Attacking the final third

This is a possession-based session aimed at encouraging players to use high quality combination play and intelligent movement to keep hold of the ball and work it into the final third. It focuses on teaching players when to pass forward and when to switch play.

The session works on both tight area play and more expansive play to make it as match relevant as possible. In the tight areas, fast passing means that a good first touch and accurate passing is vital to success, just as it is in areas like the penalty area. In the more expansive game, switching play with movement and support from all players becomes key to keeping possession.

To add a competitive element to the session, it culminates in a small-sided game that uses supporting wide players to help create goal-scoring opportunities from crosses. 

We would normally run this session every two weeks.


Up to 44×36 yards
Balls, bibs, cones, 2 full size goals
Number of Players
18 players + 2 goalkeepers
Session time
Tight possession: 15mins
Big possession: 20mins
Small-sided game: 30mins

What do I get the players to do?

Tight possession

We set up an area of 24×20 yards, divided into two halves. We’re using 18 players, split into three teams of six. Two of the teams start with three of their players in each half, making it a 3v3 in each half. 

The other team plays on the outside, as shown [1]. They play for the team in possession and the two outside players on the halfway line can pass into either half, while the other four can only play into their own half.

The coach starts play with a pass into one of the teams in the centre. They must pass to keep possession of the ball, using the support of the outside players if necessary, but the outside players have to play the ball back into the area as soon as they receive it.


1. Play starts with a pass from the coach. Two teams play in the central area with a 3v3 in each half
2. The team in possession use good movement and combination play to keep hold of the ball
3. The yellow team on the outside helps the team in possession
4. The two yellows on the halfway line can pass into either half, but the other four can only pass into their own half
5. The pressing team try to win the ball and then pass to keep possession

Play for 15 minutes, rotating teams so everyone has a go on the outside.

How do I progress the session?

Big possession

We use the same set-up as before but we remove the halfway line. Teams now play 6v6 with free movement across the whole area, as shown [2]. The team in possession can still use the outside players to help them keep hold of the ball, but the outside players must always pass back into the area rather than pass between themselves. Look for players to switch the play by moving the ball across the pitch and linking the outside players from one side to the other.


1. The set-up remains the same but the halfway line is removed, giving players free movement
2. The team in possession can use the yellow outside players to keep the ball
3. Players should look to switch the play from one side of the area to the other

Play for 20 minutes rotating teams regularly.

How would you put this into a game situation?

Small-sided game

We now set up an area of 44×36 yards with a goal and goalkeeper at each end. We’re using the same basic principles, with two teams of six outfield players in the central area and a third team of six supporting play from outside the area. 

The two central teams have three players in each half. We use two-touch wide players on the outside and we encourage them to support the team in possession by playing crosses into the strikers, as shown [3].


1. The two central teams have three players locked into each half. The team in possession pass to attack the opposition goal
2. One attacker can cross the halfway line to give his team a 4v3 overload
3. Here the reds press and try to win possession
4. Use two-touch wide players on the outside to cross into the strikers

We can progress this game by allowing one player from the defensive half of the pitch to cross the halfway line and join in attacks when his team are in possession, giving the attackers a 4v3 overload in that half.

What are the key things to look out for?

To keep possession we want to see good use of combination play and intelligent movement from the central players. We also want to see that players are picturing where their next pass is to be made before receiving the ball.

What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?

Typical mistakes include players making wrong choices of when to play forwards or switch play. Also, players can tend to force play when trying to keep possession in tight areas.


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