This session is designed to improve player and team awareness within the game. The specific awareness we are looking to improve is how to read an opponent’s defensive block and identify the space to attack.
Over the course of a season we will play against different types of defensive block. Some teams will come after you in a high press, others will set traps in a medium press, and some teams might sit back in a low block to condense space so they can regain the ball and launch counter-attacks.
The type of defensive block used might be set for the whole game or it could change within the game due to the score. However, we like our players to clearly understand what to look for in each scenario, so they can react accordingly.
We generally want our players to think about two important questions. Firstly, where is the space to attack? Is it on the sides, through the middle, or behind the opponents? We use the term “over, around or through”.
Secondly, we like to ask them “how can we get our most influential attackers on the ball as much as possible and in the right areas of the pitch?”
This session is unique because we can use the formation we want to adopt for our next game and also the formation that our opponents will use. Therefore, this type of training is constantly changing and adapting due to the different opponents we will face and the tactics they are likely to use in defending.
What do I get the players to do?
Practice 1: Possession game
We set up on half a pitch. At each end there are two centrally positioned mini goals. There are also two two-yard gates marked with mannequins that are positioned out wide.
We are using 20 outfield players divided into two teams of 10. We play a 10v10 directional game, with each team trying to score in the mini goals and the gates at the end they are attacking. Scoring in the mini goals, as shown [1a], is worth two points because it is more difficult to achieve due to it being more congested in the centre of the pitch. Scoring by dribbling through one of the wide gates, as shown [1b], is worth one point.
This practice is used to emphasise the constant need for attacking with width, as it will force opponents to defend the full width of the pitch. The attacking team must search for spaces around, through or behind their opponents.
We play the game for two periods of eight minutes.
What do I get the players to do next?
We now practise game scenarios against the three different types of defensive block…
Position A: Attack a high press
We set up on a full pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 20 outfield players divided into two teams of 10. The attacking team (in the diagram, the blues) begin with the ball inside their own half, with play starting from their keeper. Their opponents (the reds) are looking to press the ball and turnover possession but they must defend with a high line, with their centre backs on the halfway line.
The aim for the blue team is to break into the space behind the red team and go on to score, as shown [2a].
The game continues until the ball goes out of play or a goal is scored, then the players reset for Position B.
Position B: Attack a medium block
Following directly on from the conclusion of Position A, the players reset for Position B. The red defending team is now set up in a medium block and is trying to set traps for the blues in order to regain the ball and launch a counter-attack.
The blue attacking team begins with the ball at the midway position inside their own half, approximately 36 yards from their own goal. They must try to break past the medium block and score in the opposition goal, as shown [2b]. Again, the game continues as an open play match until the ball leaves the pitch or a goal is scored. When the ball is dead, the players reset for Position C.
Position C: Attack a low block
Following straight on from the conclusion of Position B, the players reset for Position C. The red defending team are now sitting deep in a low block, while the blue attacking team begins with the ball on the halfway line. The blues must now try to build an attack and score against the low block, as shown [2c]. Again, we play until the ball leaves the pitch or a goal is scored.
After the three balls have been played, we either repeat each scenario again, or progress into a free play game for eight minutes to complete the first half of this practice. For the second half, the roles are reversed and now the red team begins with the ball and has the attacking initiative.
This gives the blue team a chance to work on the different defensive organisations and also ensures that all players in the squad are developed in the same ideas of play.
For certain opponents, we may repeat one of the game scenarios more than the others, but it’s important that all scenarios are covered and solutions are given to the problems we might face in the game. There will be a lot of opportunities for the coaches to observe and guide the players during the session.
How do I progress the session?
This style of training is a bridge between tactical development and an open play 11v11 game. The session enables us to improve both team and player clarity and awareness.
The next stage is to play an open game and observe the team and players.
What are the key things to look out for?
Which game scenario do our players have the most issues with? Each team is different due to the make up of the players. Therefore, we need to identify which defensive tactic our team struggles to play against: the high press, the medium block or the low block? We also need to help them understand what is needed to be successful.
Width is essential, as the different types of defensive block and the offside rule means that although your opponents can shorten the length of the pitch, they can never shorten the width of the pitch. Therefore we like to encourage attacking players to understand the need to occupy the full width and then search for the spaces between or behind the lines.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
In all of the scenarios, the team needs width to give players the option of going around an opponent’s block to dribble or cross.
Players must also create movement in the last line of the opponent’s defence. This is key to making space for the players on the ball, whilst also disrupting the defence to receive passes into the space behind or down the sides of the centre backs.