This is a great passing session looking specifically at the use of a box midfield, which could be used in various match day playing formations, such as 3-4-3, 4-2-2-2 or 3-4-2-1.
I like this session because it uses a great deal of realistic game-play repetition and it has a challenging approach that works technically within game situations. The box midfield is used to overload a three-player opposition midfield and to help dominate the centre of the pitch. It helps players to work on the areas of playing out through the midfield box, as well as getting the strikers into key positions centrally.
I would run this practice consistently when moving to a new formation in order to help lay the foundations of our play. Also, the first part of the practice can be used as a go to keep-ball session at any point. If using it to lay the foundations of our play, we would ideally run it in pre-season.
We set up a playing area of 30×30 yards, split into four 15×15-yard boxes. We’re using 11 players initially before adding a further three to progress this activity.
We start with eight red possession players and three blue pressing players. Four of the red possession players and the three blue pressers start inside the main area and the four remaining red possession players are positioned on the outside.
Play starts with the three blue pressing players each getting out quickly to a red possession player, leaving one possession player free. The outside player who starts the practice will look to find the spare red player with a pass and a 4v3 keep-ball practice runs from there. Players can move anywhere in the area.
The four possession players can play bounce passes with the players outside to help them keep the ball, but restrictions such as not going to the same bounce player twice or playing a middle combination before using an outside player should be encouraged.
If any of the three blue pressing players wins the ball, they must try to keep possession. After running it like this initially, we can progress the activity by adding three blue bounce players on the outside to help the blues keep possession if needed, as shown .
When the game breaks down, restart play with a pass from a new outside player. After all four feeders have played a ball into the area, rotate positions for both teams.
We progress the previous activity by extending the playing area by adding two 15-yard end zones with two small goals positioned at each end, as shown [2a]. We’re using 13 outfield players split into a red possession team of seven and a blue pressing team of six. There are still four reds in the central area, with each locked into their respective boxes, plus two reds in the end zone they are defending and one red in the end zone they are attacking. There are three blues in the central area, but they are free to move into any of the central boxes to press and can double up with more than one player in a box at a time if needed, plus there are two blues in the end zone they are defending and one blue in the end zone they are attacking.
Play always starts and restarts with the red team of seven in possession and the game is directional, with both teams trying to score in the small goals at the end they are attacking.
We can progress the activity by allowing a blue defender to step into the midfield square, creating a 4v4 and giving the red possession team moments to create a 1v1 in the attacking third, as shown [2b].
What are the key things to look out for?
This is an in-possession practice and we want to see players using good angles of support and demonstrating they know how to receive and play to the next player. Players should try to create passing lines for each other and support under the ball as well as in front of it.
We want to see that players are able to find the spare player in the overload and that the spare player is in a position to receive and play or drive forward with the ball.
In the small-sided game we want to see the defender finding the spare player with a strong pass potentially breaking lines, or maybe the forward can bounce it back into the spare player. The midfielders should try to work on switches, rotation and communication to get into key zones and between the lines.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
Common mistakes include players getting caught behind defenders and drifting out of the game when they are the spare player. Players on the ball should look at triggers from the opposition as the defender presses the spare midfielder. Who does it leave? Does it leave space to play into?