This session is about defensive stability when playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation against possession-based teams, with a focus on breaking out quickly from a turnover of possession. It also looks at dealing with pressure, particularly when playing away from home.
The ability to counter-attack with pace and quality comes with good defensive stability and shouldn’t be something that compromises team shape, especially with a twin defensive screen. Players get their buy in with delay tactics and risk-over-reward methods that are always a huge part of our training programme. We have won many games with less possession and generated far greater chances for than chances against. Crucially, after running this session the players have the confidence to demonstrate a ‘tough to beat’ intelligence that has been key to our performances at Newport for several years.
Our ‘break out’ strategy has evolved over time (something that managers don’t always seem to get), but its key component is all about quickly getting the ball to our ball carriers. These are defined as players able to cope in tight situations and they frequently demonstrate the ability to succeed in 1v1 situations.
When breaking out of our defensive stability, pace and precision are the main weapons. We need to ensure the break out is direct and towards goal so that we don’t lose momentum.
DEFENSIVE STABILITY FROM THE FRONT
We set up a playing area divided into three zones, as shown , with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 12 outfield players split into two teams of six. Each team is set up in a defensive 2-3-1 shape and we play a 6v6 game plus goalkeepers.
When the opposition plays out from the back, the attacker from the out of possession team drops off into the central zone to keep shape. If the defending team wins the ball, they can create a 3v2 or a 4v2 in the attacking zone.
The key points for the defending team are…
- The first defender should try to show the opposition one way.
- The defenders in behind should try to show the opposition inside.
- The central defenders defend the ball and stay goal side.
The defending team should look to intercept the ball or force a mistake. After winning the ball, they should counter-attack by running or passing forwards. We also want to see supporting players threatening in behind by making overlapping runs with pace.
STOPPING THE SWITCH OF PLAY
We set up a playing area on three-quarters of a pitch (or 70 yards long and full width) with a full size goal at one end and two small goals at the other end. We position one goalkeeper at each end. The keeper at the end with the two goals must defend both.
We’re using 19 outfield players split into a red team of nine outfield players who attack the two small goals, and a blue team of 10 outfield players who attack the main goal with an overload, as shown [2a]. The reds are set up in as if they were in a 4-2-3-1 formation but minus the striker and the blues are set up in a 4-3-3 formation.
The objectives for the red team are to defend narrow and stop the switch of play – and if they can’t, they should delay the first contact.
As shown in the first phase of play [2b], the reds use good movement off the ball to deny the switch of play.
As shown in the second phase of play [2c], the reds use good movement off the ball to force the play backwards.
Using the same set up as shown in the previous activity, we add the striker back into the team set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation and play an 11v11 game, putting all the coaching points into action, as shown .
BREAKING OUT FROM DEFENSIVE STABILITY
This activity is aimed at teaching the players to understand when and how to play through, around or over the opposition based on the type of pressure applied. It also teaches players to understand when and how to combine, create and finish in the attacking third of the pitch.
We set up as shown on three quarters of a pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end and we place four mannequins on each side of a central box, as shown. Either side of the central box is a 10-yard channel and a penalty area.
We’re using 19 outfield players split into three teams of six and a neutral yellow floater who plays for the team in possession. The reds and the blues go up against each other, set up with a 3v3 in each half of the central box and with the yellow floater positioned between the two halves, while the third team (the whites) are positioned around the edge of the central box as shown. The players are locked in their areas.
Play starts with a pass from the coach to one of the teams in the central box who must make seven passes using the help of any of the players on their team plus the floater and the outside players before being freed up to play a through ball into the opposition penalty area, as shown [4a]. A team mate should run onto the through ball and take a shot at goal.
At the same moment the through ball is played, the out of possession team receives another ball from the coach in the central area at the other end so they can play a through ball straight away and have a go at finishing as well, as shown [4b].
During the possession phase in the central box, if the ball is passed to one of the wide players outside, they can combine with any player before they put a cross in for a runner to shoot from, as shown [4c]. In this instance, the player is not restricted by the seven-pass trigger, just by the combination rule.
When in possession we want to see teams playing through, around or over. When out of possession we want to see them defending narrow and recognising they should stop split passes, forcing the play wide and protecting the space behind.
When attacking we want to see that teams understand how and when to combine in order to create scoring chances. When in possession in the final third they should attack with width and depth and when out of possession they should protect the middle, force play wide and prevent crosses.
What are the key things to look for?
In our initial defensive stability phase, we are constantly looking for defenders to work hard: defending successfully in 1v1s, showing opponents away from goal, blocking shots, and playing forward with weight. We also want to see a good use of the body, the back four defending as a unit, smart cover positioning, good communication and an eye on who can deal with the greatest danger.
For midfielders, we want to see a blocking screen, with players pivoting across when needed, pressing, covering and stopping any split passes that may break our back four and midfield units apart. There must be front-foot interceptions when breaking out and quick counter-attacking on the turnover of possession.
For our striker, it’s a case of dealing with the deep central midfielder, with a condition to stop switches of play in order to help team mates adjust in behind and gain healthy starting positions quickly. We also want to see availability on regaining possession, as the first pass is crucial to retaining the play and it is important that the next movement should be forward.
Players capable of taking opponents on are pivotal to the break out succeeding and the knock on effect will be to reorganise as a team defensively whilst in break out mode.
These sessions are designed to extend and over-exaggerate aspects of team defending. Therefore, it is important to finish with a game situation to test the team’s understanding.