The philosophy of this session is based on the idea that it’s okay for the opposition to have the ball as long as our players are organised and alert. This works particularly well when playing away from home against higher-ranked opposition, with players clearly understanding their roles and responsibilities, whilst being ready to break up an attack, move forward and create a chance on goal.
This session is about defending in half a pitch – on the one hand being compact and protective of space, whilst on the other getting into shape quickly on a regain so as to attack that space.
The session works in two parts, which outline inviting players on, then attacking them on the regain.
What do I get the players to do?
Step one – half-pitch
On a half-pitch, we begin with a simple 10v8 (plus keeper). The team of 10 reds begins with the ball. Two passive centre-forwards shadow to make a 10v10 should possession turn over.
Blues invite the opposition over halfway (1a), with two strong banks of four working together. Wingers press and double mark on the ball side (1b), while centre-midfielders protect and press. The aim is to prevent the ball being played into the centre-forwards, helped by the opposite defending winger and full-back tucking in to compress play. The back four and midfield maintain a constant line – this rigidity works to cut the pitch in two, only pressing the ball once it moves into the attacking half.
When a regain happens (1c), the team will be tight, and the premise here is to attack any of the three goals. The philosophy of a team in losing possession is to retreat quickly, so our instruction is therefore to look for space on the side the attack broke down (since opposition players are now vacating those areas). We’re looking for fast supporting runs (both in front and behind), and the speed and accuracy of the pass is of paramount importance. Smart possession and good support up to the halfway line means step one of the process is done.
Step two – full-pitch
For step two, on a full pitch attackers play 4-4-2 while defenders utilise a 4-4-1-1 system. Offsides apply and the start point can be either central or wide.
Progressing events from the 10v8 (+2), defenders have allowed the attack over the halfway line (2a), pressed, and won possession. Upfield, the passive centre-forwards are now active and ready positioned. Blues counter-attack quickly, either direct through the middle, or to the flanks for a cross into the box (this approach was practised with the use of three goal targets in the first set-up) (2b/3).
What are the key things to look out for?
Key elements for the defending team are a fixed and compact shape, the ability to shuffle across, the prevention of any ball into a centre-forward’s feet or behind the back four, and the willingness to double mark. Forcing opponents to play square or backwards denotes success.