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Developing Possession from the Back

Variations on Developing Possession using a Back 4

Below we discuss the ways in which advanced teams build possession from the back and the roles and responsibilities players involved in this phase undertake. In the diagram below, FC Barcelona develop possession from the back using a back four.

Methods to Penetrate the defensive block

Starting Position for Development of Possession

The general starting position before transition would be something similar to the diagram below (i.e. 4-4-2 with a defensive and midfield block). The defensive team at this point remains compact and organized. For training exercises where the coaching objective is development of possession from the defensive third it is a good idea to start in a similar defensive shape to highlight the transition.

Methods to Penetrate the defensive block

Standard Offensive Shape

The diagram below highlights the standard attacking shape of a team in a 4-4-2 from the GK’s possession. However any system would have the same principles applied when transitioning to the attacking phase. The 2 Centre Backs split to the edge of the penalty area with both the Outside flank players assuming positions high and wide up the field with open body positions to receiving the ball. The CM’s tend to be staggered, one deeper to cover for the CB’s spreading wide. One forward drops deep to help win the battles in the midfield. One forward remains high to give depth and an immediate threat for a through pass, etc. The right and oeft midfielders push on high and wide to challenge the outside backs and pin them deep. It is important that the team adopts a shape provides both width and depth to stretch the defending team.

Possession with outside backs

Variation 1 (Against 2 Front Players)

The defensive (or central midfielder) can drop deeper, almost to a centre back position to help provide a pivot in the middle of the field and also exploit the passing channels opened up by the two CB’s splitting to wide positions. It is important here that the striker drops in and helps out in the central area so the central midfield is not numbers down. This shape also provides defensive coverage centrally and allows the outside backs to push on as high as they want safe in the knowledge that the defensive midfielder can drop in to defend easily if possession is lost.

Variation 2

Teams that adopt an aggressive wing strategy (i.e. sending a particular Outside Back very high) can adopt the following shape (for example, Roberto Carlos – Brazil/Real Madrid). The back 4 essentially becomes a back 3. The LB is released to go as high as they want to a wing position. To create balance and cover at the back the RB slides inside. They strategy could be adopted on either wing and may be altered based on opponent or strengths in one of these positions. In this case the LM becomes a wide Left Forward (LF) giving the team a lop sided look, but a very strong attacking base on the left flank.

Variation 3

One of the two CB’s pushes forward into a deep midfield position to exploit the seam area (between there midfield and forwards). In this case the Outside Backs do not push up as high as they had previously been doing for risk of a counter attack if possession is lost. This variation also allows the two forwards to both push on much high and give a higher attacking threat at the top end of the field.


The methods adopted for playing out of the back are dependent on the tactics of the opposition (their formation and also pressing tactics). It is important to look at the opposition’s dispersal as well as our own.

Related Practices:

Developing Play Functional Session

Developing Play from the Back 2

Developing Play from the Back 3

Preparing Teams for Development of Play

As coaching staff it is important to have clear strategy and tactics when developing play. Players need to understand team shape in relation to their opponent. Key Factors in practice session should include:

  • Gk distribution techniques.
  • GK scanning of the field and decision making.
  • GK support with feet as a sweeper.
  • Team shape to create space (i.e. positioning to create width and depth)
  • Immediate transition to attacking shape to exploit space.
  • Continual adjustment of positioning to support the player on the ball (i.e. passing channels)
  • Risk vs. Safety. When to play out the back and when not to.
  • Adaption to a short passing and possession based style.
  • Quality of Passing and Receiving with limited touches.
  • Interchanging of positions to create more space?
  • Variation/unpredictable – Sometimes play out the back, other times go direct to midfield or forwards.
  • Game management/Game Tempo – Control using possession strategy.