Midfield as a defensive unit


Third of a pitch


Balls, cones, mini-goals (or poles)

No. of players

Up to full squad

Session time

10mins per game

This session is about the midfield working as a defensive unit. It’s important to practise this because players in the midfield unit need to develop a clear understanding of their defensive roles. They must learn to be an effective bank without, as well as with, the ball.

The session is usually set up on the midfield third of the pitch, using eight mini-goals (or poles).

What do I get the players to do?

2v2s (1)

We begin with two 2v2s played alongside each other. Blues begin the practice by playing the ball into reds. Their target is to score into one of the two goals. Blues must defend well in order to prevent this.


• Players work in 2v2s, with the aim of understanding in a small area the simple technique of pressing a player ‘in your slot’ and learning how to support a fellow defender

What are the key things to look out for technically/tactically?

Each player is responsible for his opposite man – the player in that ‘slot’ is the player to press. Attention must be paid to body shape, and each man must decide quickly whether to show the opponent inside or outside.

Cover for the first defender to move out is essential (as you would do a centre-back in a game), and if play is switched then players must press the ball quickly and positively.

4v4s (2)

We now progress to a 4v4 by removing the central line. While the game is wider, the principles are the same, namely that each player must press his opposite man in ‘the slot’, and body shape is essential. Other defenders must stay compact, and players will need to show they know when to squeeze (the opponent being closest to them) and when to cover position (the opponent engaged with a team mate).


• In a 4v4, there is increased pressure on defenders to clear the danger, with four goals being attacked

How do I progress the game?

We now add in two strikers at each long side, as shown. (3) These are here to play off, giving another requirement for defenders – namely to work hard screening the ball into the strikers as well as covering the goals and each other.


• In the progression, strikers positioned on the long sides can be ‘played off’, so the defensive line needs to cover the goals and the space between

Attacking waves (4/5)

The final game sees us extend the area by an extra 30 yards. Defending is now done by two banks of four, but attacking teams working in fours also have two central strikers to play into, as shown.

The first defensive line here is key, as this shows midfielders defending. The intention is that a pass should never make it through to the front two strikers, but if it does, the back four can clear the danger.

At the end of each attack, two players from the offensive line of four replace the two strikers; all other attackers leave the pitch. A new line of four attackers now comes in and the attack is restarted. We repeat this so as to ensure constant waves of attack.


• In Attacking Waves, attacking banks of four roll on and off in this constant rotation of attacks. The midfield line must look to prevent any passes being made through it into the front two strikers


• The midfield line is breached but defenders step in to clear the danger. The next wave of attackers – yellows – can begin


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement