Below are two exercises from my book, ‘The Modern Soccer Coach: Pre-Season Training’. The exercises are designed to push players physically, replicating the exact same sprints and recovery runs, they will be required to do in the game. In addition to 60 exercises like these below, the book also covers designing a culture, working with players who have not prepared well for pre-season, designing a tactical model as a foundation for the upcoming season, and how to avoid common coaching mistakes during the pre-season period. I have also added videos below each exercise to show how they are performed on the field.
Multi-Functional Counter Attacking Exercise
How quickly support arrives to the attacking team can make or break counter attacking. If a team fails to provide their forward with help, they become isolated because, in most cases, the team in possession of the ball are usually set up with defensive cover to outnumber the attackers. This exercise focuses on turning that initial scenario into an overload in favor of the attacking team and is where the best counter attacking teams thrive. The exercise is also a multi-functional one that challenges attacking players to combine and score in the initial phase, as well as then working at their maximum to provide support and attack in a 4v3 situation towards goal. The exercise is split into two parts, in either half of the field. The defending team works in groups of three (white shirts) and a goalkeeper. The attacking team works in groups of four (see players at cones A, B, C and D).
Part one of the exercise involves Players A and B, and a server by the goal with a selection of balls. Player A starts the exercise with a square pass to player B. Player A overlaps Player B, who plays a quick reverse pass and gives Player A the opportunity to have a shot on goal.
As soon as Player A shoots on goal, Player B receives a pass from Server. Player B must take one touch to open up in possession and then play a long-range pass to Player C or Player D in the other half. This lofted pass has now triggered the beginning of the counter attack. When the ball is on the way to Player C or D, Player A has continued the run after their shot on goal and provides support in a central area. There is now a 3v3 situation towards goal. As soon as Player B arrives in the final third, it becomes a 4v3 in favor of the attacking team. There is a 10 second time limit in which the attacking team has to score inside. This is to make sure they play forward and do not turn the exercise into a possession drill, where it would become unrealistic for a counter attacking session.
Change the starting point of the three defenders to the goal line. As soon as player B shoots on goal in the first phase of the exercise, the three defenders can then push up and defend.
Move the goal used in the first phase back 10 yards, along with the starting points of Player C and D. This gives them more distance to cover and attack towards goal. Encourage players to provide support ahead of the ball in order to challenge them to add depth to the attack.
Cut the time on the attack from 10 seconds to 8 seconds. This should increase the intensity levels of the exercise.
Give wide attackers a number (one or two). As soon as the server passes the ball to player A, he/she shouts out a number and player A must then set the ball in the direction of that player and then provide a long range pass.
Replace Server with a defender, who passes the ball to Player A and then immediately applies pressure. Player A can choose to beat the defender in a 1v1 situation, pass quickly to players D or C, or combine with player B. This adds a decision making component to the exercise.
Change from three defenders to four defenders. The situation then becomes a 4v4 and should provide a huge challenge to the attacking team.
3v3 With High Intensity Recovery Runs
Many times we talk about recovery as something we have to do after an action on the field. For example, after an overlapping run and cross, the full back must recover into a defensive position. We must also be aware however, that sometimes recovery happens before the actual action and is something that allows a player to perform key actions at critical times of the game. Forwards at the highest level sometimes talk about the importance of making two runs – one for the defender and one for them. The first run is designed to take the defender into a certain area (e.g. back post) and creates space for the second run to be made (front post) where they should have a clear run. It is not only the function of attacking players. Dani Alves at Barcelona continually makes attacking runs without getting the ball and has to recover quickly when his team lose possession. This exercise is designed for certain players to perform an explosive action before getting involved in the defense or the attack. The competitive nature of the exercise also means that the teams which does the physical work best, gives themselves an overload in a critical area of the field.
This is a 3v3 exercise with a difference. Attackers and defenders, along with a goalkeeper, are split into three groups on one half of the field. The attacking team is in white shirts while the defenders are wearing black. Play begins when the attacking player A1, plays a diagonal ball to A2 at the halfway line. As soon as the ball is played, D3 and A3 must sprint around the mannequins before they can join the move. When the ball arrives at A2, he/she can attack to goal and D2 can become a live defender. At the same time, A1 takes up a central forward positon and D1 takes up a central defensive position. Both pressure and options are coming from both directions and the team who recovers into position first will be in pole position. It can become a specific exercise where central defenders, fullbacks, defensive midfielders, attacking midfielders, wingers, and center forwards all get realistic practice in their own positions.
Add a run for both A1 and D2 so that they are challenged slightly more to take their initial position. You will then see if A1 can become more effective if he/she takes D1 to another area of the field and create space for A2 or A3.
Give the defensive team a goal if they win the ball. A very simple one is to run with the ball beyond the halfway line, but you can add mini-goals or target players to challenge them to pass out and score.
After the attack is finished, create a competition between the same group where all players must recover back to their initial position. The team first team that arrives back scores a point. It’s a great way to emphasize another recovery run after the initial ones.
The Modern Soccer Coach: Pre-Season Training has over 60 training exercises, as well as how to design a tactical model, create a winning culture, avoid common coaching mistakes, and learn to coach players who do not prepare well for pre-season. It is available to order on Amazon and Amazon UK.