goes out of the playing area, the coach passes another ball to an attacker to start play. If the defenders win the ball back, they must try to play it to the coach.

3

1. Using a channel the width of the penalty area, play six attackers against four defenders
2. The coach starts the session by passing a ball into the defenders, who must clear with a first-touch header or volley
3. If the clearance is picked up by an attacker, the attack goes live 4. If the ball goes out from the clearance, the attackers receive a new ball from the coach and the attack is live


Practice 4: 8v6

We now use the full width of the pitch, setting up to play an 8v6 in favour of the attackers, as shown [4]. The coach again starts the activity with a pass into the defenders, who try to clear with a first-touch header or a volley. The attack starts from where the attackers win the ball, or if the defenders clear the ball into touch, the coach plays a new starting ball to the attackers. 

4

1. Using the full width of the pitch, eight blue attackers play against six red defenders
2. The coach starts play with a pass into the defenders, who try to clear with a first-touch header or volley
3. The attack starts from the point where the attackers win the ball. If the defenders clear to touch, the coach plays a new ball to the attackers
4. If the defenders win the ball back, they must try to play it to the coach


If the defenders win possession, they try to get the ball back to the coach

How do I progress the session?

We would build on practice 4, progressing the practice to a 10v8 and finally to an 11v11.

What are the key things to look out for?

We expect to see all the individual defensive principles in action in this session, plus covering, screening and marking. Also important are angles and distances when working in pairs, plus the movement as units in relation to the ball and the opponents.

What are the typical mistakes that players might make?

Individually players can have problems with 1v1 principles, and collectively they may not get angles and distances right, or their basic movement may not be co-ordinated well enough.

How long does the session last?

It depends on the level and performance of the players, as you cannot progress the session until you are satisfied that the players have mastered the basics of the practice.

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