Defending crosses

This session looks at how to properly defend crosses into the 18-yard box, and examines the requirements of technique, communication, awareness and a true desire not to concede goals.

At most levels, defenders have a tendency to ball watch, so because of that they must be aware of attackers as much as possible. Choosing the right type of clearance is important – players shouldn’t panic or slash at the ball. Because of these points, it’s important we practise this session at least once a week so that players get into (and stay in) good habits.

I always say good defending is as important as scoring a goal. If players can combine knowledge and skill with a healthy dose of bravery, they will do well.


Up to a half-pitch
Balls, cones, goals
Number of Players
Up to 11v11
Session time
Box delivery and progression 20mins
4v4 plus midfielder 10mins

What do I get the players to do?

Box delivery

We set up as shown (1a), with seven servers around the box ready to send in crosses for the four defenders and keeper. Each server is numbered, and on the coach’s call, that player delivers, although different servers have to send in different types of crosses:

Servers 1 and 7: a chipped or driven cross

Servers 2 and 6: an outswinging cross (1b)

Servers 3 and 5: an inswinging cross (1c)

Server 4: a straight ball

For each ball delivered, defensive team mates must organise around the player whose task it is to clear the ball.


1. All defenders must position so that they are facing the ball yet can still be visually aware of movement around them
2. The right full-back covers the back post
3. Central defenders cover near-post and centre goal areas
4. The left full-back has moved to close him down and block a driven cross
5. Server 1 sends over a chipped cross


1. The back four should stay inline with the flight of the ball, keeping attackers offside
2. The next cross is an out-swinging cross from server 2
3. Full-backs must be ready to drop and cover if centre-backs do not deal with the cross


1. Server 3 sends in a deep in-swinging cross
2. The keeper controls his six-yard box
3. Communication between the full-back, centre-back and keeper is vital, with one player needing to take ownership of the clearance
4. The full-back covers the far post in the event that a clearance isn’t properly made and the ball falls in front of goal

What are the key things to look out for?

When the ball is being delivered, defenders must be ready to react, so the body position needs to be correct. This means being able to see not only the ball, but space around them where opponents might be.

Each clearance must have height and distance, with defenders communicating clearly and concisely with team mates. This could be to advise of a ‘man on’ situation, or to ensure that once the ball is cleared, defenders don’t ‘sit in’, instead squeezing up a yard or two in following the ball out.

How do I progress the session?

To progress, we add four attackers who go up against the defenders for each cross (2).


• In the progression, attackers are added in the penalty area

4v4 plus midfielder

For the next practice, we use a half-pitch. It’s 4v4 again, plus a lone midfielder. The midfielder starts, feeding into a central striker, who plays to a winger (3a). The full-back goes to close him down but must eventually allow the cross to be put in. Now, a 3v3 situation occurs in the box, with two defenders covering the posts and the third protecting the middle of the goal (3b). We then rerun on the other side.


• In 4v4 plus midfielder, the midfielder makes a short pass to a deep attacker before the ball is fed out to the wing


• The full-back closes down but must eventually allow the winger to cross, where defenders deal with the threat. Note the midfielder’s position on the edge of the box for a pull-back or miscued clearance

We can move this into an 11v11 game with crosses encouraged from the wings with the use of tram lines on the side of the pitch

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