Clearing defensive danger

This session is about the reactions and movements of defensive players. It looks primarily at the role of the back four in squeezing up and condensing play as they would do in a match day situation, yet also checks on how players in other areas need to adapt their movements so as to protect the formation as a whole.

It’s crucial that danger is dealt with quickly and effectively in match situations. Although this session provides a setting where any number of scenarios may occur, we are looking for individual and team reactions to whatever develops.



80×70 yards


Balls, cones, goal

Number of Players

10v10 including keepers

Session time

Game time: 50mins

What do I get the players to do?

In an 80×70-yard area (or the space in between the two penalty areas on a standard pitch), we mark 10-yard lines in front of each goal. Defenders should be looking to stay out of these deep defensive zones whenever possible.

In this match-like practice, teams line up 4-3-2. We play this with the tempo and realism of a normal game, adding in conditions designed to bring about events and situations. These include playing at high tempo, encouraging attacking flair, and varying crosses from the wing with play built through the middle. The back four should also be given passing targets to ensure that their methods of removing danger remain varied.

When clearing the ball, the first thought of defenders should be to vacate the 10-yard zone, developing the ball and squeezing play in front of them.


• The back four push up to squeeze play in the middle and deny space to blue forwards


• With the ball in their half, defenders move back, edging to the side where play is concentrated


• A long clearance puts pressure on blues to regain team shape quickly

What are the key things to look for technically/tactically?

Crucially, defenders must be communicating at all times to ensure a fluent and organised unit.

When opponents have possession, the emphasis is on defenders to push forward from their marked zone, squeezing play in front of them, with full-backs further forward than centre-backs.

Should play come back into the defenders’ half, they must drop and regroup, with special attention given to tracking wingers and covering runners – this also being a job for midfielders.

The back four need to stay flexible to adapt to challenges. For instance, if the left-back supports the left midfielder then the shape of the team should shift with the right-back moving to the centre-half position.

If a winger is beaten in a one-on-one, his full-back should be ready to press the ball whilst looking for the winger to provide cover by running back diagonally.

Upfield, strikers must decide when to press defenders and when to regain shape. But as soon as the ball gets transferred into the other half, the frontmen must drop back into standard formation.

We find repeating this session rapidly builds understanding between team mates’ actions and intentions.


• Red forwards press and defenders move up as well, though efficient blue interplay removes the danger


• The winger beats his man but the red full-back covers, allowing his team mate to retreat diagonally back towards goal


• In this instance, blues pass across the backline and reds drop back to concentrate on defensive shape


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