Working through the thirds

This session rehearses passing, receiving and offering support through thirds of the pitch. It takes directional passing as a warm-up, then brings in opposed possession challenges in outlining a variety of key technical points.

When these elements are combined and practised at a good intensity, the session offers our players a great base of core skills, and presents a variety of scenarios that have been played out in both first-team and reserve matches, such is the all-encompassing nature of the session.


Up to 50×30 yards
Balls, cones, goals, mannequins
Number of Players
8v8 plus keepers
Session time
Warm-up, Directional Possession game and Goals game, 15mins each

What do I get the players to do?


We begin with a warm-up, as shown (1), marking out a 30×10-yard area with cones; mannequins are five yards apart.


• For the warm-up, we set up with two practice areas side by side

We have eight players per group, working as a team. Two balls are in play at the same time, with players in the middle beginning by feeding the ball out to the sides (2a). When side target men receive, they bring the ball straight back into play (2b), combining with any player available in moving the ball back the other way. (The player who passed to the side player now takes his place.) The practice therefore sees two balls working continuously, albeit in opposite directions.


• In each area, the ball begins with the players in the middle, and a simple passing set-up sees the two balls worked out to the sides


• When each side player receives, he dribbles the ball back into the area and the move heads back in the other direction

What are the key things to look out for?

Accomplished short passing and receiving (with the inside and the outside of the foot) is important, but we must see good angles of and speed of support, be that behind, from the side or in front of the ball. Finding space quickly is vital, as is the team’s ability to work the ball to the end zone as quickly as possible.

We’re keen to see good one-twos and excellent spatial awareness – in other words players knowing the best time to set back, turn and pass, based on who is around them.

How do I progress the session?

If players are comfortable in what they are doing, we will consider introducing a third ball.

Directional Possession game

Now, in a 50×30-yard area, we set up as shown, playing 8v8 (3). The principles and technical/tactical observations are similar, but this is now fully opposed, with teams having to work the ball diagonally from one end to the other.


• In the Directional Possession game, teams are opposed and must work the ball diagonally to the target man at the other side

Goals Game

Finally, in the same area, we mark out an offside line and place a goal at each end (4). This is again 8v8. The smaller central area compresses play and increases the need for accuracy, while offside lines offer a point for players to break beyond, run onto a pass, and test the keeper.


• The Goals Game compresses play in the middle so as to increase skill and intensity of passing, as well as providing end zones in which players can practise running on to passes


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