Counter-attacking structure

This is a counter-attacking practice that leads into transitions. The session will start with an unopposed counter, attacking from deep. This will then progress into a 3v2 attacking opportunity and on into a 4v3 with transition to win the ball from deep in order to counter.

The logic is to ensure our players make forward runs in numbers and organised patterns in order to exploit overloads and get to the opposition goal in the shortest time, and with as few passes as possible.

Depending on player numbers we can work in threes, fours or fives.


Up to a full pitch
Balls, cones, goals
Number of Players
Full squad
Session time
Approx 60mins

What do I get the players to do?

Counter-attacking to finish

We set up as shown (1), starting at the blue cones just inside the opposition half. The aim is for players to play forward with specific types and weights of passes so that a counter-attacking move is structured and planned.


1. Player 1 receives the ball from the coach who then plays on the angle to player 2
2. Player 2 then plays to the wide player, 3
3. Player 3 takes a touch inside so that player 2 can overlap
4. Player 3 makes a run inside into the box along with players 1 and 4 5. Player 2 then looks to cross for a scoring opportunity

What are the key things to look out for?

We want a quick tempo, with playing into space and forward runs aplenty. The timing of those runs is imperative as is the quality of the final ball into the box. To support that approach play we then need to see good movement and finishing positions in the area, including a player across the near post. But all runners must show positive play, with an eye on the speed of recovery runs (when required – see below).

How do I progress the practice?

If our outcome also includes a fitness element, we will include a recovery run once the attack has finished. We might also encourage the first pass into the wide man to be deeper, so he has to cross earlier. We can also place a time limit on the counter, or adjust the players’ starting positions so they are inside their own half.

3v2 counter-attacking (opposed)

This practice is about attacking from deep with a 3v2 counter-attacking overload in creating a goalscoring opportunity.
Setting up as shown (2a) we have two or three defending groups (of two defenders) and three or four attacking groups (of three attackers), which creates 3v2s in the attackers’ favour.
The attacking group are given three attacks – one with no time limit, one capped at eight seconds (2b) and the third capped at six. Once they have completed all three, the next group of attackers and defenders work.
Players set up with two attacking players either side of the goal and a striker around the halfway line, with two defenders marking, as shown.


1. The ball starts with an attacking player on the goal post, who plays a pass across to the other attacker
2. The attacking player takes his first touch inside, then plays on the angle to the striker who has made movement to come off to receive the ball
3. The striker controls the ball, then must play back into either of the attacking players supporting him. This then creates a 3v2 attacking situation that is played to a finish
4. Once the first attack has finished a second ball is played into one of the attackers who advances from the centre circle. They now have eight seconds to score
5. When the third ball is played in they have six seconds to attack and score

What are the key things to look out for?

We are looking for the same technical and tactical moves as before, this time with the addition of players making unselfish movement and runs. We have to see overlapping, with players recognising and using the space (‘out to in’ and ‘in to out’), identifying and exploiting the overload, as well as showing good decision-making.

How do I progress the practice?

An easy progression is to switch things around so that the focus is predominately on the defending team – this, in itself, creates a difficulty progression for attackers. In addition, we can change the time given to attack and score, with the attackers needing to make a recovery run should they fail. We can limit the number of touches.

4v3 counter-attacking (recovery run)

Now we’re looking at developing the previous exercise, initially with the same 3v2 set-up albeit with the addition of one extra defender and striker (3). The attacking team has three attacks again.


1. The attack starts off 4v2, with an extra striker now emerging from behind the goal
2. The two defenders again set up marking the lone striker
3. A third defender starts in line with the edge of the centre circle
4. This defender makes a late recovery run when the striker passes back into the supporting attacking players

What are the key things to look out for?

We’re looking for a first pass into the striker, plus support and movement when the ball is played forward. Movement of the striker to receive the ball is important with recovery runs, unselfish play, overlaps and good use of space all key. As before, decision-making, timing and weight of the pass and a positive end product are vital; by this stage we would also expect players to show positive actions in 1v1 situations.

How do I progress the practice?

As before, the most rewarding progression is to limit the number of touches.

4v3 transition wave game

Progressing from the previous sessions, this now also looks at winning the ball from deep to then counter within a 4v3 attacking situation.

Setting up as shown we use two penalty boxes and a 12-16 yard middle zone, which represents an unopposed area for the team in possession to play forward into.

A team starts by defending each end with three players, leaving one in the middle zone, who provides an outlet when his team wins back possession.

The attacking team plays with four players to create a 4v3 (4a). If they score, they retain possession to then freely attack the opposite end, by playing unopposed into their striker, then it becomes a 4v3.


1. To start a wave attack, blues attack reds, 4v3
2. If blues score, they keep possesion and attack the other goal

When the defending team wins possession they can then look to play forward (4b), though attackers can immediately stop them by regaining possession and attacking the goal.


1. The red defender anticipates the pass and gains possession
2. The ball is played to the red striker on the halfway line to start a counter attack
3. The reds attack the yellow goal, 4v3

What are the key things to look out for?

We are looking for all the key technical and tactical observations as before.

How do I progress the practice?

As a final progression, we can specify a timeframe and reduce the number of touches allowed, plus allow one of the defenders to apply pressure to the striker in the zonal area.

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