Dealing with crosses

This is a session that looks at defending the goal from crosses (and will often run alongside a specific session for our forward players). It involves heading and distribution outside the area, while heading, clearances, blocks and communication are the big ‘wants’ from inside the 18-yard box when defending from crosses and shots.

The session then moves onto a more opposed practice but with the same themes, with a high tempo leading this from the front, then with the introduction of more attackers, so that players have more variables, just as they would do in a game.

To that end there is no need to keep stopping play – it’s real, with game-like situations, where the players are able to practise with repetition.

We will run this practice on a weekly or fortnightly basis. It’s physical, so may be difficult to do if we have a run of matches, but it’s important for players to keep their familiarity with one another within the defensive unit – for the goalkeeper to develop an understanding with his two centre-backs, forming a strong triangle.

We’ll also manipulate the session so that players deal with an upcoming threat, and by that I mean organising the opposition players is vital in order to get them to do what you think an upcoming side will do at the weekend.


Use of a half-pitch
Balls, cones, goals, mannequins
Number of Players
Full squad
Session time
Defensive practice 10mins
2v1s 10mins
Small-sided game 20mins

What do I get the players to do?

Defensive practice

We set up as shown, with a sequence of crosses being sent into the box to be defended (1a). We will run this practice for 10mins to see how defenders are responding to the threats that come in. When a cross is successfully defended the coach will release another ball in quickly, also aiming to vary play by feeding left and right crossers (1b/1c)


1. The server begins by throwing a ball up for the centre-back to head clear as far as possible
2. Now the server plays another ball to him to nip in front of the mannequin
3. The defender drives out with the ball and tries to hit one of the mannequins with a pass


4. The ball is then played to an opposition wide player (7 or 11)
5. A 1v1 takes place between the full-back and wide player
6. The back four reacts and defends the cross/shot


7. The server passes a ball to the opposite winger
8. The wide man drives forward and crosses
9. The back four now have to react to the new crossed ball

As an easy initial progression, if the ball is cleared out of the box from a cross, the server can react and try to score with a shot. The defenders must be quick in regrouping and blocking the shot.

What are the key things to look out for?

We’re looking for clever start positions, communication, height and distance with clearances and good body shape. We want to keep the ball heading in one direction only – away from our goal! – so it’s better to defend the cross than let a wide player come inside and shoot.

When defending the cross we will always want to keep three defenders across the width of the goal. We want each of them to show aggression, to win both the first and second ball, and to make contact with attacking players before the cross comes in. We must remind players: it’s the man who scores, not the space!


The progression sees us move play into the opposed ‘attack versus defence’ practice, with the attacking players having an overload (2a).


1. The server plays a ball out to an opposition wide player
2. The full-back moves in to try to defend against the 2v1
3. Now two strikers and the opposite wide player move into the box to attack the cross
4. The two attacking midfielders on the edge of the box (as servers were in the previous practice) are there to latch onto anything that is half-cleared

In this second practice, one of the defensive midfield players can get out to help the full-backs (in the same way that Nemanja Matic does for Chelsea) while the other gets into a position in the centre of the pitch five or six yards higher than the back four  (2b).


1. The full-back successfully stops the cross
2. The holding midfield player moves across to support the full-back
3. The Blues are forced to pass backwards and the attack is nullified

Again, we will run this as a sequence of crosses, on each one recommending ideas and revisions based on the technical and tactical decisions our defenders make.

What are the key things to look out for?

One of the key mistakes is that players can often ‘close’ themselves off when defending crosses, not allowing them to see man and ball. It’s imperative they find space to view any incoming threat.

We must also protect against rash clearances. Instead, we want players to relax and use a big surface in getting height and distance to clearances.

And as I already noted, we’ll always remind players: ‘space doesn’t score goals, players do!’ So we want them to get body contact in at every opportunity. That doesn’t mean fouling an opponent, but we want them to be physical and clever in doing whatever’s necessary to put an opponent off.

Small-sided game

We will often wrap up with a game situation, as shown (3), using four defensive midfield players but with blues conditioned to send the ball wide before it can be crossed in.


• In a simple small-sided game we keep the same back four and defensive midfield players as in the first two practices, but now blues must get the ball wide (in the zoned area) for a blue wide player to cross in before a goal can be scored

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