Developing Play from the Defensive Third

This is an extract from Chapter 4 of Tony Mee’s book:

Through The Thirds by Tony Mee


Sometimes, people misunderstand when we talk about build-up that it always has to be short passes. If we want to play the ball into our front three from goal kicks, or into the space with a longer quality pass for them to receive in a 1v1, and it’s on to do so, then we will take that. Kevin Betsey, England U15 Coach

With all the subsequent sessions within this book, make sure that you give your players the opportunity to play in the positions that you expect them to play in during your games. Experience in other positions is invaluable, but the older players get, the closer they will be to playing in a set position (or a set area of the pitch at least).

Practice 1


Football Training Tony Mee

Simulated Formations Throughout

Team B: 1-4-2-3-1

Team A: 1-3-5-2

Area is30x30.

Team B consists of four defenders and two defensive midfield players.

Team A will be three forwards and three midfield players.

Each team has a target player on the end line (rotate periodically).

Both teams should try to play within their “lines” (mark with flat discs).

Two x 10 minutes.

How to Play

Team B start with the ball and try to play, through their forward players, to the target player on the end line.

If Team A recover the ball, they try to do the same.

Play always restarts with the team that reaches the target player getting a new ball from behind their end line.

Possible Coaching Points

  • Quality of passing and receiving.
  • Angles and distances of support.
  • Creating and exploiting space.
  • Recognising the forward passing opportunity.

Line Ball (25 mins)

Line Ball Tony Mee


Increase the area size, as shown.

The 6-yard line and halfway line are now Target Lines (take the ball over, under control, to score).

How to Play

Team B starts in possession and try to score over Team A’s 6-yard line.

If Team A recover the ball, they try to score over the halfway line. If a team scores, they start from their backline.

Players can now move around the pitch more freely but MUST retain their basic formations.

Possible Coaching Points

  • As per the previous practice.
  • Black team rotation in outside areas (if left-back advances, the left sided centre-back can go to the touchline and one of the two central defensive midfield players drop in to fill the space).
  • If the centre-back drives out with the ball, a central defensive midfield player drops in to cover.

SSG (25 mins)

SSG Tony Mee


Half a pitch.

Introduce goalkeepers.

How to Play

Normal rules, including offsides.

Possible Coaching Points

  • All from previous exercises.
  • In all small-sided games, look for opportunities to practice the principles of play worked on during the session.

Practice 2

Three team rondo (25 mins)

Three Team Rondo Tony Mee



Four-minute rounds; three minutes work + one minute of rest x six = 24 minutes.

Set up:

End zones are 35×20. Middle zone is 35×12.

Three equal teams where possible (six players each, in this example).

In possession, set up with a back three (numbers 2, 5 and 3) & three midfield players.

Defending team presses with three players plus three in the middle zone.

How to Play

If Team B regain the ball, score one point for playing behind the centre-backs (setup 8-yard wide gate).

Must make a set number of passes in the zone before the option to transfer to the far zone.

Team C may send a player into the midfield zone to help transfer; or numbers 4, 7 or 11 can drive into middle zone and play forward.

Possible Coaching Points

  • Number 4 plays high to give depth.
  • Centre-backs stepping into the middle to provide more passing options.
  • Finding the link player in middle zone or driving out with the ball (decision making).

8v6 build-out of back (25 mins)

8v6 build-out of back Tony Mee


Half pitch, set up as shown.

Defending team (Team A) in 1-5-2.

Attacking team play with six players and press high out of possession (three forwards, three midfielders).

Three target gates, as shown, for the defending team to score through when playing out.

How to Play

Team B’s midfield play square passes to move the defence around. On the coach’s whistle, play a long through-ball for forward runners.

Team A must defend and then build-out of the back through one of the three gates.

Team B is trying to score in the big goal.


Goal Kicks


Possible Coaching Points

  • Play simply, secure the ball, and play the way you face in transition to attack (this might mean playing backwards).
  • Goalkeeper should create passing angles (usually outside of the goal).
  • Goalkeeper should protect the space behind back three (start position), and then drop off to create more distance for a back pass.

11v11 (30 mins)

11v11 Football Tony Mee


Full pitch.

1 team in 1-4-3-3.

1 team in 1-3-4-1-2.

Could be done as a phase of play if you don’t have 22 players.

How to Play

Normal rules.

Team playing 1-4-3-3 must complete 10 passes before scoring.

Possible Coaching Points:

  • Centre-backs stay fairly narrow to avoid passes being played through.
  • Angled passes to 4/6 and 7/11.
  • Only one of 4/6 should drop deep.
  • Pass or drive forward when you can.


Through The Thirds by Tony Mee