Diagonal passing

This session is about changing the direction of play, including in counter-attacking, in order to create space, and to spread the opposition’s shape.

It’s based on the idea of a decisive diagonal pass and the subsequent movement to receive and support.

Starting in defence, the principles are then used in gaining space and advantage in attacking overload situations, thus looking to create an end product, be that a cross, pass or a finish.

It’s important to practise this from both offensive and defensive perspectives. A team might be pressing with little space to receive, so to turn them puts us on the front foot. Similarly, defending deep and being well organised means there should be little space for opposition attackers to thread through two banks of defenders.


Full pitch
Balls, cones, goals
Number of Players
Up to 22
Session time
3x15mins per practice, with rotations and reviews

What do I get the players to do?

Moving out of defence

Setting up as shown, we work players through the key components of the practice, ensuring that the movement out of defence is characterised by precise, quick and decisive diagonal passing.

It begins with full-back movement in order to receive from the keeper. The left-back then plays into midfield. Centre-midfielders receive and interlink, then set the ball back to one of the centre-backs, who has space and time on the ball.

The centre-back now has a choice – he can either play diagonally into space on the wings, or directly upfield to the centre-forward who has made room for himself (1).


• The ball out of defence is worked into midfield, then fed back to a centre-back, who plays over the top and into space

We would begin this practice unopposed, before bringing in opposition players (2).


• When players are comfortable with the key principles, we’ll bring in opposition players

What are the key things to look out for?

Good interlink play will always force opponents to move forward and lose their shape, and that’s a key aim in these practices. We also want to see support runs from all other players in making themselves available (3), a good choice of passes, and pass appreciation. And it’s key that players frequently adjust their positions, staying on the front foot in order to maximise potential attacking opportunities.


• On this occasion, a second defensive diagonal pass is played, with the centre-back laying the ball to the left for the full-back to take it in his stride

Attacking aims

The next part of the practice examines play in the final third, with players switching play to create space and overloads. They do this by interlinking, passing quickly (4), and forcing the defending team to stay narrow for as long as possible.


• Moving into the attacking phase provides options for the midfielders, who keep play centralised and tight before looking for a valuable switching option, be that left (to, in this case an overlapping player) or right (in this case to a stationary player)

Again, we would begin this unopposed, before bringing in opposition players.

What are the key things to look out for?

We want to see smart movement to receive and quick movement to support, with the intention of creating overloads wherever possible. And of course, it’s vital there’s a positive end product, be that a pass, a shot or a cross (5), with offensive players making determined runs into the box to cover vital crossing areas (6).


• Here, the right full-back has advanced forward and sends over a cross, with offensive players making positive runs into predetermined danger areas


• When run as an opposed practice, a diagonal pass finds the space behind a disciplined defence which has held it’s position

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