This session looks at the use of diagonal balls from defenders and midfield players into wide and attacking players, and is designed to isolate opponents by moving play from confined areas of the pitch to open space.
Our analysis at Southend United shows there is a direct correlation between diagonal balls being played and chances created, both in training and match day situations, so this is an important session for us that we like to practise regularly.
What do I get the players to do?
We set up in a 4-3-3 formation, as shown, with the keeper feeding the ball out from the back (1a). Straight away, we encourage defenders to play diagonal balls, with opposition wingers fixed in wide areas at all times. When a full attack develops it will be concentrated down one side of the pitch, consequently drawing in the opposition and allowing us the opportunity to transfer the ball to the other side of the pitch to create a 1v1 situation.
So to begin, we encourage the first pass into midfield. When a defender or midfielder is set to play a diagonal pass those around him must recognise if it is a shallow or a deep switch. Opponents and team mates move accordingly in order to present either obstacles or support (1b).
In the initial phases, we’ll allow the pass to the wing to be unopposed, and for the winger to have a free cross into the box to be attacked. Attackers now rush in to get on the end of the cross, while the other winger moves in from the opposite flank to ‘lock the back door’ – in other words, to ensure that even if the cross is over-hit, the ball isn’t lost (1c).
How do I progress the session?
In the first progression, the winger is now opposed in his channel. Beyond that, opponents can close down any pass, pressing defenders, midfielders and wingers, thus ensuring any attacking passes must be quick and well reasoned (2a).
What are the key things to look out for?
Past the progression, the initial ball must always be played short into midfield so that opponents come in to press (and thus leave space behind). Attacking players should not ‘force the issue’ – they play the ball around until the killer diagonal pass is made. And when that happens, it must be clearly intended as a shallow or deep diagonal ball (2b), with the onward attack to follow (2c).