All posts by Tobias Hahn

4vs4+2 with neutral players providing depth

Structure: The playing field is 30 meters long and 20 meters wide. There are two mini-goals placed on both sides. Those can be seen as a pass through the halfspace, for instance.

Rules: The game is played 4vs4 on the mini-goals with a fixed direction of play. The two neutral players support the team in possession of the ball and have a maximum of two touches. Furthermore, they are not allowed to leave their position but can move along their side. Therefore, placing the mini-goals a few meters behind the field would be optimal.

Variation: The players between the goals are each assigned to a team and are allowed to move into the field once the ball is lost. Consequently, dynamic situations arise in which one player presses backwards.

Coaching points: By using a 4vs4 one can basically train all aspects of football. Consequently, all relevant group and individual tactical aspects are present. The creation of triangles, the correct positioning, the support of the ball carrier, or to look for the deepest positioned player are all coaching points. Defensively, it is all about correct shifting, diagonal positioning, isolating the opponent and recognizing pressing triggers.

In case you are interested in our other small-sided games, head over to this part of our website to find all training content:

You can download the small-sided game with instructions here:

Practicing the halfspace switch

Structure: The playing field resembles the wings of a butterfly. On each diagonal side of the field, a mini-goal is placed. I would recommend to use the width of the box and make the field approximately 25 meters long.

Rules: The game is played 5vs5+1. The neutral player supports the team in possession of the ball. Furthermore, a fixed direction of play is established.

Variation: To support the team in possession of the ball, the field could be divided into different vertical lanes, with specific rules for the occupation of each zone. In a further step, the direction of play could be changed. For example, a team could then attack the goals at the bottom left and top right. This in turn leads to more diagonality and interesting interactions, especially in terms of preparing the counter-pressing for a potential turnover.

Coaching points: The main principle we want to train with this small-sided game is the use of switches in order to get access to the centre diagonally. Therefore, the butterfly-shape is used alongside the mini-goals representing a pass into the ten-space. As a consequence, the main focus of this small-sided game lies in the principles of creating pressure and finding the free man facing the opponent’s goal. Fulfilling the principle of creating pressure requires the usage of our sub-principles attract and switch as well as the offer of two passing options for the ball carrier.

In case you are interested in our other small-sided games, head over to this part of our website to find all training content:

You can download the small-sided game with instructions here:

Three-zone game with ice hockey rule

Structure: The field is as wide as the box and is extended to the halfway line. Two mini-goals are placed on the centre line. The field is divided into three horizontal zones. In order to replicate the passing lanes during the build-up phase, the first zone is shaped like a pentagon.

Rules: Yellow builds up from behind and tries to score a goal. Red counter-attacks on the mini-goals. There may always be a maximum of four players from yellow and three from red in the pentagon. The transition to the middle zone can be made by a pass or dribbling. In the transition to the attacking zone, the ice hockey rule applies again. Thus, players are only allowed to enter the attacking zone without the ball.

Variation: To further promote diagonal passing in the middle third, the pentagon shape can be extended to the whole field.

Coaching points: A diagonal structure should always be established in the build-up. Using the 4vs3 numerical superiority requires quick ball circulation with the intent to attract the defenders on one side or in the centre and then quickly switch into open space. To advance, the play over the third-man can be a useful tool, thus should be coached. After moving forward and entering the middle third, it is crucial that the players performing the build-up move forward in order to offer passing options or prepare for a potential counter-attack.

In case you are interested in our other small-sided games, head over to this part of our website to find all training content:

You can download the small-sided game with instructions here:

Practicing pressing triggers

Structure: Once again, we use an octagonal field to encourage diagonal passing. The field is divided into nine zones with two large goals installed. We play 7vs7 plus goalkeepers.

Rules: There is no corner kick or throw-in, but the game starts again and again at one of the goalkeepers. The defending team may first position a maximum of one field player in the build-up area of the team in possession of the ball. Only when the ball has been played in the middle third and has returned to the build-up zone may the defending team move freely in each zone. This procedure starts again after each interruption.

Coaching points: We would like to train our principle of high pressing, paying particular attention to the issue of pressing triggers (sub-principle). Furthermore, aspects such as correct steering and the correct use of the cover shadow are focused on this small-sided game. Last but not least, players should get a feel for preparing a pressing situation as well as identifying the correct trigger as a unit.

Improving attacking play and the involvement of a striker

Structure: The game is played in an octagon with large goals at the ends. The field is divided into three horizontal zones of equal size. Thereby, the central zone is further divided into three zones (one very large and two small). In addition, the central zone consists of three vertical lanes.

Rules: The game is played 8vs8. The team in possession of the ball must always occupy the small horizontal central zone on the border of the attacking zone (as the blue team in the picture). Furthermore, all vertical lanes must be occupied at all times to secure the proper structure for quick switches. The attacking third may only be entered without the ball (ice hockey rule). However, before entering the final third, the team in possession had to pass the ball to the striker in the small zone.

