This session is designed to improve a team’s threat when counter-attacking and it’s all about gaining an advantage by promoting a positive attitude when winning the ball back. It shows players how to go forward on transition and exploit the spaces that the opposition might leave whilst they are expansive in possession. It is also a session that focuses on recovery runs, defending when outnumbered and 1v1 duals. It features many elements of the modern game and can be very competitive.
We use the session on a regular basis because a major tactic for all clubs in the Premier League is counter-attacking with pace and quality. We come up against teams who like to dominate the ball, and with that they make the pitch as big as possible when they are building attacks. If we can win the ball back we have an opportunity to exploit the space that they have left, particularly down the sides of the centre backs if both full backs have pushed on, and if done with quality and speed it gives us a good opportunity to create scoring chances.
We also like to build attacks in the opposition half and although the main focus of the session is attacking, it’s vital that players also recognise the need to make recovery runs and to react to defensive transitions. Players enjoy this session, as it is very competitive and directly relates to tactics on a match day. It also gives different types of finishing that benefits both outfield players and keepers, who need to be rotated around the goals so they are exposed to different scenarios.
With teams at the top of the Premier League looking to dominate possession, counter-attacking is a key principle for attacking. If we counter-attack with quality then not only does it give us a good chance to score, but it also means we can be in a position to sustain pressure and then build our attacks and look to break down our opposition.
It can be used as a conditioning drill, as players need to run with pace and hit high speeds for the counter- attacks or the recovery runs to be successful.
We set up on half a pitch with a 38-yard wide central zone and 17-yard wide outer channels on either side. The channels and the central zone are each 50 yards in length. We position a goal and a goalkeeper at the top end of the central zone and a goal and a goalkeeper at the bottom end of each of the wide channels, as shown.
We’re using 17 outfield players. We split the players into a red attacking team of nine, who line up ready to attack in waves of three. The remaining players form a blue defending team of eight, two of whom are actively defending in the central zone while three more wait at the end of each of the wide channels ready to launch a counter-attack.
The session begins with a pass out from the central zone goalkeeper to one of the three red opposition attackers. The three active red players then counterattack against the two blue defenders in a 3v2, but they must all stay in the central zone, as shown [1a].
Regardless of whether the ball has gone out of play, the goalkeeper has saved the shot, or a goal has been scored, once the attack has finished the two blues who were defending now must leave the pitch. A waiting blue at the end of each wide channel then immediately launches a counter-attack in the other direction by dribbling forwards with a ball, meaning that the blues are separately counter-attacking in each wide channel. The three reds who just attacked the main goal are now free to enter the wide channels to defend against the two counter-attacks, as shown [1b].
The aim for the blues is to score in the goals at the end of each wide channel.
Once the action in the wide channels has ended, the game resets and two new blue defenders rotate in and three new red attackers come on for the restart. We make sure all the players get to experience the different attacking and defending roles.
We progress this practice by allowing the two defending blues to enter the wide channels and join in with the counter-attacks once the first counter-attack by the reds is dead. As the three blue attackers must transition to defend the goals in both channels, this means that in one of the channels the blues will be counter-attacking with a 2v1 overload, as shown [1c].
We set up a playing area on half a pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 18 outfield players split into two teams on nine. We play a 9v9 game but one team must simply pass the ball to keep possession using the help of both goalkeepers, giving them an 11v9 advantage. The other team must press to gain possession of the ball and if they succeed, they should counterattack quickly and can score in either of the goals, as shown . The original possession team must make the quick transition to defence to try to stop them scoring.
What are the key things to look for?
Counter-attacking is about pace and quality. When counter-attacking in the 3v2 [in diagram 1a], we are looking for players to use good movement to create overloads and to finish the attack with a goal. We also want to see players using different types of finishes when they create the opportunities to score. When counter-attacking in the wide channels [in the progression in diagram 1c], we want to see player recognise when they have an attacking overload and exploit the advantage by scoring.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
Sometimes players can struggle to keep attacking at such a high pace. To encourage players to keep the attacks going at speed we set them a time limit so they have to work the shot in under six seconds. Alternatively, we could add a recovering blue defender to the 3v2 [the initial central attack shown in diagram 1a], who must recover from behind the red attackers to try and get back to make it 3v3.
This forces the attackers to move quicker because they can take advantage of the 3v2 overload before the extra defender arrives.
How would I put this in a game situation?
We could finish the session with an 11v11 game [not shown]. The defending team should be encouraged to defend in a mid-block and on regaining the ball, they should counter-attack quickly. To begin with, we would limit the number of opposition players who can recover, as this would give the counter-attacking team more opportunities to score on transition and build on what has been learnt in the previous practices.