This session is about pressing the ball in all areas, starting high up the pitch. It encourages players to make purposeful decisions whilst reading the game well. It’s important to practise this because if you have a system of play that is quick in tempo and defends from the front, you can win the ball higher up the pitch.
The 13-match unbeaten run that took us into the League Two play-offs came about because we learned to be very adept at keeping teams pinned back. We work on this week-in week-out as it provides a fantastic boost to team spirit and form.
What do I get the players to do?
We begin the session with possession drills, seeing how many times three players can win the ball from six opponents in a small 20×20-yard area.
Now we progress to a 7v6 (six outfield players in each though one team has a keeper) in a 60×40-yard area with a goal at each end. We mark an 18-yard line across the pitch at one end.
The team of six outfield players operates in advance of the line, only dropping back when the ball is fed through their rearguard. This side start with the ball and attack as normal, scoring three points for every goal. Their opponents, who attack the ‘open goal’, gain one point for each goal.
If the ball goes out of play or a goal is scored, play is restarted with the coach serving the ball in. We would practise this for 15 minutes then swap teams.
What are the key things to look for technically/tactically?
The game is to be played at a high tempo and, for the team of six players, being on the front foot and pressing the ball is essential. And when not pressing the ball, players should be pressing the man. If they fail to, their opponents have what amounts to a free shot at goal given that there is no keeper to protect it.
How do I progress the session?
A simple progression we use is in altering the size of the pitch – the bigger the pitch, the more difficult the task for the team of six.
Then, we might take these principles into an 11v11 game with the halfway line acting as an offside line. This means that players can only pass the ball out of their half. While unrealistic in a game situation this set-up condenses play in one half to display the real benefits of pressing the ball.
If possession is turned over play switches to the other half. Players must pick up men behind, and need to recognise when to drop back if there are not enough players
to press high up the pitch.