This session is all about developing play in the attacking third and coaching players to finish from balls crossed into the penalty area. We would run this as a full squad practice, so although the focus would be on finishing from crosses, the defensive and midfield units within the team would get some specific work from the session too.
It is so important that players get to experience realistic match situations in training and this practice allows that to happen. We would run this a couple of times in each 12-week block of work. It may also form part of our carousel practice on a Saturday morning, when we usually have three activities going on with different age groups – one working on their individual learning plans, one running through a phase of play on the weekly theme, and one performing this finishing practice.
What do I get the players to do?
Attacking the final third
We set up a main area of 75×44 yards, with a full size goal and goalkeeper at each end. An 18-yard end zone is marked in front of each goal with a large central zone between them. There is an additional five-yard wide channel on each flank. We’re using 19 outfield players divided into an attacking team of eight and a defending team of nine, plus two neutral wide players. Only the neutral players are allowed in the wide channels and they are initially limited to two-touch.
The blue attacking team is set up with four players in a midfield diamond in the central zone and it has two strikers in each end zone. The attacking team plays in either direction and can score in both goals but players are locked in their zones. Play starts and restarts with a keeper playing into the attacking team in the midfield zone, and as soon as a blue midfielder touches the ball, play is live, as shown [1a]. The objective for the attacking team is to create opportunities to score from crosses, which should be played in by the neutrals from the wide channels.
The red defending team has three players locked in each of the three main zones and they must defend against the blues. If they win the ball, they should pass to either of the keepers or the wingers, as shown [1b], and then play stops.
If the ball goes dead, alternate the end that play restarts from.
How do I progress the activity?
To progress the activity, we allow one defender to go into the wide channels to apply pressure to the wide player, as shown [1c]. To progress it further we can remove the touch restriction that limits the neutrals to two touches.
What are the key things to look out for?
If an opportunity doesn’t arise to create a scoring chance, we want to see players using midfield rotation to retain possession of the ball. We also want to see the neutral wingers supporting play in relation to the position of the ball, and if the wingers get as high up the pitch as the attacking third, we want to see them make decisions about whether to cross or cut the ball back. If the wingers shape to cross the ball, we want to see good movement from the strikers and supporting runs from the midfielders.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
Sometimes attacking players make runs without checking where the cross is being played to. We remedy this by ensuring players know they should slow their runs and make late adjustments based on the flight of the ball.
Another common mistake occurs when crossing players hit the ball into the middle without making sure that forwards are in a good position to finish. The coaches should use this as an opportunity to remind players to look up before they cross the ball.
How would I put this into a game situation?
We set up for a game between the two penalty boxes, using the full width of the pitch. We position a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 19 outfield players set up as shown , with a blue attacking team of 10 outfield players taking on a red defending team of 9 outfield players. Normal rules apply, including offsides, but play starts and restarts from the attacking team’s goalkeeper. We encourage wide players to make overlapping or underlapping runs to get into the position to make effective crosses.
We also want to see good movement from the strikers, who should time their runs well and make positional adjustments to match the angle of the delivery.