Basic attacking team tactics

counter attacking

Teach your players how to attack!

The objective of the game is to score goals, but certain variables such as the scoreline can influence a particular team’s desperation to ruffle the net. The following team styles represent some of the methods used to control the game and instigate attacks:

Possession football

For years, the golden rule for coaches everywhere was ‘pass and move’, and this tenet is still enshrined in possession football (soccer). Quite simply, teams attempt to hold onto the ball for as long as possible, at all times choosing the easiest possible pass (hence the many times you see defenders passing the ball along the defensive line).

There is logic behind this seemingly banal style though. By keeping hold of the ball, the opponent’s frustration will hopefully draw out certain players from their starting positions, making spaces for killer through-balls which would otherwise be impossible. Moreover, by keeping possession, you encourage the opponent to chase all over the pitch, impacting their stamina and further allowing you to control the pace of the match.

counter attackingCounter attacking football

With 11 players to get past, scoring a goal is a tricky task at the best of times. However, the beauty of counter-attacking football is to use the other team’s desperation to score to your own advantage.

By withdrawing into your own half, but keeping a man or two further up the pitch, the goal is to take the ball off the opponent while they have players committed to the attack and thus out of position. Once you have the ball in your own half, you have more space to deliver a through-ball for your strikers, who will be lurking around the halfway line and will have fewer players to negotiate.

This tactic, while extremely risky and reliant on solid defending, can render impressive results and is often utilised by teams who are defending a lead or field a 4-5-1 formation (meaning the lone striker can get isolated in front of 4 defenders if both sides are set up properly).

long ballLong ball/direct football

Often used to deride ‘boring’ teams, the long-ball style of play is genuine route one football. Rather than spend time on the ball picking the pass, exploiting small gaps in the opposition’s defensive or utilising the flanks, the long-ball is employed as an opportunistic method of attack. By pinging the ball up the field from defense or midfield, the hope is that the strikers will either latch onto the hopeful pass or exploit any mistakes by the defenders. Because the long-ball is dealt with in the air most of the time, any team employing it needs to have a strong target man.

wingersWide play and alternating wingers

Since the days of Stanley Matthews and Jimmy ‘Jinky’ Johnstone, the wings have always been a key part of attacking football. By spreading the ball wide, you allow a different angle of attack and offer a number of opportunities for the winger; take on the fullback and drag central defenders out of position, cut inside and drive forward at an angle, or whip in a cross from deep for the strikers to attack.

A further development in wing-play has been to alternate wingers on the left and right flanks. If a winger is losing the battle with his fullback, switching wings can provide a breakthrough for the team. This was effectively employed by Portugal on their way to the final of the 2004 European Championships, with Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo frequently exchanging wing positions.

Attacking moves

How to improve technical aspects of ball control.


To improve technical footwork.

To practice different ways to get around a player or to change direction.


Make a box, roughly about 15 x 15 yards (varies on player abilities and age), and place a cone at each corner. Place a cone in the middle, as illustrated below, and have about 2/3 players behind each cone, EXCEPT the middle cone.

I’ll usually make 2 boxes depending on number of players.


Performing the Drill

The first player in each line will start with a ball. The first portion of the drill is changing direction. So, each line will attack the cone at the same time and do a turn. Following turns that can be done are: outside of the foot cut, inside of the foot cut, Cruyff, step over, and sole roll. You want to go through using both right and left foot. Also, you want to emphasize going at the cone, but making sure to slow yourself down as you approach the cone and really sell the turn. You don’t want to wait until you are on top of the cone, just like you wouldn’t wait till you are on top of a defender.

The second piece is now attacking moves at the cone. Now, only diagonals will go at one time. Again, attack the cone with some pace but under control and do a move. Following moves that can be practiced are: scissors, double scissors, Stanley Matthews, reverse Stanley Matthews, Revalino, etc (below are additional moves and descriptions). Once one diagonal goes, the next diagonal goes, and so on and so forth. Again, remember to be going to the right and left when attacking to work on both feet.

Equipment Needed: 5 cones and 4 balls


The idea is to work on handling the ball and being able to practice different moves and turns with both feet. It’s important that you attack the cone with speed, but as you begin to approach the cone to slow down at a controlled pace to do the move or turn. Once you do the move, the EMPHASIS is to accelerate to the line. The sequence is not over just because you did a turn or a move. The sequence is over when you do a turn and move and then accelerate to get comfortable and use to exploding into new space away from the opponent.

Description of Attacking Moves and Turns

• Scissor, ball is between both legs or in front of right foot, swing right foot behind ball toward left leg then around front of ball and plant to the right of your body, bring left foot to opposite side of ball and take to your left with the outside of your left foot. Can add 2 or more of these together to make double, triple scissors.

• Step over, ball is between both legs, take right foot and swing over ball and step past your left foot, then knock ball back toward your right with the outside of the right or same foot.

• Revalino, like move above but will take ball behind you. ball is between both legs, take right foot and swing over ball and step past your left foot, then take your left inside of foot and touch ball behind you, turn and dribble.

