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.
Two penalty boxes plus a 2-yard central zone in between
Balls, cones, discs, goals
Number of Players
Main session 20mins
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.
• The keeper begins the practice by feeding in to one of the two neutrals in the central channel
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.
1. Here, the attacker finds himself tightly marked. Despite being in a prime shooting area, he adopts the cautious approach and feeds back to the neutral, who then supplies his team mate 2. Red – the least productive shooting areas within the penalty box, with attackers more inclined to set the ball back or play it square 3. Yellow – good attacking areas, particularly for forward players running at defenders at an angle 4. Green – prime shooting areas from where most shots are taken and most goals are scored
• But in this instance the neutral receives on the half-turn and plays on to the other attackers who then combine for a shot on the bottom goal
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).
1. Blues double up in the red area to prevent a shooting chance, and as the right-sided defender shepherds the attacker towards the touchline, his team mate holds position in the middle in anticipating a square pass back into the red danger area 2. Red – defenders must double up in this area and make measured, informed decisions to block given the key threat in front of goal 3. Yellow – a threatening area within which defenders must block bravely, particularly given the threat of rebounds should the keeper push out an angled shot 4. Green – in these spaces, with every yard defenders can force an opponent towards the touchline, the danger lessens
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.
• In the progression, wide attackers (at each end) are added in the channels, offering outlets for crosses into the box even when defenders have successfully marshalled an opponent away from key danger areas
It’s an engaging session for the players because it’s about creating and scoring goals and that’s what players love to do. It’s an attacking theme, based on expression and creativity with combination play, so players really enjoy it. MORE
This session focuses on the techniques of attacking and defending in and around the penalty area, giving players the opportunity to rehearse not only counter-attacking situations, but to attack and defend crosses from deep and from the by-line. It is a high intensity session that involves plenty of running and lots of accelerations and decelerations. MORE
“…fantastic… I encourage all my coaches to read it,”