The focus of this session incorporates a number of my key principles: pressing, counter pressing and playing in tight areas whilst avoiding pressure.
It’s about keeping possession in tight areas and then playing away from pressure, helping us to switch the play quickly.
It’s a session I like to use because it involves every player and it puts them in high pressure situations that need them to use quick interplay to keep the ball. It ultimately leads to the creation of solid opportunities to score.
What do I get the players to do?
We set up two 12×12-yard boxes separated by a 2-yard central zone, with two target goals positioned outside each of the boxes in the corners adjoining the central zone.
The goals are positioned at an angle to represent a wide player receiving the ball.
We’re using 11 players, split into two teams of five and a floater who plays for the team in possession. The five red possession players start in one box with the yellow floater, and the five blue pressing players start in the other box. The coach begins the practice by passing in to the red possession team and three blues are immediately sent across the central zone to try to win the ball.
The reds must pass and move to keep possession and once they have managed to string six passes together, they are free to play into one of the target goals, as shown [1a]. The players should communicate to make each other aware when they’ve completed six passes.
If the three blue pressers gain possession, they should try to pass to a team mate in the other box, following the ball to rejoin their team mates to become the new possession team, as shown [1b]. Three of the reds follow to counter-press, becoming the new pressing team.
Each team is given three attempts of 1 minute and 45 seconds in possession before the coach switches the roles over. The idea of the exercise is to play away from the pressure by passing into the mini goals.
We always involve everyone and never leave players on the side lines, so we adapt the session to the numbers. In this instance, we had 22 players and we split the practice into two groups.
What do I get the players to do next?
Three zone switch
We set up an area of 60×60 yards split into three 60×20-yard zones. All three zones have a target goal at each end. We’re using 24 players split into two teams of ten and four floaters who play for the team in possession. The floaters must stay in their zones, with two in the central zone and one in each of the outside zones.
We play a directional game, with the reds trying to score in any of the target goals at one end and the blues trying to gain possession and score in any of the target goals at the other end. To start with, the teams must play the ball through all three zones before they can score, as shown , but as a progression, players can begin to look to make longer passes to switch the play from one wide zone to another, if it’s on to do so.
The aim of the session is to have minimal touches in the central zone where possession is tight and to encourage switches of play out wide. To help achieve this, the middle zone is one touch and the outside zones are two touch.
We would play three games of three minutes each.
How would you put this into a game situation?
Switch gate game
We set up on a full size pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. A line is marked going into the final third at both ends and three gates are set up on each end zone line: one central 8-yard gate and a 12-yard gate on each flank.
We’re playing a directional 11v11 game, conditioned so that the ball can only cross the line between zones by going through the gates. The gates on each flank are wider and therefore easier to get the ball through and this should encourage the possession team to play the ball out wide when attacking, as shown [3a].
To also encourage this, the ball can be either passed or dribbled through the wide gates, whereas it can only be dribbled through the central gates, as shown [3b]. Once the gates have been broken, it’s a normal game.
Play starts and restarts with a pass out from the goalkeeper to a defender. When it comes out from the keeper, if it’s not on to go
forward through a gate, we are looking for players to make a quick switch of play and go out through the other side.
How do I progress the game?
After finishing the Switch Gate Game, we progress by taking away the zones and the gates and playing a 12-minute game [not shown]. It’s free play but we want the players to keep using the underlying principles of the session by switching the play and taking as few touches as possible in the centre of the pitch.
What are the key things to look out for?
We want to see players thinking quickly in tight areas and they
should always be aware of what is around them, to enable them to get the ball out wide as early as
We also want to see players working hard off the ball to make angles and there is the opportunity to make triangles.
The pressing players should create shadows, which means supporting the first pressing player by being off their shoulder and never in a straight line.