Back four protocols

The purpose of this session is to assess and coach the specific roles of the defensive unit, to include defensive protocols, communication and recognising triggers.

It’s a session pivotal to how we organise our defensive thinking at Barnsley, and although it is specific to our back four, it is introduced in the context of the overall defensive aims of our team.

We’ll run the session at least once a fortnight to ensure players continue to practise and react to the demands of being a solid unit.



Up to a half-pitch


Balls, cones, goals

Number of Players

Up to 12

Session time

10mins per set-up

What do I get the players to do?


The first exercise is played in a 20×25-yard area, as shown. Attacking (red) full-backs stay outside of the rectangle – they can play into their own team or can take a touch out of their feet, aiming to score by clipping a diagonal pass through the poles (1).


1. Reds use their no.10 as an outlet when passing the ball from right to left
2. Yellow defenders shuffle across following the line of the ball
3. Defenders stay tight to one another as if connected by a piece of string
4. Full-backs must play outside the square
5. The yellow defender doesn’t get tight enough, meaning the red full-back can shoot diagonally into the goal

The (attacking) centre-back and centre-forward play differently – they must aim to play the ball between the defence to the other side (2), though everyone plays two-touch.


1. This time the yellow defender presses closer and successfully cuts off the diagonal
2. The red attacker sends the ball back inside
3. The no.10 is not picked up by the central defender
4. The right-sided yellow has left too big a gap to his left
5. The no.10 touches the ball off for a pass through the centre

Our (yellow) defenders must prevent this threat by attempting to stop forward play when the ball goes wide – for that reason, speed and angle of approach are vital. Players need to shuffle as a back four, staying compact and as if connected on a piece of string.

Once an attack is concluded the blues at the bottom now attack from the bottom.

What are the key things to look out for?

Organisation is key – players must communicate at all times. They must recognise and react to triggers to press or squeeze – perhaps when an opponent makes a poor touch or plays a slow square ball. And we need players to identify what the pressure is on the ball – how is the line and where is the other team’s striker?

Third of a pitch

We now set up on a half-pitch with the coach organising things so that the blues get attacks wide early. At first, the winger must cross the ball (3), though we progress to a strongly opposed 1v1 format that allows the winger to attack the full-back (4).


1. The coach starts the practice feeding into the blue who then sends the ball wide
2. The full-back engages the winger in a 1v1
3. The red back line drop off to cover the goal
4. ‘Goals’ at the bottom represent clearance targets for defenders to hit


• In the progression the winger can take the full-back on

What are the key things to look out for?

We want to ensure we stop the cross, first and foremost. The chances of us succeeding can be enhanced by checking the speed and angle of approach – defenders must adjust feet and not turn their backs on the ball. They must ensure they don’t lead with the wrong leg when attempting to block the cross. Doing this could present the winger with the opportunity to check back with the full-back off balance.

The other three defenders should position themselves inside the posts – the full-back at the back post, one centre-back centrally and the other at the near post. Each should ensure he stays narrow. The centre-midfielder should position himself so as to be able to defend against pull backs or second balls.

Players need open shoulders and must be able to see the ball and the striker, always  being prepared to engage if necessary.

What are the key things to look out for?

Keepers must be good communicators, letting players in front of them know when to squeeze, when to hold, when to drop and when to engage.

Clearances should be made to clear the lines wide, and not back into the danger zone.

How do I progress the session?

To progress we’ll move to almost a half-pitch in creating different scenarios. We’ll hit some balls up to the centre-backs to head and play on from there (5). We can also play the ball between the midfield and the defence to the number 10 to create a potential counter-attacking situation (with a pass into a goal on either side at the bottom) should play be turned over (6). Defenders must get narrow, hold their line and avoid popping out of the slot to leave gaps for the no.10 to play into. This means we should usually succeed in forcing the ball wide in order to be able to defend the cross, as practised, but they should be aware too of a ball through the centre to the lone striker.


• Now the ball is served forward for a defensive header where the second ball is attacked


1. Now a shorter pass is made into one of the strikers, who has come short as a no.10
2. A midfielder drops back to press – if he wins the ball a counter-attack into a goal at the bottom can result
3. Defenders narrow the space
4. The no.10 can feed the ball out wide (then join the attack)
5. …or he has the option of a slide-rule pass through the centre

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