This is a defending practice that I like to use. It’s all about pressing and it encourages players to adopt a ‘don’t get beat’ attitude. It makes players want to engage and be in close contact with their opponents.
I have chosen this session as I feel it really defines how we want to play when we are out of possession. This session is about players being in contact with their opponents and being particularly tough to play against.
I feel modern players use an ‘academy press’ mentality when they close down and stop short, allowing the player with the ball the ‘square yard’ to still do what they want. This for me is not closing people down. I like my players to deny opponents that square yard of space.
At Halifax we deliver this session every Thursday morning as part of our out-of-possession day. We feel this puts the players in a defensive mindset and focuses them on not being beaten.
This session is physically tough on the players but it will remind them that defending is hard work and that they need to concentrate throughout. One mistake and the team can lose, just like on match day. The phrase ‘don’t get beat’ is something staff and players will be shouting throughout this practice and in general on the training ground.
We set up a playing area of 25×24 yards. We’re using 16 outfield players split into two teams of eight. Four players from each team start inside the playing area in a 4v4 and the remaining four players from each team are spaced out on the outside edge at each end.
The possession team has to work the ball from one end to the other and back again to score a point, as shown . The out-of-possession team must press.
The players in the centre are all-in, but the outside players are limited to one or two touches. The outside players must stay outside and can’t be tackled. When an outside player passes to an inside team mate, the ball can’t then be returned to the same outside player. We play eight games of 90 seconds, rotating players so everyone has four goes at the pressing role.
What are the key things to look out for?
We want to see the pressing players being effective at 1v1 defending and demonstrating a ‘don’t get beat’ mentality. The pressing player should get touch tight and low, denying the square yard of space to the player he’s marking. Additionally, the presser must not ball watch and should always track the runner.
When there is a turnover of possession, the new pressing players must employ delaying tactics quickly, immediately picking up opponents on the transition. The nearest player to the ball must delay whilst all other players lock on and get in shape.
Communication from both the inside and outside players is key throughout the session and it will help to get them to organise each other.
To progress the session we take the principles into a small-sided game. We set up a playing area of 60×40 yards with a goal and goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 16 outfield players split evenly into two 9v9 team including goalkeepers. We number seven of the outfield players on each team from 2 to 8 and players can only tackle the opposition player with the same number, as shown [2a]. The remaining player is designated as the sweeper. The sweepers must stay in their own half, although they can tackle anyone and can be tackled by anyone, as shown [2b], but they cannot score. Other than these restrictions, it’s a normal directional game and we play four games of three minutes.