Category Archives for Coaching

Winning the Ball in the Middle Third

By Sean Pearson

Area: 40 x 32 yards (2 x {8×32} 1 x {24×32})

Time: 15 mins

Players: 6 v 6 + 2


  • To recognize where to pressure in the middle third
  • To win the ball in the middle third and maintain possession

Set Up
3 areas, two end zones and 1 large middle area. In each end zone, there is a 2v1 in favor of the defenders in the middle zone there is a 3v3+2 neutrals to become a 5v3. The aim of the team in possession is to cross the end line of the opposite side. The aim of the defending team is to win the ball in the middle third then advance the ball past the end line they are attacking.

When beginning play the striker in the end zone should look to cut the pass off between the 2 players and force the ball into the middle on one side or another. The defender in the opposite end zone reads the body shape and direction that the striker is sending the play. At this point they enter the middle zone and press the neutral on that side. The 3 players in the middle lock on to a player and man mark them all on the ball side. Lastly the defender left in the opposite end zone slides across to maintain compactness on that side. Now players are in position to win the ball in the middle third of the field.

Depending on the decision of the player on the ball and the distance of the defender from the receiving player, (1) players can stop the player from turning either forcing the ball backwards or win the ball if they try to turn. Or (2) anticipate the interception. The aim is to get the ball past the end line so when a player wins the ball in the middle third the player with the ball is allowed in the end zone with 1 other player. Adding the striker this makes a 3v2.

If the team in possession is able to switch the ball to the other side of the field then the two players who start in the end zone need to switch rapidly as soon as the pass is played backwards.

If the ball is able to be played to the center of the field as opposed to either side, it is important you players are able to get themselves back behind the ball to deny penetration and the two players in the defending end zone step up to keep the distance compact. They should look at the body shape and try to read the direction of the next pass. If it is backwards then the midfielders should step up again but if it is across the field then this is a time they could either (1) intercept or (2) pressure the neutral to stop forward progress.

It is important for your players to understand how to deny penetration and force the opposition into compact areas where there is a high risk of turnover. Then what is the best way to move the ball forward. If the forward direction is not initially on, going backwards is allowed as that is the game of soccer.


  • Add goals and GK’s
  • Allow the 2 defenders to enter the middle zone if they have the ball
  • Only allow the player with the ball to enter the attacking end zone with the ball

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

Attacking Transition

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 45 length, 5 yards wider than the penalty area on each side.

Time: 15 mins

Players7 v 6


  • To understand if the team can counter attack or maintain possession
  • To decides how the ball should move forward


Depending on the age and physical capability of the players you coach the area should go just under the halfway line, however you can adjust the distance how you see fit. The defending team is in a 4-2 formation with a GK and the attacking team is in a 2-3-1.


Firstly, in order to perform attacking transition your team must first defend. With 2 midfielders in the center of the field the attacking team’s easiest open pass is out wide. The job of the defense is now to make the area around the ball as compact as possible to deny penetration and force mistakes. The FB engages the winger and the rest of the defense slides across. The midfielders also slide and drop down to stop penetration. The attacking team attempts to score in the goal the team that transitions scores by moving the ball past the end line, by pass or dribble.

When the defense wins possession the first thought should be can we go forward? The second question, if the answer to the first is yes, is how? Should the player in possession drive forward with the ball (Red1) or pass the ball (Red2)? Then if the they pass should the receiving player then (Blue1) Drive or (Blue2) pass? This is your preference as a coach, my preference is generally, if there is space, to drive at speed. But the ball moves faster than players so if there is a teammate in a better position then pass.

If the attacking team plays into the #10, again the team compacts the space around the ball to stop penetration and force a turnover.

When the defending team wins the ball, if there is no space to go forward quickly then players have to make a decision of where to go. Do they pass forwards or backwards? But now the mentality changes to build up play (still attacking as you have the ball) over quick counter attacking.

If your players do go backwards and the attacking team press, there is the option of your GK playing over the top of them into the space behind them. For this your FB’s will need to be aware of the space and make forward runs into the area.

The important thing your players must understand and recognize is if they can go forward, then when and how they can. If they can’t they must understand that there are other options. Attacking transition is as much about recognizing when you can counter attack as it is about the actual attack.


