Defending in and around the penalty area

This session is about defending in and around the penalty area, and incorporates a number of defensive principles such as marking, pressing and blocking shots.

This is a high intensity practice and demands players to be focused on the dangers around them over multiple phases.

It’s important to practise defending in and around the penalty area as it presents defenders with their final opportunity to stop the shot before the keeper has to make a save or a goal is conceded. And this session requires players to not just stop the first shot, but also defend into the second phase of play and beyond.


Up to 44×36 yards
Balls, cones, target goals
Number of Players
Up to 20
Session time
Session 30mins,
Development 15mins,
Game situation 30mins

What do I get the players to do?

6v4 attack

Setting up as shown (1a), the back four defends just in front of the six-yard box, with three attackers in the penalty area and a further three around the edges.


• The server can feed any of his red attackers, three of whom are positioned inside the box and three outside

The server starts by playing the ball to an attacker. If it goes to the right midfielder, the left midfielder can enter the box (1b). Attackers have two minutes to score a goal, and if successful, a new ball is played in.


• The ball going to the right attacker allows the left attacker to move into the box for a 4v4 attacking set-up

If possession is overturned, defenders – who can only defend inside the area – must play the ball into the server or pass into one of the wide goals. Doing this successfully takes a goal off the attackers’ total.

Play for two minutes, then rest for two minutes, then go again, rotating if desired.

How do I progress the session?

When catching the ball, keepers can feed a full-back, offering him the chance to break out and score in one of the wide goals (2a).


• In the progression, the keeper catches and throws the ball out to his left-back, who dribbles forward and scores in the goal

Also, players outside the area can now shoot or dribble the ball in. If this happens, defenders can come out to stop the shot (2b).


• Also as a progression, the central red can receive the ball from the server and attempt to dribble in, but here he is quickly closed down by a defender

What are the key things to look out for?

The defending team must protect the goal in multiple phases, dealing with the threat from both inside and outside the penalty area. They must close down the line of the ball (3), stay on their feet, press at pace then slow and hold up play, and clear with height, distance and accuracy.

Tactically, they must choose a start position in relation to the ball, know when to press and when to hold, and ensure they mark in the box as well as patrolling runners from outside.


• The attacker chooses to spread the ball wide, prompting defenders to shuffle across in line with the ball. The right full-back presses at pace but then holds position because his opponent is in a relatively danger-free area of the pitch

Small-sided game

This is three teams of six in an area made of two penalty boxes placed together, as shown (4). Teams are 3v3 in each half with players all-in. The third team of six acts as one-touch attacking neutrals on the flanks, and this game tests defenders in protecting goal from multiple routes and angles.


• In the Small-sided Game, reds are looking to utilise the outer blue players, who play with the attacking team

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