Passing and possession

This session is about retaining and developing possession, plus switching play. It relies on smart decision making as well as excellent movement and communication between players.

This is an important practice for us because, in match situations, main-taining possession is vital. Doing so not only aids the creation of chances, but it serves to wear down the stamina of opposition players because they are constantly chasing the ball.

A recent feature of our play has been the scoring of late goals; keeping possession has proved vital in achieving this. In our match at Sheffield United on April 9, concerted ball retention helped create Martin Emnes’ 89th-minute winner. And Matthew Bates’ goal in the same game was a great example of play being switched, which is also a key feature of this session.



28×26 yards


Balls, cones

Number of Players

18 (12 attackers,
6 defenders)

Session time

Practice 30mins, development 45mins

What do I get the players to do?

In a two-yard channel running across the middle of the playing area, we place four blue defenders. Either side are two groups of six reds, whose aim is to complete a minimum of three passes in passing through the middle zone. Progress this to four and five passes as players become more comfortable. Two additional blues go into the red area to press the ball. But should it be transferred, they must return to the middle zone and two new blues then press the reds in the other half. Once more, reds must construct a minimum of three passes before switching.


• Three passes are made and the ball is transferred


• Two new blue players now press in the opposite half

How do I progress the session?

Next we construct a 45×25-yard area, split lengthways into three 15-yard zones. This works as a 4v2 overload of reds in each zone. Reds must again construct three passes before moving the ball into the next zone. Players must stay in their allocated zones at all times.

Once comfortable with this set-up, we progress it further by setting up 5v2 in each end zone. After three passes, a red player must move into the middle zone (3v2), lay a pass, before recovering back into the end zone. The aim is to get the ball to the other end, so a player from the opposite end zone must now move into the middle zone to create the 3v2. Teams continue to transfer the ball from end to end.

In the final progression, one blue must stay in each zone, though all others can press and defend in any third of the pitch.


• Reds make three passes before laying the ball into the next zone


• The red player creates a 5v2 end zone overload before returning to the middle third


• Now a red from the opposite end zone must come back to help in a 3v2 overload in the middle


• Finally, blues are allowed to press out of their zone, so close down space quickly

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

We are looking for measured possession play in different situations. Tempo, the weight, timing and type of pass is essential. Over time, players should learn the middle ground between rushing and delaying play unnecessarily, as well as the key decision of when to pass and when to dribble.

We also assess players’ movements without the ball and their ability to make angles so as to give team mates options.

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