Counter-attacking from deep


Three quarters of a pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, 3 full size goals

No. of players

18 players + up to 3 goalkeepers

Session time

Total: 62mins, Main session: 20mins, Progression: 24mins, Counter-attacking game: 18mins

This is both a defensive shape session and a counter-attacking session. Away from home in international football we always have a deeper defensive position as a team and, therefore, to have attacking threat, we use this session for both purposes.

The session is a good alternative to an 11v11. The overload creates situations you are liable to face in a game and you can tailor the session to mirror the opposition’s system and style of play.

In the lead up to one of our international fixtures we would typically have four or five days of preparation, so we would tend to do this session twice in that preparation period.

What do I get the players to do?

Main session

Set up on half a pitch plus ten yards, with a 20×20-yard zone marked out around the centre circle, and with the wings coned off diagonally on each side, tapering from the halfway line, as shown [1]. Create two teams of six, each with three players in the centre zone, a supporting wide player to each side of the centre zone and a forward to attack the goal. Additionally, create a third team made up of two defenders and a goalkeeper to protect the goal.


1. The coach feeds a ball into the 3v3 zone, where it is passed between the two teams under no pressure
2. On the coach’s call, the team in possession counter-attacks the two red defenders, starting with a pass to their forward
3. The objective is to use the wide players to help attack the goal
4. Supporting players make fast penetrative runs to open up opportunities to score
5. Progress by adding recovering full backs in the marked wide areas using the waiting subs

Play starts with the coach feeding a ball into the centre zone where it is passed around in a 3v3 between the two teams under no pressure. On the coach’s call, the team in possession at the time counter-attacks against the two red defenders. The pass out of the centre zone must be linked with the striker to initiate the attack and the objective is to use one of the supporting wide players en route to scoring.

The main purpose of the drill is to get your wide players and midfielders to recognise counter-attacking opportunities and to react quickly, with fast penetrative runs, good decisions on the ball and a quick resolution with an attempt on goal.

You can progress the session by adding recovering full backs starting in the marked wide areas using the substitute players. Or you could adapt the session by turning the passing square into a possession square, where the counter-attack is triggered after four passes by the team in possession. In this adaptation the team out of possession can also serve as recovering defenders in wide areas, with one as a recovering central midfielder.

Play for 20 minutes with coaching intervals and good recovery. Ensure play is at a high intensity when attacking.

How do I progress the session?


Set up on three quarters of the pitch with a full sized goal and a goalkeeper at one end and two full sized goals with keepers at the other, as shown [2]. If you don’t have three goalkeepers, use two small, unattended goals at one end instead of the two full sized goals.


1. Set up the yellows as you expect your opponents to play. Here they are 4-3-3
2. The blues must try to win the ball and counter-attack
3. Having two goals to defend makes it more difficult for the yellows
4. The blues can score in either goal or by hitting long passes into the keeper’s hands to encourage higher pressing from the yellows

Play 10v8 in the main area. Set up the yellow attacking team in the shape of your expected opposition (here we’ve set them up in a 4-3-3) and they attack the single goal. The eight blues must try to win the ball and counter-attack the two goals at the other end. They can be rewarded by scoring or by getting the ball into the hands of a goalkeeper with a longer pass, which will encourage higher pressing from the yellows, of the kind you may expect from the opposition.

If your intended opponents play through the middle of the pitch a lot, an area can be marked to mimic this in the drill – and instruct the blues to aggressively press this area.

We did this drill often in our preparation for Euro 2016. We had to defend deep a lot in the tournament, so it was realistic to how we would have to play, launching counter-attacks from deeper areas. We rotated teams and players in preparation, so everyone had a good exposure to how we intended to play in the tournament games.

Play for 18-24 minutes in six-minute intervals.

How would I put this into a game situation?

Counter-attacking game

Set up on three quarters of a pitch, with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end, and with the wings coned off on each side, as shown [3]. Play an 8v8 game with two floating players (the reds) who must play in wide areas of the pitch. The floaters play for the team in possession, so when teams win the ball and counter-attack, they go from being two men down to having a 10v8 advantage.


1. The red floaters play for the team in possession, so when teams win the ball and counter, they go from being outnumbered to having a two-man overload
2. The defending team must make a quick transition to attack on gaining possession
3. Encourage counter-attacks using the floating wide players. Here a quick counter sees the floater score for the yellows

The objective is to find the floating players on turnover of possession. Look for quick transitions, good decisions and quick outcomes – play at high intensity with minimal coaching. It is important to rotate the floating wide players, as they generally do most running in wide areas.

Play for 18 minutes in six-minute intervals.

What are the typical mistakes that players might make, and how do I avoid them?

In the main session, typical mistakes include players making a poor choice of pass or making too many passes to conclude an attack.

In the progression, players have to deal with an overload so they must be disciplined in their shape and press at the right times, not over long distances. It’s key for them to find a pass or solution to overcome the attacking team’s press when possession is turned over.

The final part, the counter-attacking game, is designed for quick transitions and quick attempts on goal, so in this phase of the session it is key not to overplay due to the numerical advantage teams have when in possession.

What are the key things to look out for?

The keys thing is to see that the players are fully aware of their opportunities to counter-attack, making forward runs at pace particularly in wider areas. They should show they are capable of making good decisions on the ball.


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement