This is a session designed to focus on defending our own penalty area, primarily from crossed deliveries, but as the session develops we also look at closing down and denying shooting opportunities.
The players enjoy the competitive togetherness of this session. We could mix up and rotate the defensive units, but in general we group the relevant players and challenge them to defend the area with cohesiveness, good communication, resilience and a real desire to make first contact.
This is an ideal session to use in preparation for specific fixtures that involve a certain style of opponent. In addition, it works well as a regular generic defending session, focusing on cohesion, solidity and compactness.
It can be a physically demanding session and therefore some thought must be given as to where in the weekly calendar such a session might sit.
DEFENDING CROSSES 1
We set up on the final third of the pitch, marking a 36×44-yard playing area, with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 16 outfield players split into four teams of four. We start with one team ready t0 defend at one end, another team ready to defend at the other end, and one team ready to attack from one end. The fourth team are the servers.
The first wave of attackers (the blues) make attacking runs into the opposite penalty area to receive a cross from server 1 on the wing and the red defenders try to stop them scoring. After the first ball is dead, server 2 immediately plays a second ball into the blue attackers, who again try to score past the red defenders, as shown [1a].
When the second ball is dead, the red defending team now attacks the other end where the greens are defending. The reds receives a first ball crossed from server 3 and when that attack is dead they receive a second ball crossed from server 4, as shown [1b].
Play continues in waves for two minutes and then we rotate the teams and play for another two minutes. We play four games of two minutes, so every player experiences the role of the server.
We can progress the activity by running the sequence again, but this time the defenders have to face balls played in on the diagonal, with the servers crossing from further out [not shown]. For example, when running the first attack, server 3 would play the ball into the box instead of server 1 and for the second attack server 4 would play a diagonal ball in from a deeper position instead of the cross coming from server 2.
We can progress the activity further by running the sequence once again, but this time the servers start on the halfway line and they cross the ball after dribbling down the wing, as shown [1c]. We again play for four games of two minutes, rotating the teams each time.
If we have extra players available, they can act as defensive midfielders protecting the back four. We would run this drill and it’s two progression for eight minutes each, with 90 seconds recovery between each set.
DEFENDING CROSSES 2
We set up on half a pitch, with the main playing area coned off to the width of the penalty area. We have a penalty box at each end and we mark a 5-yard zone across the centre of the pitch. We also mark a 5-yard wide channel on each side of the main area. We position a goal and a goalkeeper at each end.
We’re using 18 outfield players, split into two teams of seven playing in a 7v7, plus four neutrals. Each team of seven has four defenders and three attackers and the players are locked into their relevant zones. Two of the neutrals start in the central zone and one is in each of the two wide channels. All of the neutrals are locked into their zones and none of the other players can enter the central zone or the wide channels.
Play starts from the goalkeeper, who passes out to one of his team mates or to one of the neutral players. All players are limited to three-touch and when attacking, the team in possession should focus on getting the ball wide and making crosses into the penalty area for the opposition back four to defend against, as shown [2a].
We progress this practice by allowing one of the yellow neutral players from the central zone to join the attack at the relevant end, as shown [2b]. This makes it a 4v4 attack and sets an additional challenge for the defenders, who now have one more player to pick up or close down. We can progress the game further by also allowing one of the neutral crossers to leave the wide channel and attack the far post when a cross is coming in from the other side. Neutral players must always return to their zones once the attack has finished and play restarts from the goalkeeper again.
To increase the challenge for both sides, we can restrict the attacking players to a one-touch finish on goal.
We would spend six minutes on the basic drill and a further six minutes on each of the progressions, with one minute’s recovery between each block.
How would I put this in a game situation?
After the second activity we would remove the cones, bringing the wide channels and the central zone into the main playing area. We would play a 9v9 game [not shown] with offside lines in place. We would encourage players to get the ball out wide and put the attacking emphasis on crossed deliveries. For the defenders, the emphasis should be placed on defensive solidity, compactness, communication and ensuring first contact is made.
We would play two games of 12 minutes. Numbers are easily adaptable depending on player availability.
What are the key things to look out for?
When defending crosses we want to see players marking the opposition tightly. We also want to see them keeping compact and using the appropriate body shape, so they can see both the man and the ball. It’s very important that defenders keep sight of the incoming ball and communicate to make sure that the first contact is from a defender.
When defending, attention to detail is vital and players should make sure their shoulders are open to see danger and that key areas like the front post are covered. We want to see players using cohesive movement to squeeze space when the first contact is made and they should remain alert to defend the second and third ball.