  • Play with different formations
  • Set a time limit of crossing the end line if your players decide there is space to counter attack.
  • Add a line the last players must reach as the ball crosses the end line to force the whole team forward at the same time.

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

High Pressure to Force Long Passes

By Luca Bertolini

Liverpool have scored 21 goals this season as a direct result of their high pressure defending tactics, which is an incredible 25% of all the goals they scored.  There are a number of benefits that can result from high pressure defending.  This article takes a look at just one of the aims of those tactics…forcing the opposition into long passes from their own half of the field.

Looking at Klopp’s history as manager “no playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situation”; this means that a side by side passes move often requires slow build up play, and that, on the other side, the counter-pressing can create chances within seconds.

The organization behind it is the key, as Klopp’s pressing isn’t simply a closing down but a group of players all functioning as one to smother the opposition, as they look to launch a counter-attack.

The first interesting factor is that the team recognizes when they have enough players close to the ball, who are able to press the opponent with the ball and the area around it.

The players who are not involved in the pressing around the ball must ensure that a potential long kick from one of the opponents can be controlled and they must be able to press again a second receiver, if the first pressure doesn’t work. They also have to be in a position to potentially win or intercept a wrong pass from the counter pressure, to recover the possession with the chance of organizing a counterattack of their own.

All the other players placed on the other side of the ball, recover immediately and quickly, either to join the pressing swarm or to recover goal side of the ball and to be placed in a position to be one of the covering or interceptor players; if these players are in possession, usually the moves are built up with pass combinations rather than with direct counterattack.

As we already found out in the first part, an important objective of the high pressure is to close the short pass lines and to force long ones toward the midfield area; the same happens when Liverpool’s forwards are placed inside or near the opponent’s penalty area.

After the forced long pass toward the middle third, win the second times and the wandering balls.

So forcing the opposition into long passes, gives you the opportunity to win back possession of the ball and start a quick counter attack.  There are many other benefits of high pressure defending too.  Klopp, Guardiola, Conte and more of the world’s top coaches have figured this out.

This is article is just a short excerpt from the book Scoring More Goals Through High Pressure Defending by Luca Bertolini.

Long Pass Accuracy and Aerial Control

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 42 x 36 yards

Time: 20 mins

Players: 4 v 4 + 5


  • To decide the where, when and how to play a long aerial pass
  • To decide early which body part to use to execute a close control of the ball (chest, thigh or foot)


1 large area with 4 areas in the corner with a neutral in each area. 4v4 with a neutral in the middle and spare balls around the outside of the area.


In my opinion 1st touch is the most important technical skill in soccer. In order to do everything else good close control from your 1st touch is essential. It’s what allows players to build confidence and be calm when receiving the ball under pressure.

As often and as early as possible use the overload in the middle to find space to use your laces and aim for a neutral in a corner at a distance the individual player can make. You can also use the neutrals in the corners to pass to on the ground to keep possession if there are no other options to pass to. The neutral receiving the ball has a 5yard area to control the ball with, using a body part which is suitable compared to the height of the ball when being received, which to start with no one can challenge them in. When this is successful you can give the team a point.

The neutral then looks to play out to open players on the team including the neutral in the middle if they are available. When receiving this ball, if possible can this player then play another long pass into a different neutral. You want as many repetitions with long passes and aerial control as possible so don’t be concerned with adding a set number of passes after or before each long pass.

When a neutral has the ball, they can also find a long pass option straight away. This could be to 1) another neutral in the corner if they can reach 2) The neutral in the middle or 3) a player on the team in possession. Eventually allow pressure into the areas where the neutral has possession or as the ball is travelling towards them to increase the game realism.

This allows all players to benefit from playing and receiving long passes to work on their aerial control. You can swap the 3 groups as often as you want to become neutrals on the outside. Once the defending team wins possession they aim to score points the same way.


