Defending the phases from crosses

By: Joe Dunne


Half pitch


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players


Session time

Session 10mins, 10mins per progression

This session helps players improve their ability to defend the first ball into the box, then subsequent phases of crosses.

The word ‘phases’ is used a lot in football now and, in particular, when a ball into the box is only half-cleared. It’s a buzzword that is worthy of mention, because the reality is that goals are scored through players switching off when dealing with second and third phases.

It is therefore vital we train to give ourselves the best chance of minimising the goal threat from attacking ‘phases’ such as these.

What do I get the players to do?

We set up as shown, with four defenders tasked with repelling the threat posed by eight attacking players (who line up as two central midfielders, two wide players, and four strikers who operate on the edge of the penalty box).

The coach begins by passing to one of the central midfielders. He feeds the ball to a wide man, who works a ‘give and go’ with one of the four strikers, receives the ball back and crosses high into the penalty box (1a). Strikers can move towards the ball but don’t challenge for possession in this first phase. Defenders must clear (1b), then prepare for the second phase of attack – this can come from strikers or inrushing midfielders.


1. The move starts with a central midfielder
2. The central midfielder who doesn’t take the ball moves forward to aid the attack
3. The ball is fed to the flank
4. A ‘give and go’ is played
5. A high cross into the box follows
6. Attackers move into position in the box
7. Defenders must follow their man as well as preparing to clear the danger


1. In the initial phase, the cross is unopposed, which should enable defenders win the ball from the cross
2. A defender clears the ‘second ball’ into space

Defensive players (the defenders or the keeper) can either clear the ball out of play, or to one of the two target men stationed near the halfway line, at which point a new attack begins. Play for five minutes then rotate players.

How do I progress the session?

Progressions gradually increase difficulty and are an important part of building confidence and communication.

In the first progression, we now allow strikers to challenge for the first lofted ball into the box rather than working passively.

Next, defensive players must find one of the two target players and cannot simply clear into space or into touch (2). We might also insist that the keeper can only punch the ball, therefore increasing the chance of another attacking phase coming back.


• In the progression, a defensive player – here, it’s the keeper – must find one of the target men on the halfway line

As a final progression, we’ll ask players to move the ball out of defence with a passing move that contains at least three passes (3). This is important since in match situations defenders are frequently asked to use clever passing patterns as a way of negotiating their way out of tight areas.


• In a further progression, defenders must make a minimum of three passes in moving the ball out of defence

What are the key things to look out for?

Defenders must communicate well, being ready to defend until the danger is cleared, and always stay goal side of their man in the box. They need to adopt an open body shape and must be confident attacking the cross in clearing danger. In the subsequent phases, closing down the ‘shooter’ quickly and bravely is crucial. 


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