The session is about passing the ball quickly and effectively across the width of the pitch to utilise space and to penetrate the opposition.
Ultimately, players love passing the ball, so following that logic through, quick and effective link-up play is the best way to create opportunities, find weaknesses in your opponents and score goals.
Players need to be comfortable in possession, have a good passing range and be prepared to make unselfish runs, and switching play should always result in a cross or shot, with players quickly building an understanding of why we move play from side to side and to what advantage.
Generally we will practise this session at least once a week.
Sometimes the practice is against mannequins and occasionally against opponents who will be set up tactically as our next opponents. What’s important though is variety – both in terms of technique, and in the involvement of full-backs, centre-backs, wide players and central midfielders, because all of these have a key role in switching play in the practice and, indeed, in match situations.
What do I get the players to do?
As shown, we set up an initial passing exercise with some players conditioned to make short passes through the mannequins while others are looking to feed longer passes over the mannequins.
In a simple attack versus defence form we begin by telling players to move the ball across the back four with quick passing, switching play through the midfield with quick penetrating play.
We progress this on to moving the ball across the back four, building up to long diagonal passes from left to right (or right to left) (1).
Full-backs, centre-backs and central midfielders are key passers, with wide players and strikers vital in making themselves free to receive the pass. Having switched play we always try to end up with a cross or shot on target (2).
What are the key things to look out for?
Technically the players’ touch, movement, awareness, understanding, passing range and accuracy are vitally important.
Tactically the players must retain a solid shape with good distances and an understanding of where and when to make certain moves to either receive the ball or create space for other players.
A big part of this is players being comfortable receiving the ball on the half-turn. If they have their backs to play it means they are limiting their options because there’s no vision of what’s around them. You will also see players trying the long ‘wonder pass’ but this should be discouraged in favour of firm, controlled, positive passing.