Long Passes to Beat High Pressure

By Mike Smith

Have you ever noticed how most collegiate and professional squads back off on each other when an attack stalls and the opposing team decides to play out from the back? Compare this to youth soccer and it seems there is constant pressure at every position. I know there is a focus in youth soccer with individual skill and the ability to play out of pressure, however, a critical component at the “next level” is long range passing accuracy. Just because a certain area of development is “focused on” doesn’t mean the other areas need to be totally neglected. The fact is, collegiate and professional players can all put the ball any where they want on the pitch from 50 to 80 yards away. I’m not talking about balls banged out of pressure or searching balls, I’m talking about accurate, timed, weighted passes. This is the main reason high level squads don’t constantly commit numbers to high pressure in the opponents attacking third. To do this, they must send numbers up from the back and expose themselves to quick counters via accurate long balls, for example:

As the diagram above shows, the 4 defenders shaded in red, must hold their positions IF their opponent can hit an accurate long ball. Shown is a typical set up with two obvious options ( wide pass to outside left mid or combo pass to outside right defender ) for the attacking team to get open players in position to hit a long service. Regardless of how it happens, with 4 back the defending side is giving the attacking team an 8 v 6 advantage in the transition zone to insure any long balls are quickly won or met with immediate pressure. This is the game as it is played at the higher levels, possess the ball until you can burn your opponent for their mistakes,( i.e. high pressure )or pack them in tight to their defending third and keep the pressure on them. Accurate long services require numbers back, in-accurate searching services can be handled by one or two fast defenders thus allowing the defending team to defend high and get away with it.

I very much love a game played with the ball on the ground, players 10 or 15 yards apart, constantly moving and switching with the ball until someone receives the ball in front of a wide open net. A critical component to having the time and space to do this ( unless you are Barcelona of Man City ) is the ability to play effective, accurate long balls. Try this drill at your next practice to help your team hit more accurate long services.

Set Up
On half field, as shown below, set up two attacking players near the half line, with the service player starting just below the half mark. Attacking players go in pairs, with defending players going one at a time. Place a 10 x 10 target box near the top of the 18 ( as shown below ). Play starts with the attacking player on the line serving a ball to the defending player. The attacking player sprints toward the box. The defending player must drop the ball back to the remaining attacker, the serving player, before attempting to recover and defend inside the 10 x 10 box. IF the attacker can receive the service cleanly inside the box, they may take one touch outside the box and then have a shot. IF the ball misses the box or cannot be played cleanly with in the box, the attempt is over and the next set of players makes their try.

Coaching Points
The idea here is the accuracy of the service, as well as the proper weighting. The timing of the run is next, the shot attempt is fun for the players and builds into the next progression. The coach should focus on the quality and accuracy of the service and can adjust the size of the box based on the skill level of their squad.

Add an additional 5 yd x 5 yd box ( as shown) at the back post and an additional set of attackers and defenders. Move the 10 x 10 box out a bit to the touch line ( as shown ). Run the drill as before, but instead of a shot, the initial attacking player must serve the ball into the 5 x 5 box on the back post, for the added attacker to finish. The added defender is optional and can be added as a 3rd progression. The added defender would track and defend the added attacker as normal.

Coaching Points
Coaching points are the same as before, with additional focus being put on the accuracy of the service into the back post. During a game, too many players focus on huge areas of space and think if they just hit a ball in the general direction of their team mate, it is a good pass or service. This drill will help improve the long accuracy of your team, and with an additional coaching focus on how the ball is weighted when it arrives this drill will also improve your overall ability to both possess the ball and score.

By Mike Smith
Currently the Head Coach for University Heights Academy Boys Soccer in Hopkinsville, KY , Mike is in his 14th year as a high school head coach with 23 years coaching experience overall  and 34 year as a student and fan of the game. He holds a USSF D License.

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