Variation: The small horizontal zone may be flexibly occupied, as long as it is occupied.

Coaching points: The idea is to improve attacking plays involving the striker. Thus, trying to play the deepest possible ball as well as provide layoff passing option is crucial. Runs behind the last line to take advantage of the play over the third / fourth. Equal occupation of the space and positioning on different horizontal lines. Creating diagonal pass lines.

You can download the small-sided game as a pdf-file here:

Small-sided game to improve information processing and decision-making

Structure: The shape of the small-sided game is a circle. The reason is fairly simple. By taking a circle-shaped playing field, one takes away one reference point for the players – the sideline. Consequently, they have to focus more on the other reference points instead and learn how to position according to those. Within the field, three mini-goals are placed which are all marked by a different colour.

Rules: The initial game is 4vs4+1 with the aim of keeping the ball. It is the coaches task to indicate a colour either by shouting it, using a code or using coloured cones. For instance, we often use calculation tasks where a certain result indicates the colour. Furthermore, by naming an object or a football club, the players first have to process this information before arriving at the correct solution. The team that wins the ball must then counter-attack on this mini-goal and is awarded two points. If they counter-attack on one of the other mini-goals, one point is awarded. 10 passes in a row for the team in possession of the ball add up to one point as well.

Variation: In a further step the coach can also hold up a coloured cone as a signal instead of calling out the colour. As a result, the players have to constantly look around and wait for possible new information.

Instead of using cones, three neutral outfield players can be used. All wear different coloured shirts. Once the team in possession passes the ball to the neutral player with the yellow shirt, the team in possession is allowed to attack this goal.

Coaching points: Constant scanning of the environment, information gathering and processing. Quick decision making. Correct structure in possession of the ball. Staying connected to reach every player and mini-goal on the pitch is crucial. Besides, a good structure in possession allows for a quick recovery of the ball after it is lost.

Small-sided game: focusing on quick counter-pressing

Structure: The game is divided into nine zones. The entire playing field forms an octagon. On the diagonal sides, mini-goals are placed. The game is played 8vs5.

Rules: The red team gets one point if 10 successful passes are played in a row. The blue team gets one point if, after losing the ball, they manage to counter-attack quickly on one of the 4 mini goals or to play 5 successful passes in a row.

Variation: The aim of the red team is to transfer the ball from one side to the other. Therefore, a direction of play is created for the red team.

Coaching points: Quick counter-pressing. The aim is to reduce the space near the ball. Diagonal pressing and the conscious steering of the opponent, plus working in triangles for mutual protection are different sub-principles. Furthermore, individual details such as the correct use of the covering shadow can also be trained within this small-sided game.

Small-sided game to practice the use of the cover shadow in pressing scenes

Structure: 5vs4 is played in a 25 meter wide and 40 meter long field. In addition to the large goals at the ends of the field, two triangular mini-goals are placed in the centre.

Rules: The team in possession of the ball tries to score a goal. Scoring a goal is rewarded with one point. A successful pass through the triangular mini-goals counts as an additional point. However, the triangular goal may only be played through by the direction of play. Passing back through the triangular goal is not rewarded with a point. In the first step, the red team constantly attacks, while the blue team counterattacks on the big goals – the triangular goals can’t be used by them.

Variation: The game is played in both directions. Consequently, a neutral player is installed (4vs4+1) and the triangular goals become diamond-shaped goals.

Coaching points: Use of the covering shadow to keep the opponent from being out of the pressure situation, depending on the direction of pressure. If the goal is directed outwards, the diagonal pass into the centre should be prevented. If the shadow is directed inwards, the diagonal pass should be directed outwards.

Game-related possession game in the hexagon

Structure: The game is played in a hexagon divided into four zones. By means of the field form, vertical passes along the line are to be prevented. The field is 20 meters wide at its widest point and 35 meters long, depending on the level of skill of the players. The aim of the small-sided game is to make the ball circulate from one side to the other.

Rules: The game is played 5vs5+4, with the neutral players always being positioned in the smaller zones at the ends of the field and not being allowed to leave these zones. For the offensive team, both central zones must be occupied by at least two players.

Variation: It does not matter who occupies the end zones as long as two players from the team in possession of the ball do so. Dynamic swapping is allowed.

Coaching points: creating diagonal passing lines; occupying different horizontal and vertical lines to make quick changes of sides; creating depth – looking for the deepest positioned player.

