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4-3-3 midfield support SSG 1

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4-3-3 midfield support SSG 1



The activity utilizes a half field divided into four zones. The largest zone is located from the final third line to the goal. In this zone, the attacking three forwards play against three opposing backs. The remaining portion of the field is divided into three zones—the central zone includes three attacking midfielders versus two defending midfielders. In each wide zone, one attacking fullback is positioned with no opponents. An attacking center-back is positioned outside the central zone.

Each round of the activity starts with a pass from one of the fullbacks into one of the three central midfielders. 


Each midfielder must touch the ball before the ball can be played into one of the forwards.


Two central midfielders may enter the final third once the ball is played into the zone. The third midfielder should be instructed to sit and be an option to switch the point of attack. Initially, the fullbacks may not leave their zone.


All players, other than attacking 6/8/10, are limited to 3 touches. If the defending team gains possession, they have a maximum of 5 passes to score on a mini-goal. If the attackers lose and regain possession, they must play the ball through the center back (5). The offside rule is enforced starting at the top of the penalty area.


The attacking team gets 1 point for scoring on goal, and the defending team gets 1 point for scoring on a mini-goal.


Initially, the defenders 6/10 are locked in the central zone, and the attacking zone is 3v3.

The game can be progressed by adding additional defenders to the attacking zone (to create a 3v4) and to the midfield zones. Consider initially adding one midfielder to the defenders, creating a 3v3 in the central zone with the center back and fullbacks providing options to play out of pressure. Adding an additional defending midfielder (or midfielders) and allowing the float can create a more game-like scenario.
Additional progressions can include reducing the number of passes to advance (touching 2 rather than 3 of the midfielders), allowing the fullbacks to advance out of their zone, and allowing all 3 midfielders to leave the central zone.

What we like about this game

In the initial scenario of 3v2 in the central zone, with the ball starting from the outside, the midfielders are challenged to immediately find spaces to receive and create body angles and spaces that will allow them to combine easily. The use of the counter-target goals provides an incentive for the opponents to gain possession and immediately counterattack. The definition of a maximum pass count for the opponents creates urgency and allows the attacking team to delay and regain possession.
Although the session is focused on the midfielders, the actions of the forwards are an essential element for success. Initially, the forwards are 3v3, likely in 1v1 matchups. The forwards are expected to receive the ball under pressure, possibly with their back to goal. In this scenario, we would like a midfielder to immediately step in, provide an option for a back pass, combine with a 2nd midfielder, play a give-and-go with the forward, or work off a second forward. These potential patterns reflect a view of attacking in the final third with combination play and a desire to get in and behind the defensive line.

Relationship to the game

The activity is designed as a “phase of play,” with both teams in the half field. In this scenario, the team in possession has pushed out of their end, with the midfielders occupying a central zone, and both fullbacks are pushed forward in anticipation of either support or possible overlaps.
The intent of the condition requiring each midfielder to receive/play the ball before pushing forward is to (initially) encourage the midfielders to find a rhythm, spaces in an overloaded zone, and look forward for moments to advance the ball. As the activity progresses with additional defenders, it more accurately reflects the time/space pressures associated with the full-sized game.

Coaching points

When the activity starts on the first pass into the central zone, the midfielders should “make the space large” by expanding, forcing the 2 opponents to move, and creating passing windows. Under pressure, the fullbacks (2/3) and center back (5) can switch the point of attack. Note that initially, the attackers are 6v2 against the defenders. As additional defenders are added, expanding the space in possession becomes more critical in maintaining possession.
A challenge in this activity is for the midfielders to continually look for forward options while trying to combine and maintain possession. Note when a forward passing option exists, but the player on the ball chooses to go wide or back instead.
An essential outcome of the activity is the development of partnerships among the midfielders and between the midfielders and forwards. One possible pattern is a ball played forward from deep in the midfield with a different midfielder moving forward in support of the ball. Another pattern might involve the deepest midfielder receiving a back pass and immediately switching to the opposite direction, either by targeting the winger to feet or by playing a deeper ball of the back line.
Communication, verbal and non-verbal, is a crucial component of the activity. In the initial phase, we want to encourage the midfielders to demand the ball and communicate with their teammates (“pressure,” “turn left,” “look forward,” “turn,” and so on) to facilitate possession and find the moment to advance forward. As the ball moves forward, communication with the forwards – who are typically marked up – will result in more collaboration and smoother movement of the ball. Ideally, the language we want our players to use has been developed in small-sided activities such as rondos, positional play, and games.

Adjust for numbers

The game, as shown, starts 9v6, including the defending goalkeeper. The additional defenders who join in progressions bring the total to 18.
Some adjustments can be made for less than 18 players while retaining the overall objectives. If the two fullbacks are eliminated, a coach can play a ball in, or the opposing goalkeeper can play a ball out to the midfielder zone to initiate play.
The three additional defenders (included in the progressions) can also be made optional, and the game could start 3v2 in the attacking zone, eliminating another defender. In this case, one of the defending midfielders could drop into the final zone with the ball. It is suggested that the center-back be retained to relieve pressure before advancing the ball, which maintains a 4v2 overload in the midfield. These changes result in an activity requiring 12 players.
A suitable progression within the training session would be to follow this activity with a scrimmage, removing the zones and allowing the players to move freely in the half field while retaining an offside rule. Demonstrating desired patterns of play – either within this activity or as part of a scrimmage – connects the session to the coach’s game model.


The 4-3-3 midfield support small-sided game utilizes zones, touch restrictions, and pass conditions to develop technical skill and tactical awareness. The initial conditions of overloads and unmarked wide and deep players allow the midfielders to settle into a rhythm and recognize moments to advance the ball. For the activity to be successful, the forwards also require instruction on when and how to time their movements to provide the midfielders with opportunities to combine and support. Once in the final third, the team can use various options to create goal-scoring opportunities. This activity can be revisited several times over a training cycle, introducing new concepts and patterns to layer into the team’s game model.
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