Build-up play in a 4-3-3


Up to full pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, goals

No. of players


Session time

Session 1 15mins, session 2 20mins, session 3 25mins

This session is about playing out from the back in a 4-3-3 formation, coaching players on how to move the ball well and build through the units. It focuses on individual player movement, timing of runs to receive and support and, of course, an excellent end product.

It’s important to practise the principles outlined in this session because every player needs to understand the philosophy behind how we try to play, and must know their roles and responsibilities within this system. It’s a blueprint we’ve used frequently this season, taking different scenarios and different interpretations of the plan. Working on this in a dedicated manner in training means we always see the rewards play out on match day.

What do I get the players to do?

Phase of play (7v6)

This practice uses the full width of the pitch, and 65 yards in length.

The aim here is for the midfield three (reds) to combine with the front three, with players setting up as shown (1). Each move begins with the coach, who moves along the line to different positions before serving into the area. In the scenario shown, the ball is moved forward through the area with reds looking to score in the goal (2).



1. The coach starts by passing to the red defender
2. A deep lying midfielder now receives the ball on the half turn
3. Red midfielders rotate in the middle of the park. The receiving player moves away to come short, while the other midfielder makes a run into the box
4. The deep midfielder times a pass onto the run of the winger
5. The winger passes up the opportunity to shoot, instead crossing for the two incoming reds to attack the ball

No throw-ins, goal kicks or corners are allowed, and if a goal is scored, or the defending team regains possession, the ball is played back to the coach as quickly as possible so the practice can restart.

What are the key things to look out for?

We’re looking for player movement, movement to receive, quality and timing of pass, timing of support runs, and a positive goalscoring end product.

Phase of play (9v8)

On the same playing area we now construct an outfield 9v8 in favour of the attackers. This is essentially a progression of the 7v6, with the attacking team having added full-backs and the defending team now benefitting from added wingers (3). Attacking midfielders and full-backs must combine with the front three. The move subscribes to the same rules as the first practice (4).



1. The coach this time plays a sideways pass out to begin the move
2. The supporting full-back moves away to come back and receive
3. Now a cross-field pass sees the central midfielder go long to come short, as supporting midfielders make decoy runs. The end effect is that the three midfielders rotate
4. The wide right of the front three comes inside, dragging his marking full-back with him, creating space for the overlapping red full-back to run into
5. The right-sided full-back makes a long run, receives a pass on the wing and delivers a deep ball into the run of the midfielder and winger
6. The central midfielder moves to the edge of the box in preparation for any second ball situations

What are the key things to look out for?

We’re looking for players to continue looking out for the key points learnt in the first practice, as well as helping to fully harness the power of the full-backs’ overlapping runs. We again want to see good rotation of the midfield three, as well as players receiving on the half-turn in the centre of the park.

11v11 game

Now moving onto a full pitch, the emphasis here is for play to be built up through the units. In this, another progression, the attacking team has added centre-halves and a keeper, while the defending team now includes two centre-forwards (5).


The coach starts the practice by chipping the ball to the attacking side’s keeper – here it’s the blues (6). If reds win the ball they must attempt a shot on target within five passes. If the ball goes dead for any reason restart as before with the coach.


1. The keeper starts with the ball, playing to a defender, as the back four splits
2. The midfielder (6) runs his marker away, and rotates with his team mate (5), who receives the forward pass on the half turn
3. A forward pass is made to the central striker (9), who at first moves away but then comes short to receive
4. The striker sets for the run of the midfielder (6), who plays the ball into the channel vacated by the moment of the winger (8)
5. The full-back overlaps and delivers into the box for four players to attack – three forwards, plus the late run of the right-sided midfielder (7) who comes in around the back

What are the key things to look out for?

In the 11v11 game, we want to see the same passing and movement practised previously, whilst also looking to protect against missed attacking opportunities, or worse still, loss of possession. These will occur if there is poor or insufficient movement in receiving a pass, or a lack of running and movement off the ball which should be helping to move defending players out of position.

Incorrect support runs will also thwart progress, as well poor quality or incorrect timing of passes.


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