Category Archives for Game Review

Dribbling for Young Players

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 20 x 30 yards. (end zone 20 x 2 yards)

Teams: 5 v 5

Time: 15 Minutes

This is game for young players of 5-8 years old. The field has 2 sides and 2 end zones. Each team has 5 players, 2 defenders and 3 attackers. The defenders have to stay in their half of the field and are not allowed in the end zone.

Dribbling (1)

Each of the attackers has a ball and their aim is to dribble the ball past the opposite defenders and into the far end zone. Because there are 3 attackers and 2 defenders 1 attacker will have a clear run, this is meant to develop the different scenarios young players see. If there is clear space can they drive with the ball into the space keeping the ball under control.

Dribbling (2)

Once in the end zone they leave the ball and run back to collect either a ball in their end zone or a ball one of their defenders has won and left near the halfway line.

Dribbling (3)

Have a time limit of 2-3 minutes per game and the winner is the team with the most balls in the opposite end zone. Swap who the defenders and attackers are each time.

Coaching Points

  • To use change of direction and speed to beat a defender
  • To be positive and look to use creativity to beat a defender


  • Add a goal to score in
  • Attacker and defenders can only use their weaker foot

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

Analysis of the ‘1v1’ Situation – Part 2

By Alex Trukan

First part of the article covered brief introduction as well as different types of ‘1v1’ situations according to the position of the defender. The second part of the article will look more critically at the whole concept of ‘1v1’ situation and how it is understood and coached. In order to better understand how does ‘1v1’ look in the game and does ‘1v1’ even exist, it is worth to consider different components that surround it. These might include: pressure of the defender, players around the attacker (attacking support), players around the defender (defending support), direction, area of the pitch, body position of the attacker/defender, tactics or even score of the game.

These components are always ever changing and influencing ‘1v1’ situation. That is why, in fact, ‘1v1’ is only a buzzword used by players and coaches that simplifies a very complex game situation. Therefore, there is never a pure ‘1v1’ situation in the game (hence a quotation mark is used). There are always other characteristics (mentioned earlier i.e. players around the attacker, score) involved in it which make every ‘picture’ in the game unique. Understanding of how these concepts influence the player on the ball and how every situation is different can help us, as coaches to provide higher quality and more realistic training for our players.


First of all, let’s have a look at the pressure on the player with the ball. The types of pressure (front/side/back) mentioned in the previous article rarely happen in isolation. It is usually a combination of defenders coming from different directions and with different distances away from the ball. That is why, it might be the case that an attacker has got one defender from the front to beat, but couple of yards away from the back there is another one chasing him what determines attacker’s speed (if he slows down, the defender from the back will be able to apply pressure). There might be also one defender coming from the side which will make the attacker more likely to dribble in the opposite direction from him, restricting his options to beat a defender coming from the front.


The players around the defender and spaces available is another influencer of the ‘1v1’ situation. For example, ‘1v1’ with the defender from the front who has players around him in good supporting positions will restrict the attacker to exploit the spaces in behind the defender, forcing him to dribble sideways or backwards. Also if attacking support is available, it might affect decision making of the player on the ball who will be more likely to use support rather than dribble.


Another important component is the area in which ‘1v1’ occurs. That will usually affect objectives of the attacker and desired outcome. It will also influence the tricks used as well as change of tempo and direction. In example, when the attacker is in a good goalscoring position (i.e. in the penalty box), the objective could be to create an angle for a shot, not get past a defender. That will in turn require more upper body disguise as well as quick decision making.


Area of the pitch in which ‘1v1’ occurs will also influence ratio between risks (what you might lose if unsuccessful) and rewards (what you might gain if successful) involved. Attacker in the opposition’s penalty box might gain a shot on target if he gets past a defender but in case he loses the ball, the opponents will be still far away from his goal (therefore the risk is low). Risks and rewards might be also influenced by the players around the ball as well as score of the game.


Finally, even small details like body position of the attacker/defender will affect the effectiveness of ‘1v1’ situation. Attacker facing the opposition’s goal is much more likely to dribble forwards and see a teammate in a better position than the attacker facing away from the opposition’s goal. Body position of the defender might also ‘guide’ the attacker in a certain way.


