All actions in soccer eventually provoke an opposite (though not always equal) reaction. So it is with the rise in importance of the counterattack. As it became fashionable to push both outside backs on in attack leaving large spaces either side of the central defenders so it became inevitable that strategies evolved to take advantage of these spaces. This session is for players 15 and older depending upon the level of your team.
This session is dedicated to coaching the counterattack.
The central counter attacking ideas in this session come from Carlo Ancellotti which he laid out in his book, “My Christmas Tree. ” A detailed analysis of these was laid out in a great piece by Liviu Bird in Sports Illustrated in 2014 following Real Madrid’s evisceration of Bayern Munich and that article is highly recommended. In the article Liviu quotes Ancellotti:
“At a recent meeting in Geneva in which colleagues from all over Europe participated, we found that the counterattack has returned to frequent tactical use as a match strategy. … An organized counterattack permits us, upon recovering the ball, to use to our advantage that which should be a moment of pressure from opponents. This strategy consists of attacking (with speed) the space in behind them with a direct pass to a teammate who runs in behind. It is a tactical solution that permits the optimal use of the numerical superiority that it creates, and to employ it as well as possible, it’s necessary to understand that it is only really effective with certain collective movements.”
So what exactly are the required collective movements? In the book Ancellotti lays out his thoughts about the perfect counterattack. These had previously been outlined in his dissertation for the Italian Pro license.
The elements of the counterattack that Ancellotti highlighted were:
- Play the ball wide early.
- The wide player should dribble towards the nearest defender.
- Someone should stretch the defense by making a run in behind.
- Someone overlaps the dribbler.
- Someone else stretches the defense by pulling away on the weak side.
- Accomplish all of these and it becomes very hard for our opponents to prevent a good goal scoring opportunity.
Take a look at the third Real Madrid goal in this video (1:45) for a great illustration of these counterattack principles. Notice that Marcello is trying to overlap – he just can’t get there!
These are the thoughts that will guide this session.
The warm up is a dynamic warm up from Jens Bangsbo designed to be used in a session where speed will be an important element. It is used here for an individual but can easily be adapted as a team warm up.
Technical practice – Adapted Y drill.
The players are set up as above.
- The first ball passed in goes to the left side, the next goes to the right side and so on.
- Before receiving the pass the players pull away off the cones.
- Upon receiving they turn and immediately look to play forward.
- After passing the players follow their pass.
- When the last player receives the ball they dribble forward and finish. The emphasis is on finishing rather than shooting for power. In execution of the counter attack we will require quality composed finishes.
Now instead of turning, upon receiving the ball the player “sets” it back for a first time pass forward. This continues until the end when the last player dribbles forward and finishes. The emphasis is on finishing rather than shooting for power. In execution of the counter attack we will require quality composed finishes.
- Can we play the ball forward quickly, either after turning or after a set.
- Firm accurate passing
- Quality finish
All of these elements will be important to execute a counter attack with quality. We are just trying to create the mindset of going forward quickly and efficiently.
Counterattack to goal after winning the ball.
To make our session as relevant as possible we set up a situation that looks like a game situation.
- The exercise starts with a 2 vs 2 in the middle of the field.
- The ball is played into the red players who have 8 seconds to score a goal in either of the cone goals. This is to force a pass at some point so the ball can be won.
- The blue 6 and 8 defend the 2 goals. When they win the ball they make a quick pass and go to goal.
- The 2 red players in the zone do not track back and defend.
- The blue team now try and score as quickly as possible.
- If the players are having trouble winning the ball and playing to a teammate the coach can just simulate the enviroment by playing a ball to the desired player to start the counterattack
Using Ancellotti’s framework 7 and 11 immediately pull wide. The ball can go to them or to 9 or 10. The two red central defenders are active. Assume the ball is played into 7’s path as they break forward. In this scenario:
- Either 6 or 10 makes an overlapping run around them (in a game this might be the outside back and not the 6).
- 7 dribbles at and engages the first defender.
- Either 9 or 10 (or both) look to make runs beyond.
- 11 stretches things out on the weak side.
Clearly, other variations are possible. For instance, if 7 receives the ball somewhat close to the center of the field, the center forward (9) may chose to spin out to the right side of the two defenders. A 2 vs 1 in wide areas is now established so there may be no need for anyone to overlap but the principle of trying to isolate the outside defender in a 2 vs 1 remains the same.
- Add another defender
- Allow the midfield players to retreat and defend.
As well as being a team tactical exercise the drill is also good for speed training and development as the four blue midfield players (6,8,7 and 11) need to make high velocity sprints or around 40-50 yards. Knowing this the coach should monitor the amount of sprints performed by each player and allow adequate recovery for each player (at least 60 seconds) before their next effort. This can easily be done by rotating groups (including the midfield players initially defending).
The center forward and central defenders will not get to make such sprints so, if required, they can make the desired number of sprints either at the end of the exercise or at the end of training.
The final game is set up with conditions that will create opportunities for counterattacks.
- Play with 2 teams of 8 players on a field 75 yards by 55 yards
- Each team plays in a 1-4-1-2 shape. This means that to create width in attack the outside backs will need to push forward as per the blue team above. This will create space to attack on the outside of the central defenders.
- In defense settle into a 1-4-2-1 shape as per the red team above.
- When they win the ball can the red team “fill the 3 channels” as quickly as possible as they counter.
- The outside backs should look to get forward and overlap whenever possible.
We are looking for a mentality to quickly get forward and take account of the opponents temporarily disorganized state.
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