An early Christmas game and Bayern’s struggle in cold Moskva

It supposed to be a comfortable win for the best European team these days. No one expected a close encounter between Lokomotiv Moskva and Bayern Munich at a cold Tuesday evening. Even though Bayern showed defensive issues, there start in the season was good. The dominance developed under Hansi Flick continued and it looks like Bayern again belongs to the heavy favourites for the Champions League title. Flying to Moskva to face Lokomotiv, therefore, shouldn’t be a game to worry about. However, many teams struggled in recent history against the Russian or Ukrainian sides. Real Madrid will definitely confirm this. Tactically disciplined, the coach of Lokomotiv selected a match plan which is rarely seen in European football.

In order to stop Bayern’s dangerous offense, Marko Nikolic decided to make the centre as compact as possible while isolating the attacks on the wing. To do so, he decided to go for a formation often played by the great AC Milan under Carlo Ancelotti. The 4-3-2-1, or in Germany called the Christmas tree formation, leaves barely any space in the centre and naturally steers the offensive actions towards the sideline. Lokomotiv managed to stay compact throughout the whole game, even though conceding and early goal after Goretzka finished a technically outstanding attack through Tolisso and Pavard.

The big advantage of the 4-3-2-1 is not only the compact centre but also the positioning of the players in respect to the line in front and behind them. Basically, the holes of each line are covered by the line in front of them, thus making it extremely difficult for the opponent to penetrate. Even when successful, the receiver can be pressed from three different directions. This way, Lokomotiv managed to break the rhythm of Bayern as well as gaining the ball regularly in a promising position to counter-attack.

Taking a closer look at the 4-3-2-1 reveals the basic idea behind the formation. Not only are the spaces between defenders well covered, but it also allows for cutting the available space for the team in possession in half. Basically, the formation functions as a wedge forcing the opponent to one side and then pressing aggressively. The striker plays the decisive role in steering the build-up of the opponent. Zé Luís often positioned close to the centre-backs and moved right between them once Bayern came closer to Lokomotiv’s half. By cutting the passing lane to the respective centre-back partner, the striker cuts the available space for Bayern in half. The effectiveness of the wedge has to do with the concept of relatively width which I’ve briefly explained in this Twitter threat.

However, the position of Zé Luís varied. Sometimes, he remained in front of the back-four in order to help the number tens to control the defensive midfielders of Bayern. He then would occasionally pick a pass or an action to press, for instance, once the centre-back faces the fullback he would move forward and urges him to pass the ball to the wing. Here, Lokomotiv seemed to focus more on Bayern’s left side, probably expecting more threat through the build-up from Alaba. Besides, the Austrian’s performances were poorly in recent games, so maybe Nikolic hoped for chances after individual mistakes made by Alaba.

By leaving the striker a bit deeper, Lokomotiv sometimes allowed for the switch through the back-four but remained more compact in the centre. Along with Smolov and Kulikov, Zé Luís formed a tight triangle effectively cutting the passing lanes to Bayern’s defensive midfielders. While the striker would close the diagonal passing lane in the centre, there was no need for the ballnear OM to stay narrow, thus he could move wider to block passes into the halfspace. Once again, Lokomotiv would form a triangle multiplying the space covered. Simultaneously, the ballfar number ten would move slightly towards the centre to be able to press once the pass is played to either Kimmich or Goretzka.

Bayern occasionally reacted by dropping Kimmich to from a back-three in possession. Even though this move makes it harder for the 4-3-2-1 to deny the switch, the advantages created a minuscule because the ballnear number ten is also able to close the passing lanes for a wider centre-back advancing with the ball. Nevertheless, it was surprising that Bayern did not select this tool more often. Especially, in the second half, holes would open up because the 4-3-2-1 is quite intensive in terms of shifting from one side to the other.

Even without the deeper Kimmich, Bayern managed to move the ball quickly from one side to the other which is crucial against the Christmas tree. Of course, the heavy focus on the centre comes at the cost of being exposed at the wings. Usually, the ballnear CM is responsible for moving out of position to press the fullback once he receives the ball in a wider position. A deeper winger can also be pressed by him. The fullback, in contrast, would face the winger in a high position. Coman and Zhivoglyadov duel is the perfect example. Usually, the diagonal structure would support the fullback because the CM is always close to help. Together, they can effectively defend both directions in which the winger can dribble. Due to the positioning of the number ten, the CM can fully focus on defending the diagonal line towards the goal. It is the responsibility of the OM to immediately attack a back pass to, let’s say, the defensive midfielder.

In general, this approach seems to be a reasonable choice against a team as dominant as Bayern. The disadvantage of struggling to press higher can be disregarded because pressing Bayern effectively won’t be possible over the course of 90 minutes. Nevertheless, Lokomotiv managed to do that in the opening 10 minutes by moving the block higher up the pitch. However, they’ve lost their precision in shifting over the course of the match. Additionally, Bayern intelligently used the available space of the 4-3-2-1 in the first half.