Understanding some of the components that affect the ‘1v1’ situation help us to design more effective sessions that are not only more realistic but also fit exactly into the needs of the players. It also makes us appreciate different reasons why a player was successful or unsuccessful in his dribbling.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest


Analysis of the ‘1v1’ Situation – Part 1

By Alex Trukan

Dominating 1v1 situations has been a widely discussed topic over the last years. Many clubs have chosen to design their philosophy around this area stating that they want to consistently win ‘1v1’ situations both in attack and defence. That approach can be adapted at all levels of the game, whether it’s U6’s or 1st team football. Although widely discussed, a ‘1v1’ topic is probably not fully understood, with many practices being not realistic and not reflecting the situations in the game. That is why, it would be useful to have a look at 1v1’s from the tactical point of view, investigating how it fits into team strategy concept and how different types of it can be applied effectively.

First of all, it would be worth to consider how does a ‘1v1’ situation emerge? There are two perspectives on that – reactive and proactive. Reactive approach is when a ‘1v1’ situations emerge randomly, and the team in possession tries to exploit them only when they ‘happen’. Therefore, they happen as a by-product of other objectives that team tries to achieve (i.e. attack through the wings, play 4-3-3 formation etc.) Proactive approach is on the other hand ‘creating’ 1v1’s. That might, for example, happen through choosing specific areas and players that will try to exploit 1v1’s as well players around them that will create space by their movements off the ball.


Pressure from the front

Once the team chooses ‘proactive’ approach to create 1v1 situations, it is worth to mention different types of 1v1s (according to the position of the defender) that might be created. Probably the most traditional and common type is when the attacker faces the defender. That puts an attacker into advantageous position as it gives him more vision to play forwards as well as possible options to go in various directions. Also from mechanical point of view, it is more efficient and quicker to run forwards (attacker) than backwards (defender).


In most of the situations, facing the defender will also mean facing the opposition goal, what is a disadvantageous scenario for the defending player. In order to further unbalance the defender, it can be recommended that attacker changes direction, tempo as well as uses a variety of tricks such as ‘scissors’, ‘step overs’, ‘maradona’, ‘shoulder drop’ etc.


Pressure from the side

Another type of ‘1v1’ situation is when the defender pressurises the attacker from the side. This is the scenario that is probably least practiced and from my observations, a lot of the players struggle with it. In particular, it can be seen many times when attacker slows down/stops and allows the defender to face him rather than taking him on when the defender is on the side. Winning this type of a duel requires bigger touches into space forwards as well as body strength to get past the defender. Upper body disguise (fake) movement might be also helpful to ‘freeze’ the defender.


Pressure from the back

Third type of 1v1 situation is when the attacker faces away from the defender. This is relatively the most difficult situation for the attacker as his ‘free’ movement options are restricted to only going backwards or sideways. His vision also points in the direction away from the opposition goal what makes it more difficult to see options in front of the ball and play forwards.


This type of situation also requires upper body disguise as well as physical qualities to change direction and turn away. It also often links to shielding and protecting the ball, requiring strength and core stability. Tricks to beat a defender are also relevant (‘scissors’, ‘step overs’, ‘shoulder drops’ etc.)


Finally, it is worth to mention that all three types of ‘1v1’ situations mentioned above happen in all areas of the pitch. That should be reflected in the practices design as well as players we coach on different positions.

Part 2 of the article will cover critical analysis and evaluation of the ‘1v1’ situation.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest


Alternative Ways to Use Wingers

By Alex Trukan

Position of a winger has primary importance in the attacking strategy of many teams. Initially, their responsibilities were based around winning duels on the wings as well as delivering crosses into the box. However, that has evolved over the last years and now being a winger requires more versatile abilities and intelligence off the ball. Modern winger became a player that can be classed as a second striker or even a playmaker. That has happened due to evolving position of the full back which now started to occupy more attacking positions and spaces that used to be only utilised by traditional wingers. Evolution of a winger’s position has been also a response to increasingly better organised defences and changes in the role of a striker.

