This counter-attacking session is built around our own counter-attacking principles. It progresses from a simple wave practice and eventually leads into a small-sided game, where everything that we get the players to do revolves around our counter-attacking principles. This means winning the ball back quickly and always making the first or second pass forwards, without slowing down the play. The speed and timing of supporting runs is also important, as is the type of support and the finish. We like to try to expose defences that have been outnumbered by our counter- attacking overload.
As a session, it engages players because they think it’s pretty realistic and because it culminates in the short, sharp, attacking style of the small- sided game, where there are always opportunities to attack and to finish.
There’s also a defending side to it because, in the face of the counter- attacks, the defence is always overloaded, so the defenders have to work out how they should solve problems at the back.
It fits into our own playing style and principles because, although we’re a front-footed, forward-thinking side, we can’t always be front-footed. Sometimes, against the strong teams in the Championship, we have to defend and then from a really strong position we counter-attack quickly and look to hurt the opposition at a time when they have been trying to hurt us.
We have strong principles around counter-attacking, which aren’t just sporadic. These principles are drilled into the players week-in and week-out. We think that counter-attacking is a process, rather than just a something to react against and prevent. We prefer to be front-footed in our play but we always know that we have the option to counter-attack should we need to.
For this directional wave game, we set up a playing area between the penalty spot and the halfway line and cone it off to the width of the penalty area. We position a goal and a goalkeeper at each end.
We’re using six outfield players split into two teams of three, plus two goalkeepers. The players wait to start either side of their own goal, with the three blues starting at one end and the three reds starting at the other end.
The reds start in possession and play begins on the coach’s call, with one red attacker dribbling the ball out into the pitch with the aim of finishing past the goalkeeper, as shown [1a].
Once the red attacker has had an attempt on goal, two blue players attack the opposite goal in a 2v1 situation against the original red attacker, who now attempts to recover and defend against the counter- attack, as shown [1b].
Once the blue attack is completed and the ball is dead, the two blue players stay on the pitch and either press high or recover to defend against all three red attackers who surge forward from their end, combining with the ball. The reds try and capitalise on their 3v2 overload and try to score, as shown [1c].
Once the 3v2 attack has been completed and the ball is dead, the final blue player brings a new ball out into the pitch to join his team-mates in attacking the three reds, creating a 3v3 situation to finish the round of attacks, as shown [1d].
The process then begins again, with the next round of attacks starting with the blue team attacking in a 1v0 situation against just the red goalkeeper.
We play this for 20 minutes, placing the coaching emphasis on quick breaks, forward momentum and finishing the attack. We also work on encouraging supporting runs and on the timing of passes and the timing of runs to finish with a shot on goal.
“Sometimes, against strong teams, we have to defend and then from a really strong position we counter-attack and look to hurt the opposition when they are trying to hurt us”
We set up a playing area between the two penalty boxes and cone it off to a width two yards wider than the penalty area on each side. We mark out scoring zones and position a goal and a goalkeeper at each end, as shown. We’re using 18 outfield players split into three teams of six. The red team starts in the centre of the pitch as the attackers and the blue and the yellow teams start at each end and are made up of four defenders and two midfielders.
The coach starts play by serving a ball into the red team in the central area, who attack the four blue defenders (the two blue midfield players are not involved in defending the attack). The reds aim to enter the scoring zone in the final third of the pitch, as shown [2a]. We want to see the red team producing neat attacking combination play to create goal-scoring opportunities, as shown [2b].
Once the attack has been completed, the coach plays a new ball into the blue team who launch an attack on the yellow team at the opposite end of the pitch, as shown [2c]. As the blue team counter-attack, they try to create a new 6v4 situation as quickly as possible, with the two yellow midfielders remaining static and not involved in defending the attack, as shown [2d]. The reds now take over as the new defending team at the other end of the pitch and wait for the counter-attack to come in their direction.
The game continues to flow in this manner. We play for 20 minutes, placing the coaching emphasis on quick breaks, forward momentum and finishing the attack. We work on encouraging supporting runs and look for players to use the correct timing of pass. We also want to see well-timed runs to finish the counter-attack with a shot on goal.
11v11 COUNTER-FLOW GAME
We set up a playing area between the two penalty boxes, using the full width of the pitch and we position a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We also mark out end zones and wide zones, as shown.
We’re using 20 outfield players and two goalkeepers split into two full teams of 11, set up as shown with teams playing with three at the back in the end zones and wing backs pushing high up in the wide zones in the attacking half of the pitch.
The object of the game is to attack quickly using wing backs. We want to see a constant flow of counter-attacks in both directions, with teams encouraged to attack in numbers without worrying about the spaces left behind them. This will allow the other team to counter with a numerical advantage higher up the pitch on transition.
We want players following our counter-attacking principles and, after winning the ball, we want to see the first or second pass always being played forwards.
We play three games using this set-up, with different restrictions and rules applied. For the first game, we want players sticking rigidly to their starting zones, with no players allowed to come out of their zones, as shown [3a], not even the attacking wing backs.
“The object of the game is to attack quickly using wing backs. We want to see a constant flow of counter-attacks in both directions”
For the second game, we now allow the wing backs to leave their wide zones and come inside the pitch to attack. We encourage as many players as possible to join the attack with them, as this will leave gaps behind for opposition attackers to exploit, as shown [3b]. This creates even more counter-attacks for our players to execute and rehearse defending against on transition.
For the third game, all players can now move freely between zones and we want to see players responding quickly to transitions of possession. After winning the ball the counter-attacking teams should aim to create a 6v4 attacking situation with two central midfield players and the two wing backs supporting the two centre forwards, as shown [3c].
We play this activity for 25 minutes.