Defending the counter

This is an important session to practise if you want to play a high defensive line, because at some point it’s inevitable you will lose possession and become exposed and vulnerable to a counter-attack.

This session stresses the back four and midfield in a realistic scenario. It also gets defenders aware of danger when in possession, and coaches them on individual defensive responsibilities and recovery runs.


Two thirds of a pitch
Balls, cones, goals
Number of Players
14 plus two keepers
Session time
Session 25mins, Progression 10mins

What do I get the players to do?

We set up as shown on two thirds of a pitch, with a half hexagon ‘keep ball’ area in the middle. This space is loaded 4v3 against the defenders, thus presenting a good chance for the backline to find themselves exposed and under pressure.

Defending the counter

Blues set up with a keeper, back four and three midfielders. Inside the keep ball box is a 4v3 overload in favour of the red attackers. Two reds must stay wide in a ‘cheating’ role, in anticipation of the midfielders winning the ball and breaking quickly.

Outside the box we have the blue back four, then three reds (as striker, left winger and right winger).

We start by rolling the ball to the blues (1a). They must keep it for at least 10 passes, at which point a full-back is released. Blues break forward and arrive in the goalscoring area for a finish from the full-back’s cross (1b). We now restart with the coach.


• Blues receive the ball from the coach and pass amongst themselves


• After 10 passes, the ball is fed wide to a full-back, who breaks forward and crosses for inrushing attackers to shoot at goal

When reds win the ball they must play an early ball to one of the two wingers (2a) or the single striker. At this point the counter-attack is on and blues are exposed. One red midfielder may also join the attack, as will the red single striker (2b). Play to a finish or when defenders clear the ball.


• When reds turn over possession, they immediately feed the ball to a “cheating” winger


• The winger breaks at pace with one blue full-back looking to delay the attack, while the other three defensive players head back to the area in front of the goal to defend the counter

What are the key things to look out for?

Blues in possession must move the ball quickly and with quality. They need to maintain balance whilst regularly considering the repercussions of giving the ball away. We also want to see good communication, smart angles to receive (looking at depth and using a side-on shoulder position), with full-backs choosing the correct time to overlap and penetrate.

When out of possession, the blue defender on the scene needs to delay his opponent, dampening the counter-attack and giving his team mates time to recover. We also want to see communication, engaging in the box, and the use of a ‘sweeper keeper’, who commands both his box and the immediate area outside it.

How do I progress the session?

To progress, on the red counter-attack, we can allow midfielders to break as well.


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