This session is all about the movement of midfield players and their receiving skills to pass forward.
It’s a good session that we like to run at Cambridge United because, before it progresses into an 11v11 format, it demands a really high intensity in a relatively small area. Players always tend to enjoy working hard with the ball at their feet and they generally like this type of session as they are constantly on the ball and performing high intensity football actions.
When we work on a Saturday-to-Saturday game week, we would usually run this session on a Tuesday because of the physical outcomes it produces. We don’t necessarily run the session in preparation for a particular opposition team but as a session that emphasises and reinforces the type of qualities we like our midfield players to possess: movement and body shape to receive, 1v1 skills, passing forwards, and combination play to pass forwards.
“Players always tend to enjoy working hard with the ball at their feet and they like this type of session”
TRANSFERRING THE BALL
The session begins with a passing drill [not shown] that progresses from the warm-up, where the players will use the kind of technical skills, receiving skills and movements that they will perform in the main part of the session but in a coordinated, unopposed setting.
The session then progresses into a 3v3 in the centre of the pitch. For this, we set up a playing area of 30×20 yards around the centre circle of the pitch. We use this part of the pitch because it is the area most relevant to the midfield and because the pitch markings give the players an idea of distances and where they are on the pitch. The size of the area can change depending on the physical outcomes we require – the tighter the space, the more difficult it will be to complete the actions.
We’re using 12 outfield players. We have two teams of three inside the central area and six players who join in from outside. At each end we have two outside players who replicate the roles of either a pair of centre backs or strikers, depending on the direction of play at the time (these players are limited to two touch). We also position one outside player on each side of the central area to replicate the actions of wide midfielders (these players are limited to one touch).
The aim of the activity is for the central players to receive from the centre back and transfer the ball to one of the strikers using good combination play if needed, as shown [1a], avoiding the pressure of the opposition midfield three. When the ball has
“The aim of the activity is for the central players to receive from the centre back and transfer the ball to one of the strikers”
When the ball has successfully been transferred, the striker passes the ball back to the centre backs at the other end via one of the wide midfielders and play begins again in the same direction, as shown [1b].
As a progression of the activity, we can get play to run the opposite way immediately – once the ball has been transferred to the striker, that player then becomes the centre back and the team in possession attempts to transfer the ball to the other end. This adds intensity to the activity and a little chaos, which encourages players to be good in transitional moments.
Initially, we allow the midfielders to pass back to the centre backs as many times as they like in the build-up until a forward pass opens up to them, but in another progression we will allow only one bounce pass back to the centre back, as shown [1c]. This stops players receiving square to the ball. Knowing they have to play forward, the players are more thoughtful about receiving using angles that allow them to go forwards.
One point is scored for each successful transfer using combination play with more than one player, whereas two points are scored for a one-touch transfer, with a centre back passing to a midfielder who makes a one-touch pass straight into the striker. This encourages movement to play forward, spatial awareness, and purposeful, direct passing.
We move the session into an 11v11 practice on a full pitch with goals at each end, with an emphasis on playing forward through midfield, as shown [2a]. We like to work on all our phases and patterns of play in an 11v11 format as much as possible, as it obviously replicates what match day will look like.
We use flat discs to emphasise the central area the players need to pass the ball through in order to build up to a goal scoring opportunity. To reinforce the message, we explain the benefits of being able to play through midfield to get the ball to our central striker.
When we have achieved success in the first phase of midfielders passing forwards centrally, we then focus on creating goal scoring opportunities from there. Opposition defensive structures will be forced to narrow up if we can get players forward facing in number 10 spaces. Therefore, we encourage our wide players to keep using width so when we release the ball to them in wide areas, they attack in big spaces, often in 1v1 situations or even potentially with an overload with the full back joining in, as shown [2b].
We also encourage the striker to make runs in behind the opposition’s defence and wide players to make runs from outside to inside to get played through on goal. When the wide players make these runs inside, we encourage the full backs to get forward and take advantage of the space left by the wide player, as shown [2c].
“We like to work on all our phases and patterns of play in an 11v11 format as it obviously replicates what match day will look like”
What are the key things to look for?
We want to see players receiving the ball on an angle that allows them to play forward with the next pass if possible.
We want to see double movements to create space and time on the ball. The session also emphasises the ability to outplay 1v1 and rehearses players in third man runs to receive facing and moving forwards.
While the focus of the session is on the team in possession, we want to see the defending team working hard to stop all of the above.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
At the start, the players can make the session like a non-directional possession drill. They keep the ball but often play back to the centre backs and show bad habits with their movements. By only allowing one pass back to the centre backs, it helps to avoid this problem.
At times the players will also tend to turn down forward passes into the strikers. Whilst we like to see combinations in midfield, we like them as a way to move the opposition so as to play forwards. To solve this we try to emphasise that players should not turn down a safe forward pass if available.