Here are five key takeaways from Sam Saunders' coaching course on beating a low block, which you can watch in full on the CV Academy.
Saunders takes his players through two practices: one that is almost unopposed – there is just one defender and a goalkeeper up against a full side set up in a 3-4-3 – and another that is fully opposed. In the first practice, the in-possession team runs through a series of patterns while unopposed, before the ball is played into the final third and the defender and goalkeeper provide some opposition to make the practice slightly more game-realistic.
The players can then use elements of the patterns they have learned when the session moves into an opposed practice. In a crowded playing area, it is understandably difficult for the players to stick to the patterns precisely. Nonetheless, there are noticeable components and principles that can be carried through to the latter parts of the session, and could eventually be useful in matches, too.
When playing against a low block, it is crucial to stay patient and not force the final ball. Saunders asks his midfielders and defenders to play passes at pace to keep the semi-opposed practice realistic, but he uses a couple of triggers to ensure the team takes their time in possession and has to wait before penetrating into the final third. First of all, a wing-back receiving a pass acts as a trigger for the players to begin a pattern. Then, he uses a whistle to tell the players to spring into action and make the runs and rotations he has asked for. These two triggers mean that the players can’t rush the ball into the final third. They have to remain patient and wait for the moment that tells them it’s time to progress forwards and try to create a chance to score.
Coupled with the above point is the need to attack at speed once in the final third. The combination of slow, patient possession followed by an injection of pace can catch opposition teams out, with players able to gain a crucial yard of space in the penalty area as a result. Saunders asks his players to follow up the aforementioned triggers with movements, with one player – be it a wing-back, one of the two number 10s or an underlapping centre-back – making a penetrative run out wide to find a position to cross. As they run on to the pass, three players – the centre-forward, the other 10 and the far-side wing-back – should sprint at full speed to attack the near post, centre of the goal and the far post, providing three options for the player making the cross. If this is done at speed, it will be far more difficult to defend.
With little space in behind opponents who sit back in a low block, it’s important to move them from side to side in order to find space to progress into the final third. Saunders says creating wide overloads are crucial in beating a low block; in order to achieve these, the ball needs to be switched from one side of the pitch to the other quickly. This can lead to the opposition’s full-back being isolated as the rest of the defence move across the pitch.
Saunders ensures his players switch play regularly by demanding that one wing-back receives the ball before it is moved out to the other side to penetrate in behind.
Although the session is focused on breaking down a low block, Saunders includes a focus on defensive transitions. He says it’s important to demand that the players react to a loss of possession with an intense counter-press, insisting the players need to be brave and bold in how they try to win the ball back.
“We like to be a possession-based team, so teams are likely to fall back into a low block against us,” he tells The Coaches’ Voice in his post-session interview. “That’s why it’s so important to work on the transition of giving the ball away, and really press to win it back immediately. That means teams can’t get out. You keep pressing and you don’t ever come away from it. Keep being brave. We like that work ethic, being brave. If it goes wrong, we take the blame, because that’s how we want the game to be played. The players know that, and they trust that.”
Author: Ali Tweedale