  • Add goals to go to after a successful aerial control
  • Increase/decrease the area & numbers depending on your team’s/player’s age & ability
  • Only allowed to play long passes with 1 touch (advanced)
  • Have to pass the ball to a team mate with 1 touch (advanced)
  • Add curl to the passes with the inside or outside of the foot (advanced)

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

Mauricio Pochettino Formations at Tottenham

By James Lambert – Author of Tactical Series Mauricio Pochettino

This 1-3-4-2-1 playing system fits the Tottenham team Pochettino is building with positional profiles matching to perfection.

Lloris is a sweeper keeper who as great distribution, with good feet and an excellent shot stopper.

Rose and Walker are flexible to play in a back 4 and a back three system, but in a back three, they have even more license to push on and take the width.

Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Dier are all very mobile defenders with very good distribution long and short.

Holding Midfielders have the characteristics to screen, win balls but also have the technical skills to support the attack. Dembele is a complete footballer who is excellent in possession and often starts positive moves with his ability to run with the ball and change the tempo of the game.

Wanyama screens and breaks up play, he excels when the other team counters to slow or stop the counter attack. Wanyama is one of the best defensive midfielders in the game today.

The two deep lying creative players Alli and Eriksen have more freedom in this system, and it is this freedom that can add elements of surprise and creativity to the Tottenham attack. When Son is brought on he also give the team something different, he is excellent in tight areas. Positioning himself in the last line with perfectly timed runs or simple body shape to break the last line.

With Kane playing striker they have mobility, strength, a great team player and of course a goal scorer.

Tottenham also use a two striker system to fir in Janssen and Kane, this gives Dembele freedom to work with Alli, Eriksen, Winks or Son. The roles of Rose and Walker are the same, often pushing high to take the width.

When they have fall behind in games they have switched to the 4-2-3-1 to try and overload the central areas.

On the right side Eriksen plays inside inviting Walker to take the width, Son mostly plays out on the left but at times he may move to the right wing allowing Rose to push forward. The system is not rigid, it is very flexible with many central rotations to try and break down the opponent.

This article is an excerpt from our new book by James Lambert – Tactical Series Mauricio Pochettino 

Possession with Transition

By Steven Smith

Over the River

Objectives: Increase possession skills while training fitness and transition. Increase the ability to defend in small groups.


This activity is designed to increase possession skills while focusing on transition, fitness and defensive pressure. It is perhaps one of the most challenging fitness possession games for a senior level team.

The concept is for two teams to keep the ball for 6-8 consecutive passes and then switch the ball to the next grid over (across the river) in the air to complete a point. The level of difficulty is determined by the space of the possession grid, the intensity and numbers of the opposing team and the distance of the gap between the two possession grids (the river).


Two possession grids are set up approximately 25 yards by 35 yards in size with a 20-yard gap between the two fields. Three teams of seven are divided evenly with a black group trying to maintain possession in one grid and complete 6 to 8 passes and then send the ball in the air to the yellow team for possession in the next grid over and past the gap (river) space.

The defenders form the third group and stay outside of the grids until a ball is served by the coach into one of the grids. Once the ball is received by the black team three or four of the defenders must enter the grid to try to break up the possession. If the defenders are able to knock the ball out of the grid, the coach serves to the yellow team and the defenders in that group enter the yellow possession grid to try to knock the ball out of that grid as well. 

The possession group is successful by completing the 6 to 8 passes (coach’s preference on difficulty). Once the predetermined number of passes is achieved the defenders stop but the possession group has a free pass to send to the opposite grid. If the ball does not reach the opposite grid in the air then no point is scored! Once the ball has reached the new grid the cycle of possession and crossing the river continues.


The coach can determine the length of the game by time or by points achieved or number of balls served. Once the end of the game is achieved the defending color group changes with each successive game. A full cycle for the game is three complete games. Always give a reward for the winning team at the end of a three game cycle.


The group sizes can be uneven and therefore the coach can predetermine how many defenders can enter the grid. The smaller the possession group, the fewer defenders that should be sent into the grid.

With groups of seven defenders one person on the defensive team may have to cross the river to help defend if groups of four are required to defend in each grid. The coach can make that person make the transition every time or each person on the defensive group can take turns crossing the river to defend.

By Steve Smith
Steve Smith has been a men’s college coach that holds an NSCAA Advanced National Diploma and a Doctorate in Physical Education.

