Penetrating or protecting the defensive line

This session is about penetrating or protecting the defensive line, and is a blueprint that works attackers and defenders in equal measure.

We’re looking for attackers to fashion goalscoring opportunities both when in and out of possession, while defenders must concentrate on defensive compactness, discipline and communication. This resilience is a feature of every successful team, and being able to penetrate this line effectively on a consistent basis is central to winning football matches.

We use this session in the lead-up to every match, with players transitioning in their roles throughout the practice.



Up to 86×50 yards


Balls, cones, flat cones, goals

Number of Players

Up to 9v9 plus keepers

Session time

6v4 plus keeper 4x2mins, 1min rest; Game 4x3mins, 30secs rest

What do I get the players to do?

6v4 plus keeper practice

We set up as shown (1), with three target goals across the width, each 1.5 yards wide, and ‘deep’ poles placed at the bottom of the  area, which is 35 yards long. Two yards outside the box, a defensive line is marked with flat rubber cones.


1. For the 6v4 keeper practice, yellows play out from the back, working a pass into the box where a shot finds the net
2. Poles
3. Goals
4. Defensive line

The practice requires a keeper and four defenders, who go up against six attackers.

We serve the ball in to the attacking team, who attempt to penetrate the defensive line and score. When the ball goes out of play, defenders must push out past the defensive line as quickly as possible. A new ball is then served in to the attackers.

If defenders win possession, they attempt to pass the ball into a target goal (2a). Scoring offers them a 10-second rest, with each attacker having to run around a deep pole before coming back into the area (2b). These actions replicate instances in a game – the 10-second rest represents defenders making a successful pass out of defence, while attacker movement around the poles mimics recovery runs.


• Here, defenders block their defensive line properly intercept, and score through one of the target goals


• Defenders now rest for 10 seconds while each yellow attacker has to run around a pole by way of a penalty

What are the key things to look out for?

We want attackers to disrupt the back four, penetrating the defensive line and executing a positive finish on goal. Within that, connectivity and good decision-making are vital.

Defensively, players must work together, recognising that winning possession is not the end task, but the start of the transition which needs to finish with them scoring in one of the target goals.

We also find it useful to introduce a holding midfield player who plays for the defending team.

How do I put this into a game situation?

Setting up as shown (3a/3b), we create a small-sided game – 9v9 plus keepers in an 86×50-yard area, with two 18-yard end zones. Again, attackers attempt to penetrate the defensive line but can only play one-touch in the end zones. Defenders are not allowed deeper than the defensive line until the ball enters that area.


• In the game situation, defenders cannot drop beyond the defensive line until a yellow attacker breaks through


• To protect the defence better, midfielders have moved in to close down the space and limit the chance of a forward pass or break

Teams must play at high tempo. Any team that scores regains possession, but missing the target means relinquishing possession.

How do I progress this game?

We can reduce space in order to increase the need for accuracy and speed of thought. 

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