Attacking and defending in counter-attack situations


Full pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, goals

No. of players


Session time

Practices 3x20mins, Game 20mins

This session looks at the principles behind attacking and defending counter-attack situations quickly. It’s important to practise this because counter-attacks occur regularly in matches, particularly in the Barclays Premier League. 

We construct this session as three separate practices – each slightly different, and each building on the tactical points outlined previously.

What do I get the players to do?

Practice 1

We mark out a 20-yard channel down the pitch and place attackers in the centre circle. Defenders start from behind each goal, which is protected by a keeper.

An attacker is served a ball from behind the goal. As he controls and advances towards goal, a defender takes up position to play out a 1v1 situation (1a).


• In 1v1s, each attacker receives a long pass and attacks the goal

At the end of the move, players continue their runs so attackers become defenders and vice versa. We then progress this to 2v2s, looking for players to communicate, cover and support recovery runs (1b).


• Moving to 2v2s, players must link up and communicate in defence and attack

Practice 2

We now narrow the pitch by 10 yards, remove the channel, and mark a 20-yard zone across the middle. Within this central zone there are two unopposed teams of four. Four additional players from each team position themselves outside the zone as defenders.

The ball is served in and the team in possession must break quickly, looking to score (2a). If the opposing team wins the ball, they counter-attack 4v4 towards the other goal (2b).


• In Practice 2, whites hold possession and prepare to counter


• An interception is made and play now switches to the opposite direction

Practice 3

Now we add a holding midfielder for each team in the middle. This player attacks with his team mates but supports from deep, and also tracks back when defending (3a/3b).


• In Practice 3, the holding midfielder begins an attack


• The midfielder doesn’t advance as far as his team mates, and here scores from a ball cut back

How do I put this into a game situation?

In the game, we remove the width restrictions and the central zone but shorten the length so that play is between the two penalty boxes. We play 10v10 including keepers, but retain a solid back four, encouraging teams to attack in numbers. The small area and large number of players creates numerous opportunities to counter.

What are the key things to look for technically/tactically?

We’re looking for composure from all players, while attackers must come forward at speed, using technical skills such as dribbling, a slick final pass or a clever finish.

Defenders must stay on their feet, delay the speed of the attack, and tackle. We require good communication, intelligent support play and good recovery runs.


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