Once full backs started to be increasingly involved in the attacking on the opposition’s half, wingers started to move into more central positions in order to enable overlaps to happen. That has placed additional demands on them to be a ‘playmaker’ and link play with other midfielders and strikers. Having wingers cutting inside opened up possibilities to create a different angle for the strikers to run at and receive through ball as well as created more space for the midfielders who will be now less occupied by the opposition players. It has also started a trend to play ‘wrong footed’ wingers.



In addition to driving with the ball into central areas, winger can also have his starting position centrally to then receive the ball. The key space is the area between the opposition’s defence and midfield units and between opposition’s full back and centre back. Body position to play forwards it the technical detail to focus on.



Another role of the winger might be to cut inside when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch. That will create an opportunity to support a striker (or be a lone striker if he is not in the box) and be a finisher. The run should start on the ‘weak’ side of the opposition’s centre back/full back and curve to arrive in the key area between the back line and the goalkeeper.



Another key area for the winger to be positioned in, is the ‘zone 14’. This is the space that is normally occupied by the striker but having a winger in it instead, gives an opportunity for the striker to go and support wing play, make forward runs into the penalty box or create an overload in midfield.



Positioning in the central areas in the early phases of the attack gives a winger an opportunity to make runs in behind the opposition’s back line. That does not necessarily mean that the ball will be played to him. Instead of that, this type of movement creates space for the full back (opposition back line will drop back) as well as midfielders to receive.



Having a winger making a run in behind the opposition’s back line instead of a central midfielder will usually (not always) mean that a run is made quicker as well as more players who are better ‘playmakers’ will remain in central areas (central midfielders not making forward runs).



All of the above mentioned changes in how winger’s position might look like, changes the way we should develop players at younger ages. As we can see, modern winger has to be able to execute elements of midfielder’s and striker’s craft. That will mean positioning players in different positions and being flexible in the formation might be the way forwards.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest


Striker’s Movement to Support Midfield Play

By Alex Trukan

Recent years has seen a rise in formations and styles of play overloading midfield areas and getting away from the traditional role of number ‘9’, replacing it with a ‘false 9’ and formations like 1-4-6-0. That has pointed many coaches’ attention to possible alternative roles strikers can have. One of the more unorthodox methods of using strikers is support for midfielders in ‘play making’. That might include deeper movements beyond opposition’s midfield line, getting into ‘play making’ positions as well as more subtle runs to create options for combination play around the ball. Vertical movements towards own half can be especially helpful in creating overloads as opposition centre backs will usually hold the line leaving the striker unmarked.

That type of more traditional movement towards own goal to support midfielders might be made into space between opposition midfield and defending units as well as beyond midfield unit. Moving beyond or in between the midfielders will usually force midfielders to mark rather than centre back tracking the run. That in turn will free up spaces for other midfielders. In case nobody marks the striker dropping deeper, he will remain a free man to use to play out.


Staying between opposition’s back and midfield lines and moving horizontally has other benefits. For example, movement towards one of the wide midfielders would create an opportunity to combine play on the wing by playing around the corner. It would also help to split the centre backs and narrow up the back line what would open up spaces on the opposite wing.


Receiving in front of the back line can also put a striker in a play making position. For example, it becomes increasingly popular to utilise number ‘9’ in switching play from one to another wing and circulating the ball horizontally. It also creates opportunities for one of the midfielders to make a forward run.


If turning to face forwards/sideways is not possible (i.e. when marked tight), striker’s movement might still create additional opportunity to play a wall pass and transfer the ball between midfielders. Ideally, two midfielders should stay behind the ball when third one would make a forward run creating an option to play beyond the back line.


When playing with two strikers, subtle movement away from each other would help to split the centre backs leaving a gap between them. That would encourage one of the strikers to spin around the inside shoulder of the centre backs and go forwards. Created gap provides additional opportunity for a through ball and encourages direct penetration rather than combination play between strikers.


This kind of movement can really unbalance the opposition especially as the play is switched from one side to the opposite and strikers stay wide. That would initially overload both wide areas but it is only false perception as the central areas are left to make movements into in the latter phases of attack.


