Principles of Play: 5v5 to 9v9 Small-Sided – Defending

The following training session comes from 2013 Soccer Champions Coaches' Clinic Featured Presenter, Simon Nee, from the New York Red Bulls Academy.


Principles of Play: 5v5 to 9v9 small-sided (Stage III/VI) – Defending – Pressure, Cover, Balance

Objectives: 3 Goal Game – Pressure Cover & Balance

  • 30 x 40 yard area
  • Teams play 4v4 to 3 goals
  • GK’s for either team operate behind the goals 
  • Objective for the attacking team is to score by dribbling the ball through one of the three goals
  • Objective for the defending team is to deny penetration 
  • The GK for each team is used to help maintain team shape and balance
  • The GK can be used as an outlet and cannot be tackled 

Progression: The Attacking team can now score with a pass or shot through one of the goals. The GK now becomes active to deny penetration by blocking the ball with their feet

small-sided defending game

Coaching Points:

  1. Role of the first defender should be to apply pressure to the ball and force play in predictable direction – angle and speed of approach
  2. Role of the second defender should be to provide cover – angle and distance of covering position 
  3. Role of the third defender to provide balance
  4. Compactness and shape should be reinforced throughout the practice 
  5. Effective communication 

Objectives: 7v7 – High Pressure 

  • 60 x 40 yard area
  • Teams play 6v6 with GK’s 
  • Team shape is 2-3-1 
  • Objective for the attacking team is to score, objective for the defending team is to press high and win the ball back in the attacking teams defensive half 
  • The game always restarts from the GK to provide a trigger to press  
  • The GK is not permitted to pass the ball over the halfway line 

Progression: Remove restrictions from GK

small-sided games defending

Coaching Points:

  1. Pressure on the ball should force play in a predictable direction 
  2. Covering players should be in a position to intercept or deny penetration
  3. Defensive and midfield lines should stay compact and reduce space
  4. Defensive line should understand when to step and when to drop and deny space behind
  5. Effective communication

Objectives: 9v9

  • 60 x 40 yard area (bigger if we had more space)
  • Teams play 9v9 
  • Team shape is 3-3-2 
  • Objective for the attacking team is to score, objective for the defending team is to deny penetration through the lines 

Coaching Points:

  1. Pressure on the ball should force play in a predictable direction 
  2. Covering players should be in a position to intercept or deny penetration
  3. Defensive and midfield lines should stay compact and move across to help create numbers up situations to win the ball
  4. Defensive line should understand when to step and when to drop and deny space behind
  5. Effective communication