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... MORE
Build-up versus counter
This session is about counter-attacking versus build-up play, and changing player actions and instincts.
When a group of players do this session for the first time, the build-up is always ‘overplayed’. The countering team must then look to be dynamic in the creation of end products.
The session is great for player understanding, in terms of how ‘build-up’ can look like ‘counter’. Also, the session is great for tactical awareness – for instance, ‘build-up’ could turn into ‘keep ball’ if a team is 2-0 up and looking to draw the opposition out in exploiting a gap when opponents’ discipline breaks. We can put all sorts of scenarios into this game to bring out different outcomes.
The session can be run anytime as it is a reminder to players to move the ball quickly, with forward runners and penetrating passes. It works very well if playing a counter or build-up team in our next game – we can set up in preparation for a specific challenge. For instance, when playing a build-up team that likes to play a lot through the thirds, we may choose to press and win the ball in certain areas. A counter team emphasis may be on high concentration and organisation when in possession, and we will also work on ‘countering the counter’, with the session versatile enough to allow the coach to fit it to his or the team’s needs.
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What do I get the players to do?
We play this on a full-pitch, 11v11 as shown (1a). Team shapes can vary – the coaches decide – but we would work in a 4-4-1-1, either against the same formation or, if preparing for an upcoming game, a shape we expect the opposition to play, as discussed earlier. The build-up team must play through four zones and cannot miss out zones unless playing back. The counter team must produce an end product or shot, namely an attempt on goal in no more than six passes, as shown (1b).
After playing this for six minutes we will then swap team roles. Following this we will have a discussion about what has been done, asking players to explain what they’ve produced. The feedback usually for the build-up team is we are playing too many passes and inviting the press; and can we then pass with the purpose being to advance forward through the units. The counter team decide if they achieved success through pressing high or dropping off, inviting the opposition onto them – they may choose to use both strategies. We will then run the build-up versus counter again, switching team roles after six minutes.
The outcome we are looking for is for players to realise whether the elements of the game require us to be playing build-up or counter. In addition, we are looking for forward passes, forward runners and a willingness to ‘risk’ the ball to penetrate the back of the opposition defences.
A slick passing move with minimum touches passed through the zones can constitute as ‘build-up’, but has the traits of a counter-attack goal, with minimum passes and minimum time.
The players will realise that their first attempt at build-up means achieving lots of passes but not necessarily progressing up the pitch, whilst being attacked at pace by a team conditioned to find an end product in a maximum of six passes. For us, the second time through build-up will always be more successful and will have the traits of the above, though build-up still has to be progressive (2a). Similarly, the counter team should look less for a clichéd long pass, and respond more to building quickly with positive, fast passing (2b).
How do I progress the session?
An obvious progression here is to put the counter team 1-0 up, so they do not need to chase the game, thus they may choose to drop into their own half with no high press. The first time through, the score is 0-0 and the counter team can press high or drop.
What are the key things to look out for?
The players need to know the detail of effective, progressive build-up play, and how this can be achieved in three or four passes.
From this, the points to consider include:
• Receiving in position to play forward – passing forward moving up the pitch
• Players playing in between the lines
• Players making forward movements to ‘stretch’ and get in behind the defensive line
• Quality of pass to ‘penetrate’
In terms of typical mistakes, when the session is first performed with a group of players, the build-up team might find they have made 10-15 passes but not progressed past the second zone. The term ‘build-up’ has been interpreted that you must have 20 passes to score a goal, when this is actually missing the point. The reality here is building through the zones, perhaps even in as few as three passes, but certainly as a unit that builds progressively rather than quickly, is the condition of the build-up team.