This session is designed to rehearse players in defending against different types of cross from a variety of positions on the pitch, so we set things up in such a way that forces our defenders to take up positions that will help them do that. Defending is key to the success of any team and there is nothing quite like a solid back four and a 1-0 win!
In this session we will look at defending crosses coming in from different angles, including facing our own goal. This is not often touched upon as defenders are usually facing the cross or it is coming across them – we will obviously cover these situations but this session also covers defending the cross when facing the goal. Naturally it is a question of the angle you are running back to the goal at and the type of ball that is being played but we train for every eventuality.
We will work on this quite regularly, even if it is not the primary session, so our defenders get consistent practise in these types of situations. If it’s a crossing session and we are working on the delivery of the cross or the runs of the strikers, the back four will come in at some point during those sessions and get more work in. Defending crosses is something that we can never work on enough, especially when defenders are facing their own goal.
What do I get the players to do?
We set up between the two penalty boxes of a normal pitch, coning it off to a width of 50 yards. We’re using 16 outfield players split into two teams. An attacking team of 12 players are spread out around the outside of the area, with four on each side and two at each end. They must stay on the outside and are limited to two-touch so they move the ball quickly. We also have a defending team of four players making up a back four and they are locked inside the central area.
The outside players must pass the ball through the central box without the four defenders intercepting. The outside players cannot pass to anyone on their side of the area and therefore must hit diagonal balls or pass directly across the area to their team mates on the opposite side.
Our focus is to get the back four to see things together and try to react as one. They must try to intercept the ball or force a mistake by the outside players and if they gain possession they should clear the ball out of the area, as shown . They must do this successfully five times before they can come out of the centre. They then swap places with four of the outside players. We time each game and the team with the longest time on the inside are the losers.
What do I get the players to do next?
We set up on the final third of the pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper. Three poles are placed on each wing, as shown, and a 30×15 yard defending zone is marked with cones in front of the penalty area. We’re using 10 outfield players split into an attacking team of six and a defending team of four. One attacker starts on each of the wide poles and the defending team form a back four in the defending zone. Play starts with a one-two played between the players on pole 1 and pole 2 before the attacker on pole 1 crosses the ball into the defending zone, as shown [2a]. The back four are waiting inside their zone and must clear the ball without it touching the ground. After clearing their lines, the defenders must sprint out to the end of their zone. The defenders then turn and sprint back to their starting positions on the edge of the penalty area ready for the next cross.
The second cross comes in from the opposite side of the pitch, with play again starting with a one-two between the players on pole 1 and pole 2 before the attacker on pole 1 crosses the ball into the defending zone, as shown [2b]. The defenders again have to clear the ball without it bouncing in their zone before sprinting out to the edge of their zone. After touching the edge of the defending zone, the back four now sprint back into their own penalty area to deal with the ball coming back across them from the player on pole 3 – the players on poles 2 and 3 combine before the ball is crossed, as shown [2c]. As this time the defenders are dealing with a cross while facing their own goal, it is vital that they get their feet and positioning right in order to clear the ball safely away from the danger areas.
The players would then reset and we would repeat the drill, ending with the third cross coming in from the player on the opposite pole 3 to ensure all players are used.
How do I progress the activity?
To progress this activity, we would add a couple of strikers on the edge of the penalty area to make sure that the defenders understand that a poor clearance could result in a scoring opportunity.
How would I put this into a game situation?
We set up between the penalty areas of a full-size pitch with a goal at each end and a wide crossing zone marked on each wing with cones. We’re using 16 outfield players and two goalkeepers split into two teams of nine including keepers. We play a 9v9 game with normal rules, except only the wide players are allowed in the crossing zones and they cannot be tackled. We look for the unchallenged wide players to deliver good quality crosses and we are looking for their team mates to try to get on the end of the crosses to score. The opposition, meanwhile, must try to win the ball and counter-attack, as shown .
We play for 15 minutes and then the game will be completely free, with no restrictions on tackling the wide players.
What are the key things to look out for?
We want to see the back four acting together as an effective unit. We would also be looking for the defenders to use effective communication and good positioning, as the distance between the players is very important. The ability to react to the incoming danger is vital and in this case we want to see defenders clearing the ball high, wide, long and away from danger.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
Not clearing the ball well enough and presenting scoring opportunities is a common mistake, as is getting the feet wrong because to clear crosses successfully, players need to be on the front foot and not standing flat.