Counter-attacking 11v11 into a 7v3


Full pitch


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players


Session time


This session examines how to counter-attack at speed, linking up play with strikers and using quick combinations to score.

It is game-specific and the high tempo nature of what we are asking the players to do adds an element of realism to the training session, where players can see first-hand how counter-attacking at speed can make a real difference on a match day.

We would use this session in the lead-up to a game where we think we will have opportunities to play in a high tempo and counter-attacking style.

What do I get the players to do?

We set up 11v11 on a full-size pitch, as shown (1a). This session alternates regularly, so the attacking team becomes the defending team when the ball goes out of play.


• For the initial set-up, the ball is played to the full-back, with three active defenders communicating as they look to restrict the counter-attacking threat

The keeper starts by throwing out to the full-back, who opens up and looks forward. The remaining three defenders on the attacking team become passive and squeeze up to the halfway line. Attackers aim to score quickly by passing in to the strikers early, linking play and breaking at speed (1b).


• Blues successfully negotiate a route through the three red defenders to set up a 1v1 opportunity that is taken

As you will see, the defending team only has three active players – the opposing full-back and the two centre-halves. The full-back on the opposite side of the pitch should recover into a starting position ready to receive the ball from the keeper when the attack breaks down. Remaining players on the defending team are passive and simply return to their initial starting positions ready for their next attack.

When an attack finishes, the defending keeper dictates where the next attack will start from (2a). We would expect both full-backs to get wide and open their bodies ready to receive the ball. In most cases, if a cross comes from the right, the left full-back should be ready to break into the space (2b).


• Now the move comes back in the other direction with players quickly resetting. Note now the three active defending blues. Active attacking reds begin to move into advanced positions


• Reds work an attacking angle down the flank but the subsequent cross is well gathered by the blue keeper despite the attentions of the attacking left full-back

How do I progress the session?

To make things more difficult, we would increase the number of active defensive players. For instance, we could play 8v5 and have the back four and a holding midfielder trying to stop the opposing team from counter-attacking. Numbers can be played around with to constantly alter difficulty.

What are the key things to look out for?

Keepers must distribute to full-backs with speed and accuracy.

Attackers must look to use combination play to break the lines and penetrate the defensive line of three, with a quality pass and clinical finishing both imperative. They must assume early positions to counter, with defenders squeezing up as the ball gets played forward.

The defensive team’s passive players will always recover into their starting positions early, with the three active defenders staying narrow, protecting the goal and being positive in 1v1 situations. It’s important as well to individually coach the defenders to keep them engaged, although ultimately this is an attacking exercise.

There are also a few typical mistakes to look out for.

For the defending team, it’s important defenders know when to engage. We must therefore make sure they aren’t dropping too deep, thus allowing the attacking team time in and around the box (3a).


• Now the move comes back in the other direction again. The three active red defenders have made the mistake of sitting too deep, allowing blue strikers too close to goal

The attacking team cannot take too long to get the ball forward – we’ll impose a time limit (10-15secs) within which to despatch a shot on goal  (3b).


•In this progression we have allowed two extra red defenders to become active, thus making the blue counter-attack more difficult. There is also a 15-second time restriction to ensure the attack happens at high tempo



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