Decisions After the Press

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 28 x 32 Yards

Time: 15 mins

Players: 4 v 4 + 1


  • To force turnovers with a connected press.
  • To keep the ball afterwards and be able to make a quick decision on what to do with the ball.


One area with 4 goals and 4 coned areas in front of the goals. Two teams of 4v4 with a neutral to overload the decision process of the team that wins possession.


Pressing is a style that is very popular at this time, a lot of clubs/teams have a philosophy of pressing and coaches will show ways to press and where to go etc. This exercise is focused on what to do after you win the ball back from the press depending on the scenario you see.

Before I discuss that aspect of the activity it is important to ‘set up’ the press and give the team starting in possession a task. So, whenever the ball goes out of bounds or after there is a goal the team who starts is trying to maintain possession. They score by receiving inside the triangle between the goals and cones. The aim is to use the whole area by spreading out and switch the ball constantly away from the pressing team.

The players pressing cut off passes to nearby options and surround the ball to nullify the overload the other team has. Because players further away from the ball and on the other side of the press can’t receive the ball directly their larger numbers do not count and players can anticipate where the ball is going and step in front to win possession.

When the pressing team wins possession, they have 2 options, pass or move with the ball (dribble or drive). Below 1) the individual has space to drive in to and sees the goal straight ahead with no obstructions. 2) They can pass in the same direction they were going to go but this player may be in a better position to score and 3) they can pass away from the goal closest to them if players surround the goal.

After the initial press from the 1st team when they win possession the team who has just lost possession then becomes the pressing team and tries to score into the goals. This continues until there is a goal or the ball goes out of bounds. For each restart the aim is to move the ball away from the press and score by receiving inside the triangle area.


  • Add goalkeepers/or sweeper keepers
  • Each team can only score in 2 out of the 4 goals
  • Have one team always play possession after they press to win the ball back

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

Quick Finishing from Forward Passes

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 46 x 38 Yards

Time: 20 mins

Players: 7 v 7


  • To make runs behind the defense from different angles
  • To make quick decisions when finishing with 1st time shots


Three zones divide the field into 3 sections. There is 6v6 in the middle zone with 4 players in the middle and 2 from each team on the outside in the attacking area to act like wingers. Only the goalkeeper is in the end zone.


This exercise is for teams who struggle with their players who want to either walk the ball into the goal or wait until the perfect moment to shoot. Either scenario is not ideal as the other team’s job is to stop both from happening. Now, if you ever play a much weaker opponent this may be enough, however to develop your players you should be playing teams who are roughly your level if not slightly better.

With even competition comes a challenge to score, one thing you need to have as a player is mental strength as it is not easy to continually overcome missing chances in the aim to score the next chance, but it is what makes great goal scorers great. It’s the mentality of not fearing the miss but the need to score and part of that is shooting when the opportunity is not always perfect.

This activity focuses on shooting with a 1 touch finish rather than take too many touches so the chance disappears, it also encourages players not to rely on perfect scenarios that rarely ever happen in a game, if ever.

The offside line is the line across that separates the end zone from the middle area. Players look to pass into the end zone and the receiving player has to shoot 1st time. Players can play directly into the end zone or use the wide players to do so. You want the pass to be central so the players shooting has a better angle to score from.

So as to vary the recipient who enters the end zone the wide player can make an out to in run behind a defender. Because of the angle of their run and the pass the shot in this instance should aim to curl around the goalkeeper.

Not all passes into the end zone need to be on the ground. When players have the ball and are one side of the middle area with all players moving towards the ball, the opposite winger can make a run into the end zone while the player on the ball plays a long diagonal ball over everybody, again the winger receiving the ball shoots 1st time with either a head or volley.

You can also encourage players to run from deep and run beyond the striker. To advance the activity and challenge the player shooting you can allow 1 defender into the end zone.

If the defender manages to win possession from the turning player, they pass to a player in the end zone and the play resumes but with the teams changing roles.


  • Allow 2 attackers 1 defender in the end zone then 2v2
  • Allow shots from the middle zone if the opportunity arises
  • Play with 6v6 in the middle zone and no players on the outside

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