Cutting out counter-attacks


60x40 yards


Goals, cones, balls

No. of players

18 (9v9 in 3-2-3 formations)

Analysis at the end of our 2008/09 League Two campaign showed we needed to develop a new collective responsibility to defend against the counter-attack. We knew this would increase our potential to keep clean sheets whilst also ensuring that we had players in good areas of the pitch in order to regain and maintain possession.

Our aim was therefore to produce a session that helped the players understand better their roles and responsibilities both in and out of possession, focusing on three key areas of the pitch.

What do I get the players to do?

Play kicks off as it would in a standard game – the coach is involved on the pitch. One of the attacking team’s full-backs comes forward (in the example given it’s the left-back). When this player advances into the opposition half, the coach serves a new ball randomly to the other team, exposing opportunities to counter-attack. After the counter-attack has occurred, play is brought back to highlight vulnerable areas of the pitch.

The move is then run again. This time, better defensive organisation and greater balance is offered by instructing the left-back to support from deeper, whilst showing the remaining defenders and midfielders the benefit of forming a four-man square around the vulnerable centre circle area. Effective recovery runs are now possible.


• Play starts, the coach lets the game flow normally.


• The left-back’s forward run and a disorganised midfield creates vacant spaces and vulnerability to counter-attacks.


• Midfielders creating a square around the centre circle can cover counter-attacking threat.

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

Players must be aware of the benefit of screening and protecting the centre of the pitch, as this is the key area that is exploited in counter-attacks. There must be a collective responsibility in maintaining the defensive structure even when developing attacks.

How do I progress the session?

Progress the session by expanding play onto a full-size pitch, with 11v11. Set up scenarios where, as play develops, each man is aware of how they need to move in terms of distance and direction.

In phase one, a proactive defensive strategy is deployed, using two central midfield players to prevent balls into strikers should possession be lost.

• Defenders and central midfielders position themselves to protect space in phase one.

In phase two, which is the middle third, two central midfielders cover space in order to maintain possession. Furthermore, their positions offer opportunities to regain  possession. The goalkeeper advances and full-backs show awareness of covering space behind them.

• In phase two players are ready to drop back to cover areas.

In phase three, a ball is about to be delivered into the box, therefore players must be prepared for the possibility that the other team might win possession. In this instance, the central midfield players protect the centre of the pitch to prevent a counter-attack. Defenders who have pushed forward are ready to drop back.

• Even in the attacking phase, protection of defensive positions is essential.