Recent changes in the roles and responsibilities of the striker as well as the shift from a traditional ‘number 9’ into a ‘false 9’ has placed different technical demands on the players. Strikers become more sophisticated technically with an ability to play in tight spaces as well as intelligence to be a playmaker.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest


Defending with a Flat Midfield Four

By Alex Trukan

Playing with a midfield four when out of possession is arguably the most popular way of setting up your midfield unit to defend. It is also relatively the simplest way of defending to coach and play based around several roles and responsibilities. If executed correctly, it is also one of the most effective methods of preventing the opposition playing through midfield areas. It is especially effective when the ball is in wide areas. On the other hand, the main drawback of playing with a flat four is lack of players in half spaces between the units what poses a challenge when the ball is centrally and the opposition attempts to play through the middle between the players, breaking the whole line.

The area in which the pressing starts to be applied will depend on the team’s tactics. In this article, the team used for the analysis applied mainly medium pressing. Therefore, as the ball is played on the opposition half, the role of the midfield would be to slide across and screen opposition midfielders trying to intercept the through balls. If the ball stays in front of the strikers, it is their role to apply pressure on the ball. Only after the ball gets passed the strikers line, the role of the midfielders to press starts. It is crucial for the players to understand as pressing too high and in wrong situations (i.e. when its strikers role) will create gaps.


As soon as the ball is behind the strikers line and it’s on to press (depending how high the team wants to press), the first player to apply pressure in wide areas is wide midfielder. His angle of approach as well as body position might show outside or inside. Nearest central midfielder comes across to support (within short sprinting distance) and other two midfielders narrow up to provide cover.


Midfielder supporting and covering spaces around the ball will often have to react to the movements of the opposition players. That might mean tracking the midfielder as he makes a forward run. Any gaps should be covered by other players narrowing further up. That will obviously open up spaces away from the ball but the key is pressure on the ball which should prevent that long pass from happening.


When the ball is centrally, the key is to prevent the balls through the centre, often into players positioned between the units. That will mean narrowing up and getting really close to each other what might open up spaces in wide areas but will prevent the bigger threat (defending priorities). Checking shoulders and sideways body position is the key.


At times, due to the movement of the opposition players, the shape of the midfield four might look unbalanced but it is crucial to find balance between reacting to the movements by marking the player within the zone and staying in the original shape. When playing with this shape, the priority is to prevent through balls and force back or sideways to apply a pressing trap also using full backs or strikers.


That is why, cooperation between units is one of the predictors how effective the team will be out of possession. Whichever shape the midfield four play, it should be related to the shape of the strikers and back units. For example, not having a defensive midfielder and playing with a flat four in midfield will force more forward movements from the centre backs (i.e. to track the striker dropping), what will then further narrow up the back line restricting options to use full backs in attack.


That links to the theory that tactics of the team should link between the phases (attack/defence/transition) as the way your team defends will influence attacking capabilities and options in transition to attack.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest


Using Full Backs as ‘Playmakers’

By Alex Trukan

Full backs’ position has evolved over the years. Involvement of full backs in attack seemed very unorthodox several years ago, whereas now it is considered as a minimal standard required. Recent years has seen this position evolving even further. Primary example includes Bayern Munchen under Pep Guardiola, which introduced full backs playing in a more central positions and being a vital part in attacks on the opposition half. Being a full back in this case has started to overlap with defensive midfielder’s role. That has posed much more technical as well as tactical demand upon full backs, which now have to play in much tighter spaces with more options available as well as pressure applied. That should be reflected in our coaching approach.

In the first phase of the build-up, after the team secures possession and gets organised, full backs should try to recognise a trigger to start movement into central areas. One of the possible triggers might be when centre back on the ball is not pressurised and moves towards the wide areas into half spaces between being positioned fully centrally and wide.



That type of movement will open up an option to play to the winger as well as create an overload in the central areas. Full back on the opposite side might also choose to go into the middle but only if defensive midfielder starts dropping between the centre backs to form a back three. Having two full backs in the central areas will provide at least four players (adding central midfielders) positioned in the middle what creates numerous options to play forwards.


It can be seen on the diagram below how the team attacking shape looks like with two full backs playing narrow and taking up defensive midfielder’s positions and with defensive midfielder dropping between two centre backs. Wide areas in turn (normally occupied by full backs) can be used by wingers as well as midfielders dropping into them.


