Attacking combinations


Up to full pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, 4 mannequins, 2 full size goals

No. of players

Up to 19 players + 2 goalkeepers

Session time

Patterns of play: 40mins, Around and around: 40mins

This training session is all about developing patterns of attacking play and movement that will create space in wide areas and goal scoring opportunities in and around the penalty box.

The opening practice allows for a continuous rehearsal of player movements, while the subsequent small-sided game offers overload situations in both central and wide areas, and allows for chances to be created in the final third.

We use both of these practices on a regular basis at Crystal Palace, running them, or variations on them, at least once or twice a week.

What do I get the players to do?

Patterns of play

We set up on half a pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper in their normal position at one end and another goalkeeper to start play at the other end. Four mannequins represent defenders and are positioned as a back four, as shown [1].

We’re using eight outfield players who combine unopposed to get the ball out wide, creating space in the box that can be exploited by the forwards. The wide player crosses into the penalty area, where the two strikers and the opposite winger are making runs to attack the cross.

After each attack, players should reset and run the drill again. We alternate the side of attack so all the players get tested. We can run variations of this pattern of play.


1. A goalkeeper starts play with a pass out to one of the blues, who plays the ball forward to a striker
2. The striker holds the ball up and combines with the midfielder to work the ball to the wide player in the channel
3. The wide man runs around the mannequin and crosses into the penalty area
4. The two strikers make runs to attack the cross
5. The opposite winger also makes a back post run

How do I progress the session?

The previous practice can easily be made more realistic by replacing the mannequins with actual defenders, though these may need to be conditioned in the coach’s favour to ensure that the crosses reach the strikers.

In the diagram, we have replaced the mannequins with four defenders, as shown [2]. These defenders pressure the attackers without preventing the cross. Here we are running the same passing combinations on the left flank but have given the players the freedom to make occasional variations.

We run the initial set-up followed by the progression for up to 40 minutes, depending on how many different patterns of play we need to cover.


1. To progress the practice, we replace the mannequins with real defenders, who are conditioned to press the attackers without preventing the crosses
2. Players can make occasional variations to the combination play and the movement. Here the midfielder makes a forward run to combine with the striker

What do I get the players to do next?

Around and around

Using the full width of the pitch, we set up between the two 18-yard lines. We have a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We mark out a 15-yard penalty area in front of each goal and a 10-yard unopposed wide zone on each wing of the pitch.

We’re using 19 outfield players, split into two team of eight and three neutrals. The neutrals play for the team in possession – one is a floating midfielder to give the possession team an overload in the centre of the pitch, while the other two are wingers who create overloads in the unopposed wide zones.

Play starts and restarts with a pass out from the goalkeeper. We expect players to recreate the passing moves from the first part of the session, with the aim of combining to get the ball into the unopposed wide channels for a cross, as shown [3]. While this is obviously helped by the presence of the floating midfielder and the neutral wingers, play is also dictated by the positions taken by the opposition.

We play for up to 40 minutes but are flexible with timings due to the heavy workload of the attacking players.


1. Play starts and restarts from the goalkeeper
2. It’s 8v8 in the main playing area and the possession team should try to attack using the passing combinations worked on in the opening activity
3. A floating midfielder gives the possession team an overload in the centre
4. The ball is passed to a neutral winger in the unopposed wide zone. The winger then plays a cross into the penalty area
5. The forwards make runs into the penalty area to attack the cross

What are the key things to look out for?

We are looking for players to use high quality passing and crossing, and efficient finishing. Tactically we want to see players executing well timed movements to get in behind opponents and to create the space needed in the box to score goals.

What are the typical mistakes that player might make, and how do I avoid them?

Typically players can make poorly timed movements. Attackers can also fail to get across the blocking defenders to meet crosses, and they can take too long to get shots away or fail to follow up on rebounds. Use coaching breaks in the session to pick up on these points when they arise.


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement