Attack and counter-attack

This exercise is about attacking and counter-attacking. On one hand it’s about the patience of a steady attacking build-up versus good defensive organization, while on the other hand it deals with quick defensive positioning when faced with a counter-attack. The idea is that the players are able to use both ways of attacking, depending on the situation and the space that the opponent gives us.

Our players tend to be fully engaged by sessions like this because they like to score goals and get themselves into finishing situations. If we create exercises where this happens, players will enjoy training. The defenders will also be motivated because we keep track of the scores and because both of the teams will be defending and attacking in different moments.

Usually we would use this exercise two or three times each month, depending on what has happened in the last match.



Full pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, 2 full size goals

Number of Players

Up to 20 players + 2 goalkeepers

Session time

30 minutes

What do I get the players to do?

Attack and counter-attack

We’re using the full width of our pitch, coned off lengthwise at one end level with the 18-yard line. We have a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 20 outfield players. We have two teams in the exercise – one team is in positional attack and defending counter-attacks and the other team defends deep and launches fast counter-attacks.

The blue team of 10 are the attacking team and they always start with the ball and play high up the pitch. The reds are the defending team and they are made up of four defenders and three midfielders and they work with three yellow forwards.

The aim for both teams is to try to score, with the blue attacking team playing a patient build up game, as shown [1a], and the red team defending deep and making fast counter-attacks when they win the ball. The three yellow forwards that play for the defending team are passive until the ball is won and then they become active. Their team mates must pass to them as soon as there has been a turnover of possession.


1. The blue attacking team always starts with the ball, playing out from the goalkeeper
2. The blue attacking team should build up their attacks with patience to create solid goal-scoring opportunities
3. The red team is made up of four defenders and three midfielders and they must defend against the attack
4. The red team also work with the three yellow strikers, who remain passive until the reds win the ball

Once the yellow forwards are active, only two blue defenders and the goalkeeper can defend against their attack, as shown [1b].


1. When the red defending team wins the ball, they must quickly pass to the yellow forwards
2. The yellow forwards become active when the reds win possession. They counter-attack against the blues as soon as they receive the ball
3. Only two blue defenders and the goalkeeper are allowed to defend against the counter-attack

Usually we run this exercise for approximately 30 minutes.

How do I progress the session?

The main principles of the activity are all there but we can easily progress it by changing the numbers used. Just making simple changes can alter the level of difficulty.

To make the session easier to run, in this progression we’ve started the defending team with five outfield players, made up of four defenders and one midfielder. They now work in tandem with just two yellow attackers, who remain passive until there is a turnover of possession.

In this progression, the attacking team is now made up of eight outfield players and here only one player and the goalkeeper are allowed to defend against any counter-attacks by the defending team, as shown [2].


1. Change the numbers to make it easier or harder. Here we’ve limited the red defending team to four defenders and one midfielder
2. If the red defending team wins the ball, they launch a counter-attack with just two yellow strikers
3. In this progression, the blues are allowed to defend a counter-attack with just one defender and the keeper

What are the key things to look out for?

With the attacking team, you must keep the players moving, asking them to get in behind and encouraging them to receive between lines. The idea is to disrupt and disorganize the defensive organization, which you do with constant movement and steady build-up play.

With the counter-attacking element of the session, when it’s a 3v2 counter-attack we want to see the defenders trying to control the middle of the pitch and the forwards demonstrating fast mobility in order to create finishing situations.

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

The underlying idea behind this training exercise is to simulate game situations and then get the players to constantly repeat them. We try to give players proper feedback during the session, so they make less mistakes during the next match.

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