Category Archives for Coaching

Where and When to Penetrate

By Sean Pearson

Area: 25 x 35 yards
Time: 15mins
Players: 5v5+1

• To understand where to penetrate according to spaces
• To understand how to penetrate depending on where you are on the field

Set Up:
All that is needed is 4 cones to mark out the corners of the rectangle area. The area is wider than it is in length. On each side of the field there are 3 balls. The aim is to get the three balls behind your line across to the opposition’s side of the field. The team that is able to get all six balls on their opponent’s side wins.

Overload the team in possession by adding a neutral to make it 6v5, this makes it easier to penetrate. Depending on the position of the defending team look to find either (Red 1) the neutral in space or (Red 2) a free player. Encourage you players to drive forward with the ball if there is space, this looks to draw a player towards them, allowing another player to be free to receive the ball.

In order to successfully deposit the ball behind the opposition’s line the ball must travel over this line whilst still under control. You can do this in either (Blue 1) dribbling/driving the ball over the line or (Blue 2) receiving the ball from a pass over but close to the line, no more than 2-3 yards from it.

After the ball has been left behind the opposition’s line the team retrieves another ball behind their own line. If the defending team win possession they can look to penetrate straight away.

You can play with or without an offside line. I explain to my players that we are in a game situation where we are in the middle third of the field and there would be defenders behind you so there is no offside. It also allows a little more freedom of movement to play in between the lines. But of course, you can still enforce an offside line if you wish.

• Offside line/no offside line
• Add/decrease Neutrals
• Limit touches
• Change formation to replicate your midfield

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

How to Park the Bus – Mourinho Style

By Sean Pearson

Area: Half a field
Time: 20mins
Players: 6v6

• For players to understand the defensive shape of the style
• To frustrate the attacking team

Set Up:
The defending team sets up in a 4-2-3 or a 4-4-1. The attacking team is in a 4-3-3 formation without the 2 CB’s. The attacking team is trying to score and the defending team is trying to stop them. If the attacking team score, they win, if the defending team don’t concede they win.

Execution:The term parking the bus is considered a negative in today’s game. It is considered a cheap tactic to stop another, probably a better, team from creating clear chances and scoring. Let’s be honest, it’s extremely hard to play against, and score, as well as highly frustrating. I for one can’t stand playing against it but in my frustration, I have accepted that sometimes it is necessary. Now would I do it for younger players of 12 and under, no. Not even 13-15 however at 16+ it becomes a vital tool to use.

I do not advocate for it to be used all the time but in certain situations absolutely. What is the point of soccer at the top level? It is to win and nobody knows that better than Jose Mourinho. He does not care about people’s opinions on what he does, he cares about the result. Now that might not be the case for 16-18 year old players but make no mistake about it, players at this age want to win. In fact, all players want to win at any level, its normal, its healthy and I think winning has become a dirty word that people are afraid to use in youth soccer anymore as it’s all about development. Which I agree with but winning is development too. Do I think youth teams should win at all costs, no but its ok for coaches and players to want to win. You can do that and develop players at the same time.

Now, back from my little tangent. What ‘parking the bus’ is, is really players behind the ball in an organized fashion denying penetration through numbers. It also teaches players to be patient and encourages communication. So the way Mourinho ‘parks the bus’, as described in my article analysis the Liverpool v Man Utd game on Oct 17th 2016, is he has his wingers drop back so they are level with his back for, making a back line of 6. His back 4 become very narrow to deny space between each player along the back line and the #10 drops down to make a narrow midfield 3. Depending on where players are at certain times it might not always be the #10 in the middle but there a narrow midfield 3 nonetheless.

So, when the attacking team pass the ball around the defending team should look like below. The role of the defending team is to allow the attacking team as much time as possible with the ball when they have the ball ahead of them but to remain organized and close together. The reason for being so close together is if one players does get beat there is a 2nd then a 3rd and even 4th player close by something even Messi would struggle with. The likely hood of quick, accurate 1 or 2 touch passing to penetrate the sheer tight nit numbers is extremely low.

When the attacking team slides the ball over to one side to avoid the 3 midfielders in the middle, the whole team slides with the ball to outnumber the attackers on that side. Even with a more attacking formation of a 4-3-3, there are 2 strikers and attacking midfielder and an advanced full back all forward but there are 7 defenders to their 4. Then there is a GK to get past.

If the attacking team tries to switch the ball via a U shape or long diagonal, because there are 6 players in the back line it is easy for them to engage quickly with the opposite side.

• When the defending team win the ball allow them to play forward and see if they can move the ball past the half way line
• Have the defensive midfielder double as a target striker

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

Making Play Predictable

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: Quarter or Half field (depending on age of players)

Teams: 15 – 20 mins

Players: 7 v 7


  • To stop forward penetration
  • To force sideways and backwards passes


2 teams set up in a 2-3-1 formation in a scrimmage like scenario.


The aim for this session is for your team to work together defensively by stifling forward progression of the opposition and frustrating the other team into backwards and sideways passes until they become frustrated. Your team must stay close together to stop penetrating passing lines into the feet of players further up the field. They cut off angles so the only available pass is one of backwards or sideways.

The defending team does not have to sit right in front of their own goal for this tactic to work. It is more effective to perform it in the middle of the field. As the opposition pass wide, the defending wide midfielder gets across to pressure the player on the ball so they can’t move forwards, the rest of the team slides across, compacting that side of the field, leaving the opposite wing open. The striker drops down to stop any balls into the center of midfield.

As the ball travels back to the CB the striker of the defending team presses the CB to force them to make a quick decision, again not allowing forward penetration. The obvious pass is sideways to the free CB. The team again slide into the middle to compact the area directly in front of or around the ball.

Now we have a little change of shape, because we don’t want to be so compact that passes out wide can break the defensive lines. Again the focus is to stop forward penetration by cutting off forwards passing options. As the ball travels to the opposite CB, the striker drops down to stop passes into the CM. The wide midfielder stays narrow to stop passes into the striker’s feet. The FB comes across to pressure the WM when they receive the ball and the CB and opposite WM slide across to cover and keep defensive shape.

As the ball arrives to the WM the FB is close to Pressure them, the WM has dropped down to block the pass into the striker’s feet again and striker drops to stop passes into the CM again, this leaves a pass backwards to the CB as the only pass available.

Players need to understand that they are working as a team to stop forward progression and not become individual and start to run all over the field. If players can win the ball when pressing then absolutely go for it, but the aim is to frustrate the other team going forward and giving the ball away by trying passes that are not on.

When the other team wins possession the defending team aims to frustrate and stop forward progression just like they experienced.


  • Add neutrals to challenge the defending team and increase the difficulty
  • Allow only 1 or 2 players to communicate to teammates to help build leaders in defense

By Sean Pearson. Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3

What Tactical Formation Did Spain Use to Win Euro 2012?

By Wayne Harrison


The starting position phase formation is approximately a 4-2-3-1; the attacking phase is 4-2-1-3 or 3-3-1-3; and the defending phase is a 4-4-1-1, so we haveContinue reading