This is a session designed to help players understand the movements, positioning and timings needed to break a medium-low block when the opponents play with a back four. The session starts with a passing rotation and progresses into a finishing drill and concludes with a position-specific possession activity.
I like this session because the positions, the movements and the non-verbal communication used in the activities can be applied to a game scenario, so the players are not only working with the technical details of our build up play but they also learn to communicate without talking – they communicate with the type of pass or the type of movement they make, a means of communication that only their team mates can read.
We would usually run this series of activities in the week we are going to play against a team that plays with a back four and with a medium-low block. Against a different formation and a different defending block, the exercises and the progression of the session would be different.
Our sessions normally begin with a preparatory video meeting of about 15 minutes. In this case, the players would need to see a video of the opponent defending with the 4-3-3 formation and using the medium-low block. I’d ask the players where they think the space could be created to hurt them and how.
After the session it is also very important to review it with the players, so they can see their movements in training and understand when they made a well-timed run or made the required pass.
UNOPPOSED PASSING ROTATION
This exercise is used after the activation and will serve as a warm-up for the players. We set up, as shown, and we run a right-side passing rotation, using any player that would normally work in the right channel, such as right backs, right wingers and right centre midfielders. We would simultaneously set up to work with players who are active in the left channel, but here we are showing just the right sided passing rotation.
The aim of the activity is to recreate our three positions in wide areas: a player providing width, one on the inside in the half space, and another one as an emergency in case we can’t play forward to allow us to recycle the ball and switch the play.
The right centre midfielder starts play and passes wide to the right back who returns the ball to the midfielder (this first pattern simulates an opposition player screening the pass to our full back); the right centre midfielder then passes to the right winger, who comes off a mannequin to receive and plays the ball inside to the striker (this second pattern simulates an opposition player screening the pass to our right winger); the striker then returns the ball to the right centre midfielder who started the move (this third pattern simulates an opposition player marking our striker tightly), as shown .
Tactically speaking, we want to see players moving as if they were dragging opponents away rather than moving to receive. Technically, we want to see players passing to the back foot or the foot furthest away from pressure, with their body weight on the non-receiving foot. Players should receive on the move
and the ball never stops.
BREAKING THE BACK LINE
We set up on half a pitch, as shown, with a goal and goalkeeper at one end. We use the same movements as in the previous activity but now the ball is played through a back line of mannequins for a wide player to run onto and shoot at goal.
If the blue left winger makes the run between the mannequin full back and centre back, the pass has to go between the two centre back mannequins, as shown [2a]. But if the run is made on the blind side between the two centre back mannequins, the pass has to go between the full back and centre back mannequins. Both type of passes will end with a 1v1 between a wide player and the goalkeeper.
After each attack, we reset and alternate by running this activity on the other side of the pitch, with the red right winger making the penetrating run, as shown [2b].
We rotate players because it is not only important to give the right pass but for players to experience how they want to receive a pass in the other positions.
A coach will control the offside, so goals only count if the player times the movement well. To progress the activity, a striker can be added to make a movement across the centre back mannequins and to create more space for a wide player to run in behind.
We would run this for 30 minutes and it can be broken down into 10 minutes for the first movement, 10 minutes for the second movement, and the final 10 minutes will be reacting to the runner’s movement.
10v7 POSSESSION GAME
We now apply the concepts from the two previous unopposed exercises into an opposed scenario. We set up on half a pitch as shown with a goal and a goalkeeper at one end and three target goals at the other end. We also mark out a 44-yard wide possession zone between the penalty area and the centre circle. We’re using 17 outfield players.
The red team of 10 is set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and the players have to create the space to play a pass out of the possession box for a runner to break onto and attack the main goal, as shown .
The blue team of 7 is set up in a 4-3-3 but it is missing its front three and the players must try to win the ball back and attack one of the three target goals.
Play always starts and restarts with the red team of 10. Players should time their runs well and make runs on the blind side of defenders, making good eye contact or reading the movement of their team mates.
How do I progress the session?
The session progresses from the first exercise and it is all related and realistic to our system, formation and tactical principles. Also, it is specific to playing against a team using a medium-low block, since with a low block the movements will be different.
If players find the finishing drill too hard or if they are getting the timings wrong, then it is possible to dictate the movement rather than let them react to the runner but that will not improve the non-verbal communication.
What are the key things to look for?
Tactically, we want to see players occupying the three positions in the wide passing sequence we practised. The three players interchange and it is the third man that receives the ball (a through ball or a pass) that releases the player to attack. We want to see players repeating the passing sequence in order to open up new passing lines. We also want to see players moving to create the space for this by dragging the defenders away.
Technically, players should play to the back foot or the foot furthest from pressure and we want to see players putting their body weight on the non-receiving foot. Players should receive on the move and the ball should never stop moving.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
Typical mistakes that players make include poor timing and therefore being caught offside or tackled. Players also sometimes make passes to a team mate’s front foot, or to the foot where the body weight is, which means the receiving player needs to take an extra touch.
Another typical mistake is made by not playing the ball in front of the running player, which means they have to stop their run or delay it.