Block and break; Block and build


Up to a full pitch


Balls, cones, goals

No. of players


Session time


This session is about defending as a unit from around the halfway line with two banks of four, with a no.10 and no.9 ready to support the counter-attack or build the attack.

The decision on offer is whether to break fast on the regain through the middle, wide right or wide left; or to build, making six passes to move forwards up the pitch.

Players have to communicate, with  quick passing and finishing, and having three goals to attack makes it enjoyable, giving them a real point of focus on regains.

This session is realistic and match-related, using two-thirds of the pitch. I will run this session at least once a week and will always set the team attacking us in the same shape as those we are playing the next week. This can also be used in a smaller area if you are looking to leave it in the players’ legs for the next game. The same principles will always apply – when regaining, counter or build.

9 & 10 shadow play

Setting up as shown (1), this shows the movement of the no.9 and no.10 who become active on the counter-attack. They cannot tackle when defending – instead the no.9 cuts off one of the centre-halves showing one way. The no. 10 operates around the opposition’s deepest midfield player.


1. The blue defence moves across to block space and mark attackers
2. The blue midfield players move across to attacking areas
3. The blue 10 operates around the deepest lying midfield player
4. The blue 9 can not tackle when defending, but moves to block any back pass

Building attacks through counter-attacking

After possession is turned over  (2a) this becomes a rapid break that also includes the no.7, and is made possible because opposition players are out of balance and have left space to progress into, as shown (2b).


1. The press begins three yards into the opposition half
2. The team defends in a 4-4-1 on regain
3. The no. 6 cuts out the pass


4. The no.9 will sit high
5. The no.10 is short or high
6. The no. 7 breaks
7. The no. 2 breaks on the overlap

Building attacks through passing

In the next example, as shown (3), and having turned the ball over, we now look to attack in a 4-2-3-1 system, with the aim of building attacks centrally, wide right or wide left and scoring in goals 1, 2 or 3.


1. An opposition attack on the right side is broken down
2. No.6 regains the ball
3. Blues link passes across the pitch from no.6 across to no.7
4. The no.7 has options to break forward or pass to the overlapping no. 2
5. The full-back (no.2) makes an overlapping run on the right wing

There is no space to counter-attack because opposition players are in good defensive balance. We therefore encourage them to achieve six passes whilst allowing our full-back to get upfield.

On any regain the decision of the team to counter fast or build is crucial, and it’s always important to do this in balance and shape.

How do I progress the practice?

To progress we recommend moving to a full pitch and alternating the starting point – left, middle or right. You can test the players to get forward to the goal area with a reduced number of players (therefore a more difficult counter-attack), or in a quicker timeframe, perhaps 10-15 seconds.

In any game situation the coach needs to choose his line of confrontation and work with his team’s strengths and weaknesses, adapting and offering advice at each step of the way.

What are the key things to look out for?

We want to see an understanding of a solid unit and balance. Players should know when to press, when to counter and when to build. We also insist on good technical skills in attack, a good speed to our play and smart decision-making in terms of passing, runs and positioning.

Typical mistakes include players pressing too hard and not as a unit, looking to force a pass when it’s not on and being slow at moving the ball. And at times not enough care is taken when finding the right pass or finish.


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