Possession moving into the attacking third

This is a possession session that has been delivered to players at the club from the ages of Under-15s right up to the senior players. The flexibility within the session – which starts with a simple 4v4 possession game – allows the progressions to develop as we feel comfortable, and its demands extend right up to a 9v9 small-sided game.

The emphasis of the session is ‘speed of attacking’, with a view to being clinical in attacking in the final third, and taking in movement, clever play, combinations and overloads. Although it’s predominantly attack-led, there is of course the option of alternating the focus with each re-run – so an emphasis on attacking at first, then replaying with the emphasis on defending attacking overloads, thus making the practice relevant and engaging for all players.

I’ve run the session several times this season, either as a straight ‘refresh’ for the players or if we have struggled in either area – attack or defence – in a recent game.


Balls, cones, goal, mini-goals (optional)
Number of Players
 Up to 9v9
Session time
30mins (pro level)
90mins (academy, to include warm-up and small-sided game)

What do I get the players to do?

Possession in the final third

We set up as shown on a half-pitch with a width of 44 yards (1). It’s 4v4 in the centre circle, with players required to make three passes before breaking out into the attacking half. This now becomes a straight 4v4 attack versus defence that is played to a finish.


1. Four passes are made in the centre circle before play ‘breaks out’
2. Four attackers move forward
3. Defenders approach to try to close down the space

How do I progress the session?

In the first progression the ball must go wide once play has broken out of the centre circle, as shown (2). To facilitate this we extend the pitch to full width and introduce wide players. Defenders must be alert to the danger, with the left- or right-back allowed to move into the wide channel in attempting to shut down the danger of a cross.


1. Again the ball breaks out
2. The winger playing for the ‘break out’ team receives
3. One defender can engage by moving into the channel

In the next progression we’ve extended this to 8v6, given the introduction of two forwards and two defensive midfielders (3). The wide players and forwards play for both attacking teams and we configure the overload in these numbers because we always want success for the attacking team.


1. In the second progression reds break out
2. Two neutral attackers play high up the pitch
3. Two additional defensive midfielders attempt to slow the attacking break (against an 8v6 overload)
4. The neutral winger combines
5. Attackers flood into the box ready for the cross

In terms of other progressions we can set time limits in which players must score – 15 seconds is a good initial target to aim at, gradually decreasing to 12. We can also use mini-goals for defenders to attack, and can develop the practice into a 9v9 small-sided game.

What are the key things to look out for?

In terms of possession we’re looking for receiving skills, smart passing decisions, movement and decision-making.

The key attacking elements are movement, speed of attack, passing skills, a positive end product and seeing that in every situation players are optimistic and fearless in possession.

And finally, for defenders, we’re looking for good communication, balance, shape and confidence in 1v1 defensive situations and overloads.

Share this

Follow us