Utilising space and creating overloads

This session is about utilising space in tight areas, creating overloads and exit routes, whilst moving the ball up and through the thirds. It also offers useful methods for unlocking teams who sit outside their 18-yard line defending deep and tight.

This tactical practice uses tight spaces, and requires smart player movement off the ball, either in moving away from a marker or facilitating overloads within a grid. Quick interchanges of play and good angles of setting and support are crucial in this practice, which also rehearses playing through the thirds, albeit on a reduced scale.

Passes should be firm but grounded to ensure possession is kept in what is a small space, but the practice must be at a high tempo.

This scenario appears regularly in matches where play is kept tight and players have to unlock the opposition defence, so it’s a really important practice for us.


45×30 yards
Balls, cones
Number of Players
15 (6v6+3)
Session time
Session 30mins
Development 15mins

What do I get the players to do?

Both teams have a player in each box. The team in possession has to collectively work the ball up and through the thirds with players moving around their individual boxes to make space.

The three floaters play for the team in possession (1); their job being to combine with players, create overloads and facilitate movement of the ball around the area. In doing this, they can move into any box.


• The team in possession combines with the floaters and the ball is successfully moved around the area

What are the key things to look out for technically/tactically?

Players must ‘work’ their squares even when out of possession, negotiating space and making runs that either offer a passing angle (if a team mate has possession) or a block (if the other team has possession). Working out how to ‘move’ opponents is important. As the ball approaches the grid, markers should use reverse movement to ‘take away’ the man (either moving from the front to receive behind, or from behind to receive in front).

This skill will be enhanced over time through repetition, though to put it into practice, players must read the game at all times.

Floaters are encouraged to link up play by constantly rotating and offsetting against each other, offering angles of support to play out, with 2v1s and 3v1s created as this develops (2). This mindset must be ‘up, back and through’ – playing up to a target, setting back into a midfield area, then threading a ball into a third target.


• Floaters must work to create overloads in boxes; in this instance two floaters are in the same box to create a 3v1

How do I progress the session?

To progress, limit touches for floaters. This encourages quick play and quick thinking. End targets can also be added (3) to make play directional and offer a scoring outlet.


• As a progression, we can add target players at each end to make the practice fully directional

Next, we can make one of the floaters defensive, playing for the team out of possession (4). This increases game intensity, reduces time on the ball, and makes players double check recipients of passes.


• In another progression, one of the floaters becomes a defensive player, assisting his ‘team mate’ out of possession and creating a 2v2 in the box

We might also insist that floaters cannot pass to other floaters, only grid players (5).


• In this progression, a floater cannot play to another floater, only a team mate

Finally, allow team mates to swap grids (6), though every grid must always be occupied.


• And finally, allow all players to move out of their boxes, though players must swap when doing this, to ensure there is always one team mate of each shirt colour in every box

While these progressions encourage different aspects of tactical play, all improve speed of thought and movement, anticipation of passes and player communication.

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