Mastering midfield


Up to a half-pitch


Cones, goals, mannequins

No. of players


Session time

Warm-up 15mins, Main session 20mins, 8v8 game 15mins

This session relies on the midfield four pressing around the halfway line. It involves movement up and across the pitch to intercept, and dynamic counter-attacking play.

I have always coached teams to make the most of opponents spreading high and wide in possession when in their own half. This session works on the forward part of the team setting the trap around the halfway line to regain possession while the opposition are open for the counter-attack.

We saw the principles of this session work perfectly when we played Tottenham Hotspur earlier this season at White Hart Lane. We pressed around the halfway line, intercepted and counter-attacked, winning ourselves an early penalty.

What do I get the players to do?


We begin with a warm-up, as shown (1a), on a 20×15-yard pitch. The ball starts with the red team in the bottom box; they pass it amongst themselves, moving the ball quickly and looking for the opportunity to break the lines in playing it across to the other team. One point is scored each time they successfully breach the midfield line in passing to the other four reds.


• In the warm-up, reds in the bottom area find space to thread a pass through the midfield line into the top area

We play for two minutes then invite four resting midfielders to swap with the active midfielders.

Midfielders must move across as a unit, stopping any pass through them. The nearest player to the ball is always the man who is forwards and backwards, pressing (1b), while other players must be alert to covering the space vacated. The ultimate aim is to invite the ball wide where it is pressed and knocked out of play (1c).


• On this occasion blues press, with the pressing player having his position well covered by team mates


• Blues successfully press the ball and force it wide, with an attempted red pass being deflected out of play

Main session

Setting up as shown (2a), we play five red attackers against four blue defenders. Blues pass the ball across the pitch, and after exchanging passes, make forward progress in towards the mannequins. This is the trigger for the red defenders to step in, press (2b), and counter-attack using their midfield player, with the intention of scoring in the goal (2c).


• In the main session, blue defenders pass amongst themselves. A pass up to the level of the mannequins is the trigger for reds to come forward and press


• Reds can now involve their midfielder, and they move out of defence on the counter-attack


• Play is switched to the wing exploiting the fact the blue full-back is out of position, with a cross into the danger area being headed into the goal

What are the key things to look out for?

Attackers are looking to score with pace. Defenders must look to retain possession for as long as possible, then when the ball is lost, know how to recover quickly and efficiently. Rotate players frequently.

How do I put this into a game situation?

We play a simple 8v8 on a 70×50-yard area, with both teams playing 2-4-2. The principles of the practice should be adopted in this game with midfielders pressing, winning back possession and releasing front players for an attack.  


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement