Counter-attacking plays


Full pitch


Balls, goals

No. of players


Session time


This session looks at improving players’ ability to sustain position, deal with pressure, and produce confident counter-attacking play.

Particularly away from home, the ability to counter-attack with pace and quality offers teams the option of sticking or twisting. I find that, if done properly, counter-attacking shouldn’t be something that compromises team shape, because players are advancing into empty space.

The session should last approximately one hour.

What do I get the players to do?

In any counter-attacking move, the key player is the one who acts as the pivot. This player controls the breakaway pass, is composed in surveying forward options, and releases to a supporting team mate when the time is right.

In our warm-up, this man is either of the two attacking players in a 4-4-1-1 formation. To begin, we have two banks of four players – a back four defending deep on the edge of the box with another four players further ahead but in the defensive half. One holding striker hovers near the arc of the centre circle with an out-and-out striker on the halfway line.

We rehearse two variations – either playing out from the back to the holding striker, who pivots and progresses forward looking for support from the full-backs (1a); or hitting the top striker whose job it is to hold the ball, wait for support, and lay off a pass (1b).


• In contrast, the holding striker builds using his bank of four midfielders


• The front striker holds up play before releasing to a counter-attacking runner

How do I put this into a game situation?

The game provides the main part of this session, and requires 11v11 (including keepers) on a full pitch. We create a 30×30 yard box around the centre circle, in which there is a 5v5. At each end of the pitch there is a 3v2 defensive overload (2a).

Play starts in the central box with either team looking to string together three consecutive passes. If successful, the ball is played to one of the two strikers. Three team mates from the central box can now break in support of the move. One defender can also come out, attempting to slow the attack (2b).

The attacking team has eight seconds to score (2c). If they fail to, either because they time passes, or the defensive team wins back possession (2d), play restarts with the other team in the central box.


• In the main session, team mates in the 5v5 must complete three passes


• Having completed three passes, the ball is fed to a striker. Three supporting midfielders break, as does one defender


• With a 5v4 overload, the red team works space in the box


• In this instance a tackle is made and play will be returned to the central square

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

We look for good ball retention from the first pass into either striker. When breaking, pace and precision is a necessity. We need to ensure the attack is direct and it’s important to support with both wings. So two of the three breaking players should go to the flanks and the other will hold in support of the two strikers  in the box.

Defenders must be solid in their positions .