In the modern game, a lot is made of the number of goals that develop from wing play, but the reality of football through the ages has always been that what goes on in the penalty area is ultimately what determines the outcome of matches, whether the ball is from the flank or not.
I’ve therefore developed this session to test the vital offensive and defensive attributes that go into ensuring space, possession and time in the box is used properly and effectively. It’s a practice that’s as relevant for centre-backs as it is centre-forwards, and is a blueprint that can be progressed and extended just as soon as players are seen to be mastering the basics.
What do I get the players to do?
The keeper throws the ball into the central zone (1a) – a two-yard wide strip that is bordered on each side by four-yard spaces that house the ‘D’ ellipse of each penalty box. Neutral players are positioned ready, and upon receiving the ball, can play one-touch into either set of attackers.
What then develops is a 2v2 in the box, with attackers looking to negotiate a path past the two defenders before shooting into the goal.
If defenders successfully close down space, the attackers are able to pass back into the central zone, but upon receiving the ball again, the neutrals can either feed it back towards that goal (1b), or turn and play it into the other box, should they wish (1c). If defenders win the ball they’re encouraged to play it back into the neutrals.
We play at high tempo for three minutes, then change personnel around.
What are the key things to look out for?
So much of this practice is about understanding attacking and defending angles, with attackers attempting to hit the central areas, just as defenders are attempting to clear it (2).
In terms of technical aims, in attackers we must see an excellent first touch combined with smart movement off the ball – namely, with the ambition of making space for a playing partner. Good movement of the ball and effective combination play are essential qualities, and in 1v1 situations attackers must be quick, tenacious and with a plan in mind.
For defenders, covering team mates is essential, and that can only come from practice and communication. In addition, to protect the goal we want to see bravery both in the tackle and when blocking, with players staying switched on and alert to danger at all times.
How do I progress the session?
We can step up the challenge by introducing four attackers, who are one-touch (3). Now the attacking team can score from crosses, providing they can apply good organisation and movement to incoming balls.