Finding the free player

This session is about retaining possession and finding players in key positions. This concept is important to us because of the way we play – namely that we often have the lion’s share of possession yet find the opposition denying space in the final third.

We work through this session once or twice a week and frequently see the results paying off in matches, particularly when concerted periods of possession succeed in pulling our opponents out of position, enabling a clear route to goal.


60×40 yards
Balls, bibs, poles
Number of Players
Session time
Session 10mins
Development 10mins
Game 25mins

What do I get the players to do?

We begin with a centre circle drill involving 12 players. Two start in the middle with everyone else on the outside facing in. Two balls, on opposite sides of the circle, are passed in. The player who passes follows the ball, then the receiving player does likewise, passing clockwise to the next man outside the circle (1a).


• In the centre circle warm-up, players move the ball in and out, following their pass

We then add poles within the circle to create obstacles, encouraging players to take a touch to make space (1b). And we’ll change the direction of play every couple of minutes.


• Adding in poles creates obstacles that players need to be aware of

For the main session, there are 12 players in a 60×40-yard area. Inside we place a circle measuring 10 yards across that only attackers can enter. This is an 8v4 game where overloaded defenders must prevent attackers from threading a pass to a team mate inside the circle (2a).


• In the 60×40-yard area, blues thread a scoring pass into the circle

Attackers score two points for a received pass, and to prevent defenders from just shielding the circle, also score a point by making six consecutive passes anywhere in the area (2b). Defenders score a point by winning possession. Play restarts after every point scored and we play this in three-minute sets before rotating defenders. We do three sets then rest.


• Blues score again, this time by making six consecutive passes

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

Attackers must move the ball quickly and stretch the defending team, always with the aim of playing into the circle. They must show good judgement of when to pass safe and when to risk a ball into the circle. Defenders must communicate and cover space quickly and effectively.

How do I progress the session?

Reducing the size of the circle or adding a second circle elsewhere in the area increases difficulty for defenders (3).


• Adding a second circle offers an additional challenge for defenders

To offer a new option for attackers, we swap the circles for a thin line across the area, five yards wide. All players can cross the line but only attackers can wait in it. Here, attackers are looking at a width rather than a focused target (4). This is done to make the practice as match-realistic as possible.


• Creating a scoring strip means attackers are looking for width rather than a designated target

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