Full backs playing in central areas gives opportunities to utilise them more as a playmakers who can distribute the ball in the opposition half. That is why technical abilities like staying on the ball, long passing or through balls would be crucial in their toolbox. What might also happen at times is full back driving forwards with the ball what links to typical position requirements but would usually happen in tighter spaces with more players around the ball.


Another option includes full backs moving into central areas only in the second phase of the attack, on the opposition half. That is based on several possible movements. One of which is a combination play with a winger to then drive inside in an underlapping fashion. Key role is played by the strikers and midfielders who should stay away from the ball creating the space for the combination play to take place as well as being in a good position to make forward runs.


As it can be seen below, full back on the ball is the player that makes a final decision and often a key pass on the opposition half to finalise the attack. Having full back in a ‘playmaker’ position gives licence for midfielders as well as wingers and strikers to make forward runs or receive the ball closer to the opposition goal.


Crucial advantage of having full backs in central areas is also a defensive cover they provide upon losing possession. Protecting central areas and forcing the opposition wide slows down the attack and moves the ball away from the goal.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest


Breaking Through the Midfield

By Alex Trukan

Defending in midfield and central areas is usually a big emphasis in a lot of teams. When out of possession, midfield is a unit that prevents the opposition from exploiting the back line as well as breaking into the final third of the pitch. Therefore, from the attacking point of view, finding ways to break beyond the midfield line provides numerous opportunities to create goal scoring chances. There are several strategies that might help in getting past the midfield unit by going through it, around it as well as over it. After the introduction of holding midfielders and very compact defending, it became even more difficult to progress beyond opposition’s midfield unit. That is why, utilising defenders and attackers in addition to midfielders when in possession is crucial to make it more effective.

Movements off the ball – playing through

The first attacking component contributing to breaking through the opposition midfield line are movements off the ball. In the first attacking phase, when the team builds up from the back, one of the movements that might be useful is one of the midfielders dropping just in behind the opposition’s strikers. It is crucial to stay behind the strikers not allowing them to drop back and mark man to man. That will restrict them to screening what will instead force one of the midfielders to track the run or stay in line leaving plenty of space between the units. That will in turn enable the midfielder to get on the ball and receive to play forwards.


Another key player making the movement that makes the penetration possible is the striker. Similarly to the midfielder, he would drop deeper but remain behind or between the opposition’s midfield unit. Striker should try to drop into space in which the opposition’s midfield line is unbalanced (i.e. where the player went forwards to track the runner).


Apart from the gaps in midfield, that kind of movement will pose a problem for the opposition’s back line as well. Space that emerge in behind can be used by second striker or wingers making runs into it. After the pass to the striker is made, support from behind should be provided to bounce the ball off if needed.


Switching play – playing around

With a lot of teams playing very compact and narrow, as well as utilising defensive midfielders positioned in half spaces, it is increasingly difficult to break through the units. Second option involves playing sideways to create an opportunity to play around. Circulating the ball horizontally not only gives an opportunity to play through wide areas but also helps to create gaps between the opposition players. The key is to have good access to the players around and away from the ball by providing support in front, sideways and behind the ball.


As the ball is switched to the opposite side, it is useful to play the pass into space rather than into feet. If possible, the pass should be played into space behind the midfield unit what will force the opposition’s back line to apply pressure on the ball. Here the crucial role of the players in front of the ball (strikers) comes which should try and create space to progress into.


Players in half spaces and combination play

In response to the defensive midfielder playing for the defending team, the attacking side might choose to play with a number 10 or striker dropping between the opposition’s forward and midfield units. That is a perfect opportunity to receive the ball with more time on it as well as pose problems for the oppposition players around when to press or drop. Receiving on the front foot might give that extra advantage.


Having players between the lines also provides a great opportunity to combine play using wall passes and one-twos. Speed of execution as well as communication are the keys to success in this area. Combinations might emerge in central as well as in wide areas of the pitch.


It is important to remember that getting beyond the opposition midfield line is not the end product and should be only used as a platform to further create chances and progress forwards or produce a different end product such as a cross or shot on goal.

By Alex Trukan, Development Coach, Nottingham Forest