Match preparation

This is the kind of training session I run with my teams in the build up to a match. It helps to rehearse the formation and shape we are going to use and it also introduces the shape and tactics that we expect our opponents to employ.

Tactics are not always set in stone and my approach to a match can change depending on the opponents. This training session allows a coach to look at the best blend of players for the upcoming challenge and to examine how comfortable a team is playing against the kind of shape they are likely to face.

Players respond well to the session and they will try to impress because they know that the next match is coming soon. I would run this kind of session every week. Even if my team won the previous week, it’s still good to reinforce the needed structure and introduce an understanding of what’s required for the next match.



Up to two thirds of pitch


Balls, bibs, cones, 2 full size goals

Number of Players

Up to 16 players + 2 goalkeepers

Session time

Passing drill: 10mins

Shape practice: 30mins

Small-sided game: 15mins

What do I get the players to do?

The biscuit run

After a warm-up, and before the main session, I like to ease players into training with something I call ‘the biscuit run’, which is a fun fitness exercise [not shown].

Players race against each other in pairs, with both starting on the goal line. The coach calls out a number, which is attached to a specific action, such as touching the crossbar or touching the post. The players complete the action and then race to the edge of the penalty area.

The losing player returns to race again until, eventually, there are just two players remaining. The forfeit for the eventual loser is to buy biscuits or cakes for the team the following day.

This is great for team spirit and great for sharpness. It’s a fun session and everyone joins in.

Passing drill

We set up an area of 20×20 yards. We’re using 10 players for this passing drill. Two players start in the centre of the area and the remaining eight players form a circle around them. We’re using two balls at the same time, which start with two of the outside players. Each one plays a pass into a centre player, who receives the ball, controls it and then passes out to another player, as shown [1]. Each centre player then swaps places with the player who passed to him and play continues around the circle, with the two balls constantly active.


1. One of the outside players passes to a centre player
2. The centre player receives the ball, passes to another outside player and swaps places with the player who passed to him
3. The outside player receives and looks to pass back to the new player in the centre
4. Two balls are in play at the same time

To start with the centre players can have a maximum of three touches. Then, as the drill progresses, limit them to two touches, and finally allow just one touch, which means players would need to let the ball run across them before laying it out to the spare player on the outside.

What do I get the players to do next?

Shape practice

Set up on three quarters of a pitch, with a goal at each end. We’re using 16 outfield players and two keepers, split into an attacking team of ten and a defending team of eight. This practice is all about playing with the shape we want to use in our next match, both with and without the ball, so we start by talking our players through the expected shape and the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents. We then split the practice into the following two parts…

Part 1: Offensive shape

In the first part of the practice we are coaching the attacking team of ten, setting them up in the shape we intend to use on match day. We set up the team of eight in the defensive shape of our next opponents, as shown [2].


1. Set up the attacking team of 10 (the blues) in the shape you intend to use in your next match
2. Set up the defending team of 8 (the reds) in the shape you expect your next opponents to use
3. Giving the attacking team an overload should help play to go wide and create space to exploit in the centre
4. When the need arises, the coach stops play to talk players through their positioning and to suggest counter measures

In this practice the overload should help the attacking team to go wide, creating space in the centre. Combination play in all areas will be the preferred outcome, with off the ball movement key to capitalising on the numerical advantage.

Part 2: Defensive shape

In the second part of the practice we are coaching the defending team of eight and we set up the team of ten in the attacking shape of our next opponents, as shown [3]. Playing against an overload will make it more difficult for our team to defend, so we will concentrate on coaching the players in the defensive danger areas, such as in front of goal and through the midfield, with the focus on forcing play wide. For the defenders, the key will be squeezing the centre and covering spaces.


1. Set up the blue team of 8 in the defensive shape you intend to use in your next match
2. Set up the red attacking team of 10 in the shape you expect your next opponents to use
3. Giving the blue defenders a numerical disadvantage means they will need to squeeze the centre of the pitch and cover spaces, forcing the attackers wide
4. The coach needs to stop play regularly to explain how to win and to talk through the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition

We will stop the practice as often as is needed, in order to illustrate positioning to the players and to demonstrate any counter measures. We will also spend time explaining how to win the game, both offensively and defensively. If there are different personnel options in the same position, we will swap players over, so everyone has experienced the tactics.

How would I put this into a game situation?

Small-sided game

We set up an area of 50×44 yards with a goal at each end. We use 16 outfield players and two goalkeepers, playing a 9v9 small-sided game [not shown]. We look for players to keep team shape in defence and attack.

What are the key things to look for?

Tactically, I want to see the players have a good understanding of the team shape we are using and know how to play against the expected tactics of our opponents.

Technically, I want to see players making our team shape work through the intensity of their play.

What are the typical mistakes players might make, and how do I avoid them?

Sometimes players can be a bit over cautious. Also, if players are caught in an incorrect position, it undermines the shape of the team.

While most players will want to impress, a mistake some make is to try to save themselves for the match and they fail to perform with intensity.

Use regular breaks in play to address these issues.

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