Possession: tactical play

Our objective at Peterborough United is to play an open, expansive, forward-thinking passing game, with an emphasis on quick play and forward running. As a result, this is a session we have devised which looks at how players should react when the team is in possession and moving upfield.

What makes this practice unique and engaging is the way it incorporates the core elements of our possession game, but also creates defensive problems that reflect the typical game situation.

We will run this session at least once a week, sometimes twice. It reminds the players of so many of the ‘in-game’ habits we want to see that it forms a core part of the training framework, so is very important to us.


Use of a full pitch
Balls, cones, goals
Number of Players
Up to 11v11
Session time
Main practice 12mins, Progression 12mins, 11v11 12mins

What do I get the players to do?

Main practice

The main practice involves teams of nine, split into three zones. As an area, we are using the space in between the penalty boxes, restricted to the 44-yard width, as shown (1). Ultimately, we are looking for two teams to attack with the simple aim of scoring goals, but at each intersection there is a defined key aspect that we’re looking to extract from the play, as follows, and using the A, B and C thirds as a guide:


• Designated set-up and formation across the thirds in order to encourage the Key Aspects outlined

Key aspect 1: Encouraging quick play in moving the ball forward (2)

The attacking team has two touches in its defensive third, three touches in the middle third and is ‘all in’ in the attacking third. Setting up with these conditions means quick and positive offensive play in getting the ball to attackers.


• Key Aspect 1 is based on allowed touches in designated thirds

Key aspect 2: Encouraging movement (3)

Once the ball has been passed forward into a new third it cannot be passed back out. As a result, forward players will need to spread out and find space in which to move as the passage of play comes towards and moves around them, because it cannot go backwards.


• Key Aspect 2 looks at passing conditions and ensures the ball can only be passed forwards

Key aspect 3: Encouraging forward running and overload awareness (4)

A ball cannot be carried over a line, but once it is played over the line, the player who made the pass may follow it; however, no defender may follow. This moves players in the mindset of following play and being responsible for the next phase of play once a pass has been made.


• Key Aspect 3 continues the premise of forward play but also brings about overload situations that attackers can exploit

Key aspect 4: Encouraging progressive passing (not shown)

The ball must be played through all thirds and a goal can only be scored in the attacking third. This method ensures players understand the value of passing and linking up, since it is the only method by which they can score – other types of goals (for instance, long shots) aren’t allowed to count.

How do I progress the session?

The logical progression of the first part of the session is to allow free movement of players into any zone, but the same touch and ball-carrying restrictions apply. Essentially, we want to see all of the same principles, yet with a freer flow of players into all areas to see the challenges and opportunities those situations will provide.

What are the key things to look out for?

The key aspects outlined create the bedrock for what we want players to get out of the session, though we also need to protect against mistakes happening. Mainly these will show themselves as too many touches in restricted zones because of poor initial positioning, a failure to run forward (which puts more pressure on players in possession), and ‘low speed’ movements (which limits space).

How do I put this into a match situation?

The game can be expanded into an 11v11 on a full-sized pitch without any markings or restrictions, but with an emphasis on sustaining the technical and tactical themes from the smaller session.

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