Combination Play is an essential attacking and possession topic to run with your players. Combination Play involves the creation of shapes like triangles and diamonds or synchronized movements and positional interchanges in order to attack with greater fluidity and organization. All of the best professional clubs in the world have some clearly defined method of combination play in the final-third of the pitch. For Borussia Dortmund, they are heavily reliant on one-two-touch play in and around the 18-yard box, looking for through-ball passes into the area at the right moment or creating overloads to spread the ball wide and deliver crosses into the box. For Liverpool, their front-three of Salah, Firmino and Mane orchestrate attacks in the final-third as though it’s a choreographed routine, relying heavily on positional interchange and movement off-the-ball to cause chaos for their opposition. Although our youth teams might never be able to achieve the attacking flair of Borussia Dortmund or Liverpool, working hard on the training ground on Combination Play can still be tremendously helpful in the quest for greater attacking prowess.
Here is a session plan all about Combination Play for youth players.
Set-Up: Triangle passing as pictured. With more numbers, add players in behind at each cone, or set up another grid.
Execution: Passing circuit as illustrated, with players following their pass from one cone to the next. Passing should be two-three touch to keep players moving. In between the two blue cones players can perform a dynamic movement, shuffle through cones or work on coordination with a ladder.
Variations: Add in a third ball to keep players moving.
- First touch in the direction you want to go
- Quick passes and quick movements. Not a jog in between cones but also not a sprint as it’s a warm-up
- Body shape to receive and receiving on the back-foot (foot furthest away from the ball, closest to the next cone)
ACTIVITY 1: 6v3 RONDO
Setup: 3 zones, 1 for each team. The total size of each zone should be relatively small to force quick decision making under pressure.
Execution: Green team starts in the middle. White and Black have a 6v3 majority and must work together to keep the ball away from Green. Black combines in their zone to play forward to White at the right moment.
Green can only have one player in either attacking zone, but can have two in the middle zone. If Green wins the ball, they play it over to White and take the place of Black. Black transitions to defense immediately.
- Add neutrals on the outside if 2 extra players, add neutral on inside if 1 extra player.
- 2 defenders can go into the zone with the ball rather than just one.
- Maintain triangle shape
- Play forwards at the right moment, don’t force it
- Body shape on the half-turn to play either direction
- Quick 1-2 touch play to lessen time for defenders to react
ACTIVITY 2: THREE PASSES TO SCORE
I am normally not the biggest fan of games that restrict players to a certain number of passes, but this activity emphasizes keeping possession and not rushing it forward, and I find the three-pass restriction to be beneficial to achieving the key learning outcomes of the session.
Setup: 3v3/4v4 in one central grid. 2 neutral players on the outside lines. With extra numbers, you can add another netural player in the middle or on the end line.
Execution: Triangle / diamond passing to combine with 3 passes before the team can advance into the blue zone and shoot. If a team can advance into the zone after three passes, no member from the other team can follow. Goalkeepers and neutrals are available as passing options for the 3 passes.
Progression: If a team advances into the blue zone, the defending team can send one player in to defend.
- Triangle and diamond shape to combine
- Quick 1-2 touch passing
- Don’t force it forwards. Play backwards, the goalkeeper, or neutrals for extra support
GAME 1: POSITIONAL PLAY
Setup: 5v5 in your team shape ensuring triangles and diamonds to combine. In our example, White is the attacking team and plays 1-2-3 (CB, CM x 2, RW, ST, LW). Black is the defending team and plays 3-1-0 + a goalkeeper. The White team’s shape would be applicable to a 3-2-3 (9v9) or 3-4-3 (11v11). For Black it would be 3-1-3-1 (9v9) or 4-1-4-1 (11v11).
Execution: Ball always begins with the White CB passing to a teammate on any restart. White team combines and scores on the large goal. Black team defends and scores in the two small goals on the outer edges of the field or by dribbling into the orange square.
Variations: Adjust team shape to suit your team’s formation or personnel/numbers available.
- Triangle and diamond shape to combine
- Body shape on the half-turn to play forwards
- Quick one-two touch play to give defenders minimal time to react
- Interchange of movement and passing between the front three
- Striker playing with their back to goal to combine with the two CM’s. CM’s looking to play wide or shoot from distance as they have a 2v1
- Playing backwards to CM’s and CB’s to switch play
GAME 2: REGULAR GAME
Setup: 6v6 Game. No restrictions, no conditions. Normal rules of the game apply. Field size should be based on how well the players have been achieving the key factors to the session, age of the players and how much time on the ball you want to give your players. (Smaller size = quicker decisions needed, bigger field size sometimes = more complex decisions needed).
Execution: Minimal coaching, minimal stoppages of play. Let the players play.
5v5: 1-2-1 or 2-1-1
6v6: 1-3-1 or 2-1-2
7v7: 2-3-1 or 1-3-2
There it is! A complete session plan on Combination Play. Although trying to be like Liverpool or Borussia Dortmund might not be something our players will ever achieve, having players work on their fluidity and interchange in attack can be extremely beneficial to the team in establishing greater attacking flair and prowess.
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