The role of Müller and the fullbacks made the difference

It didn’t take a lot of time until Bayern managed to find a way through the defence of the Russian side. Hansi Flick might not be known for spectacular in-game adjustments, however, the plan he develops for his team is often quite precise, thus changes are rarely needed. Against the 4-3-2-1, Bayern aimed at switching quickly through diagonal balls to their fullbacks. The first goal was a great example for this move. However, in the end, Lokomotiv managed to stop those moves quite often through compact and precise shifting.

As always, Flick’s team created an overload between the defensive line and the first midfield line. Therefore, they had quite a presence in the box once the opponent would cross the ball in.

Furthermore, they focused on stretching the defence of Lokomotiv, an effective way to create problems for the 4-3-2-1. Even though, the vertical compactness is great and opponent’s regularly despair on finding space in between the defensive shape, its biggest strengths creates its biggest weakness too. The Christmas tree formation is not particularly compact horizontally. Due to the low number of players in the midfield line, the fullbacks of Lokomotiv moved long ways to make the centre compact leaving the ballfar players completely open.

The example above perfectly illustrates the issues Bayern could create through their relatively wide formation. Especially, the CMs Krychowiak and Ignatjev had to cover a lot of space because they were the players moving out of the block to press on the wing. Therefore, after quick switches, Bayern potentially could have create more dangerous scoring options, however, they failed to do so consistently. Two things were decisive for that. One was the fact that the 4-3-2-1 effectively cuts switching options through the centre due to its structure. The switch through the centre-backs is quite often possible but takes a great amount of time, thus giving the defence enough time to be back in position.

As a consequence, the offense needed to play long diagonal balls to take advantage of the poor occupation of ballfar spaces. Those passes are difficult from a technical standpoint, whilst being easier to defend once the receiving player can not immediately attack. Only a few times Bayern could effectively use that tool against the Russians. One of it led to the goal. Here, another component of Bayern’s attacking plan paved the way to glory – their fullbacks.

Their French worldcup winning fullback duo posed a lot of issues for Moskva’s defenders. Usually, the CMs were responsible to press Bayern’s fullbacks, especially, when they were in a wider position. Bayern took advantage of this reference point and constantly changed the way the fullbacks would act. For instance, Hernandez would often move in the halfspace between fullback and centre-back while Tolisso, the nominal number ten would move deeper and Coman stayed wider. Then, Lokomotiv struggled to defend it properly. Doubling the French winger was probably the main plan. By moving the fullback outwards and having the CM covering the diagonal lane to the goal, the 4-3-2-1 is in theory well prepared to defend quick wingers. Both ways are defendable while an overlapping fullback can easily be picked up by the fullback of Lokomotiv.

The situation looked quite differently once the fullback was inverted. Now, Moskva’s fullback wasn’t sure whether he would stay narrower or would still press the wide winger. Occasionally, Lokomotiv decided to move the CM out to press, which opened the halfspace a little bit. In case Coman would win the 1v1 duel, the halfspace could be penetrated and Bayern would have successfully reached the box. Consequently, the ballnear OM would drop to close this gap. Then, however, Lokomotiv lost the advantage of the 4-3-2-1 to immediately put pressure on the back passes.

As one could see in the situation in which Bayern scored their first goal, Kulikov, the nominal DM was occupying the OM position for a brief moment but then decided to drop, thus Tolisso had all the time in the world to play the diagonal ball in the space behind the leftback.

Quite often, Lokomotiv struggled to shift correctly once a player from the line in front dropped deeper. If it wasn’t enough, the fact that Müller would rarely stay wide but function as a free-floating player between the lines forced the DM to stay more centrally or the ballfar CM and fullback to move closer to the centre. Consequently, Lokomotiv either struggled to support ballnear or to defend the far side properly. Using a late approaching Pavard on the right opened up dangerous situations for Bayern after switches to their right side. Again, the goal was the perfect example.


Overall, the game showed, however, that the 4-3-2-1 can be an effective way to break the rhythm of the offensive team and force them to the wings. Even though Lokomotiv tended to stay to flat with too many players on the same horizontal line, Bayern had a hard time to find space between the lines. Due to the fact that switches do not particularly belong to the strengths of Flick’s team, Lokomotiv was capable of making one of the best offenses on the planet relatively ineffective. Along with their good work in possession, they even had the chance to win the game.

Nevertheless, the game not only showed why the 4-3-2-1 can be effective but also highlighted a few potential tools against it. Especially, the clever use of the fullbacks and the role of Thomas Müller can be potential starting points for the development of perfectly working tools against the 4-3-2-1.

I will probably discuss how to play against the Christmas tree formation over at my patreon site. If you enjoy my analysis, make sure to support me for only 1€/month and receive exclusive content and directly interact with me. Every support is very much appreciated.