This session is about defending the second ball. There are a number of teams in our league who use crosses into the box as a key repetitive attacking weapon. Last season, we identified Southend United as one such team who posed a major threat from the flanks.
Particularly in the lead-up to playing these types of sides – though as a regular training practice in any case – we would rehearse defending crosses, whether it be full-backs stopping them out wide or central defenders dealing with the threat in front of goal.
What do I get the players to do?
Setting up as shown, the server delivers a high ball into the box for defenders to clear. As soon as that happens, the second ball comes about, with the right-winger having a touch and delivering a new cross into the box (1a). This is fully opposed. The second ball will come from the other flank.
To progress this practice, we ask the full-back to close down as soon as the ball is spread wide for the second ball. If the wide man is held up he can set back for his own full-back to deliver the cross (1b).
The distance, height and direction of clearing headers should be watched – players should clear back the way the ball came, or into space. We want to see a good, strong, positive body position for crosses, with players attacking the ball. Communication with other defenders and the keeper is essential.
In a 50×40-yard area with channels, we play 6v6 plus keepers. This game rehearses the principles of the Box Practice with attacks having to come from the channel before a goal can be scored (2). We are looking for good interplay and delivery of cross. Second balls will come naturally in a game situation such as this.
To progress, we change it so one team now doesn’t have to score from crosses. This keeps defenders alert to attacks from in front of goal.
We set up teams with our typical shape, 4-3-3 (without the front three to begin with) defending a 4-4-2 (without their centre-backs). The first phase concentrates on manufacturing 2v1 overloads on the wing, with subsequent crosses needing to be dealt with (3a).
Our aim is to stop crosses, although with an overload against us the opposition should be able to supply to wide men. We need to be comfortable at closing down (3b) dealing with balls into the box, reorganising quickly and preparing for a possible second ball (3c).
As the session progresses, I will add our front three plus two opposition centre-backs, to make a full-pitch 11v11.