This session is about developing the ability to attack at speed with immediate forward passing and forward running, combined with the ability to build controlled attacks against a set defensive structure.
At Manchester United the players really enjoy this practice, as it involves so many different attacking and defending elements in one dynamic, competitive and game-realistic session.
The set-up allows us to develop the exciting high-speed attacks that are key to our desired playing style at United. It also gives us the opportunity to practise breaking down compact and organised defences.
We run the practice every two to three weeks when we do not have a midweek game. Within our physical periodization, the practice will usually take place three days before match day, when we want an intensive output of high-speed running. We will alter small details within the practice depending on the next opponents.
What do I get the players to do?
Different speeds of attack
We set up in an area of 72×54 yards using the space between the two penalty boxes of our pitch, with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 22 outfield players, split into three teams of six and four neutrals who support the attack. One team starts at each end and defends that goal, and the third team are the attackers and they start in the centre of the pitch. Two of the neutrals are fixed in each half. We are also using three servers, two on one side of the pitch and one on the other side.
We run two types of attack with each team. We rotate the attacking team as follows…
Fast attack by blues
Server 1 passes a ball into the blue attacking team in the centre. They attack the reds at one end of the pitch as quickly as possible, using the support of the two neutral yellow players in that half, as shown [1a]. The attacking team has a maximum of 10 seconds to score. If the defenders win the ball, they should clear it out of the area.
Controlled attack by blues
After the first attack finishes with either an attempt at goal or a successful defensive action, Server 2 plays a ball into the blue attacking team, as shown [1b]. In this second attack, the red defending players start in a much deeper position and the attackers must look to penetrate the defence either by going around, through or over the defensive structure.
Fast attack by reds
When the second attack is finished, the red defending team now receives a ball from Server 1 and they immediately pass forwards to one of the yellow neutral attackers in the other half of the pitch and then counter-attack that end as quickly as possible against the green defending team, as shown [1c]. The reds are now the new attacking team.
The session continues with the attacking team always making two attacks (one fast and one controlled), and with the defending team always becoming the new attackers after facing two attacks.
How do I progress the session?
To progress the practice we alter the attacking overload on the first attack and give the change a time restriction. For instance, we remove two players from the defensive team, normally the full backs, for the first six seconds of the first attack, as shown . This means the attacking team has six seconds to score before the two defenders are reintroduced. This further encourages the high speed of the first attack against an unbalanced defence.
How would you put this into a game situation?
A simple way to implement these ideas in a game situation is to introduce a deep offside line at each end that doubles as a drop off line for the team out of possession.
We’re using 16 outfield players and two goalkeepers, split into two teams of nine. When out off possession the defending team must have all their players in the three quarters of the pitch below the drop off line – this encourages the defending team to defend in a compact way in certain areas and then look for opportunities to attack quickly into space when winning the ball, as shown .
Additionally, a ball can be played in from the side immediately on the award of any set piece in the attacking quarter. This encourages the team to build sustained and controlled attacks in the opposition half.
What are the key things to look for?
We want to see players making two kinds of attack: fast attacks and controlled attacks. When making fast attacks we are looking for the intent to pass forwards immediately on regaining the ball, with supporting players making forward runs that create overload situations against the defence. We then need to see players exploit the overload with correct decision-making and an effective execution of passes and finishing.
On the controlled attacks, we want the players to take up intelligent positions that stretch the opposition defence, with good ball circulation, off the ball movement and lively combination play to penetrate and create chances.
From the defensive perspective, the players should try to delay the fast attack and deflect the play into wide areas. Then they should reorganise into defensive shape for the second attack and apply more normal defensive principles to stop chances being created.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
Typically, there can be a reluctance to pass forwards and to run forward on regaining the ball – we really have to drum home the importance and value of the early forward pass and encourage the desire to run beyond the ball within our playing style.
On the second attack, the players can be hurried and frantic in possession at times, therefore we need to emphasise the different speeds of attack and the need to change tempo while in possession.
How long does the session last?
The main activity usually lasts about 20 minutes, with the blocks of work dependent on the physical outcomes desired. Usually we would precede this with a 12-minute technical practice [not shown] and a smaller 15-minute overload practice [not shown] that introduce the key attacking themes.