• Roll back or “L”, right sole of foot on ball, roll or pull back straight behind you, when it gets past your left standing leg, use the inside of
your right or same foot and push ball behind your left standing leg. The path of the ball makes a backward L on the ground with right foot and normal L with left foot.

• V or Vee, ball is in front of your left foot, with the sole of your right foot pull the ball back toward where your right leg was standing, then take the inside of your same foot, right, and push it towards your right. The path of the ball makes a V on the ground.

• Maradona, almost like Train. ball is in front of your right foot, put sole of right foot on top of ball, then put right foot directly in front of your left foot, then with the sole of your left foot place on top of ball and spin with back toward the ball. Stop, step, and spin. Doing a 360 degree turn.

• Stanley Mathews, basically taking the ball first with inside of right foot and then quickly with outside of right foot, foot never leaves the ball. Lean to your left with ball in front of right foot, push ball with inside of right foot toward your left, then hop toward left, quickly take ball back to the right with the outside of the foot. Push, hop, take.

• Reverse Stanley Mathews, same as above except don’t take with outside of right foot. Push to left, hop, then scissor to right and take ball
back with outside of left.

• Roll scissors, do a rollover forward with your right foot, then do a scissor with right foot, faking to right, and come back to your left with
the outside of your left foot.

• Roll stepover, do a rollover forward with your right foot, then do a stepover with your left foot and take back toward your left.

• Swivel hips, dribbling forward, slightly touch ball with inside of right foot like you are going to pass back to someone behind you, you are now facing sideways, then with inside of left foot knock it back in front of you and take off. Dribble, cut with right, then cut back with left. You are faking like you are slowing down do go back behind you then you take off in your original direction.

• Inside cut move: dribble forward at a slight angle, pull right leg back like you are going to shoot then cut the ball with the instep or inside of right foot, Must cut ball back toward left plant leg and then move left plant leg before the ball hits and take with outside of left foot.

• Outside cut move: dribble forward toward defender, act like you are going to shoot, pull right leg back and right before you strike the ball
take toward your right with the outside of your right foot.

• Cruyff, dribble toward right at a slight angle, act like you are going to shoot with your right foot, place left plant foot a step past the ball, then cut the ball behind that left leg with the inside of your right foot.


Basic small sided soccer tactics

7v7 illustrates exactly how to build a small sided game that addresses a specific problem.

The problem is “What is the best competitive form to develop the attacking qualities of wingers, what are the minimum requirements?”

1) We want to have both wings involved and wingers, by definition, play on either side of a central player. This requires three top players.

2) The attacking qualities of wingers will include crossing the ball. A common result of crosses is the goalkeeper making a save, so a goalkeeper is necessary.

3) Since we are concerned with the attacking qualities the wingers will need someone behind them to defend. This will require three back players which also leaves the wingers with an immediate opponent that they will have to beat. (If you use two defenders against three forwards, 6v6, at least one of the top players will have to come back in order to establish a balance.)

From this assessment the minimum number of players needed for a competitive game that encourages attacking wing play is seven, three top players, three back players and a goalkeeper. Since this concerns the competitive phase of the game the opponents will play with equal numbers, 7v7. Since there are goalkeepers there must be goals and the field must be small enough to allow a lot of attacking opportunities but large enough for building up play.
7v7 – Counter attacking.


The examples above work well when the two teams are evenly balanced or you are coaching the team that can dominate the opponent. However, when you are faced with an opponent that is clearly superior then a different approach to the game might be necessary.

When you are sure that the opponents will have a lot of possession and can dictate play the counter attacking game can offer the best chance for success. In this game the probabilities are, 1) you cannot hold the opponents in their own half, 2) you will have little success building up the play from deep in your own half, 3) you will have very little time for any buildup, 4) much of the action will be in front of your own goal.

Instead of thinking in terms of a 3-3, using wingers and trying to spread the field, think how a 4-2, with the center forward withdrawn into a primarily defensive role, can help to answer some of the problems. In this example the number 7’s primary task is defensive, he becomes a center midfielder. When in possession he will support the top players from behind the ball. He will avoid runs out to the wings and ahead of the top players because these will take him too far away from the center of the field and hinder his basic task. (Remember, you won’t have much of the ball.) When not in possession he will take up a position very close to the back three to try to make up in numbers what you may lack in quality. While the number 2 and 4 can move up on the wings chances are they will be too far back to be of any real use.

The attacking strength will lay in the abilities of the two top players to quickly combine and exploit any mistakes by the opponents. They will need to have a good understanding between each other and communicate effectively. The attacks will be characterized by being over very quickly and coming primarily through the center. Speed of thought and action is critical.

This picture shows how important it is for children to learn how to play in all of the small forms of soccer. 2v2 for the two top players, 3v3 when the center midfielder becomes involved, 4v4 for the back four and 5v5 when you include the goalkeeper. This also demonstrates how when one players task is changed, the number 7 in this case, it can effect the rest of the team. Go to KNVB’s counter attacking game for a practice.