How to stop a counter-attack in soccer

This post will help you understand what a counterattack is, the fundamentals of a team that can successfully prevent a counter attack, and show you a small-sided game that is designed to help your players stop a counter attack in soccer.

I think most coaches will agree that conceding a goal on a counterattack is probably one of the most frustrating goals to concede.

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You spend most of the game with the majority of the ball possession, creating more chances and shots on goal but you can’t seem to find a way to get the crucial goal you need to win the match.

A misplaced pass is intercepted by a defender who plays the ball forward to the striker with their first touch and carries on their run forward.

The striker layers the ball off to wide a player who has sprinted forward to offer their support.

Having pinned your opponents in their own box for a large percentage of the game, 10 seconds and 2 or 3 passes later they’re now on the edge of your box with the player advantage, attacking at speed.

1 player on your team pressures the ball leaving your remaining player to mark 2 attackers.

The wide player beats their man and sees the striker dragging the defender to the front post with a clever piece of movement, creating space for the other player to receive the ball on the penalty spot for a pullback.

This leaves the defender who made the original interception with all the time in the world to slot the ball past the keeper.

Within a blink of eye your team are now 1-0 down with minutes left to play.

A familiar sight for many coaches.

But what is a counter attack?

In short, a counterattack is when a team is able to attack quickly after regaining possession of the ball in an attempt to try to score a goal by exploiting space left by the opposition.

Some teams will even set up to play counter-attacking soccer, especially against teams who are very attack-minded and good in possession.

Soccer teams will set up for the counter by inviting pressure onto themselves in their own half, this creates more space behind the attacking teams’ defensive line that can be attacked when possession is turned over.

Defensively the team will be ridged, organized and very hard to break down.

The team may set defensive traps and collectively press in certain areas to maximize the chances of them winning the ball back.

Once they win the ball back the aim is to transition from defense to attack as quickly as possible utilizing the space that has been left behind by the opposition’s defense while they were focused on attacking.

how do you stop a counterattack in soccer?

To simply put it, the two most effective ways of stopping a counter-attack in soccer is to ensure that your team transitions quicker than your opponents and your players understand different tactics that can be used to prevent and slow down counterattacks.

Transition faster in soccer

A transition occurs when possession changes from one team to another.

The team that lost the ball will transition from an attacking mindset to a defending mindset and the team that won the ball will transition from a defending mind to an attacking mindset.

The quicker a team is able to react to the transition than their opponents, the greater the advantage that has at counter-attacking or stop stopping the counter-attack.

For your team to be successful at stopping the counterattack in soccer you must ensure that they are able to quickly react to transition from attack to defense.

To make sure it is an effective transition the whole team has to be on the same page.

Include transitions in your soccer sessions

Players are not going to transition quicker in soccer by telling them to ‘react faster’.

The best to get faster at transitions is by incorporating more transitions into your soccer sessions.

This doesn’t have to be anything complicated and it can be worked into any soccer plan that your have.

An easy way to do this is to give goals to the countering team in sessions, for example:

If you are working on 1v1 attacking skills you may reward the attacker if they are able to dribble past the defender or use a skill to beat the defender.

However, if the defender is able to win the ball and they can dribble past a certain marker they will also get a point.

So now instead of the play going dead and restarting when the defender has won the ball, the defender now has a system where they can score points too.

This will cause a transition that encourages the attacker to win the ball back to prevent the defender from scoring.

The more transition opportunities players are exposed to like this, the quicker they will be able to react to transitions in the games.

Transitioning without a purpose, however, is pointless.

Use these 9 tactics below that you can implement and encourage your player to do to stop the counterattack in soccer.

Here are 9 tactics your team can use to stop a counterattack.

1. do not over commit when attacking

This seems like an obvious one but it is often the cause of many counter-attacking goals that are conceded.

When a team is attacking, defending goes to goes to the back of their mind.

Encourage your players to assess a situation in relation to their position and roles within the team before making a decision to join the attack.

2. Stagger your defenders

By staggering defenders, you will always have a defender being able to ‘sweep up’ any through balls or crosses that bypass the first defenders.

For example, if one center back went to challenge for the ball the other should drop off and cover.

There should always be one defender, usually a centre-back, that sits a little bit deeper and calls the defensive line.

3. always make sure you have 1 man over when defending

When you are attacking make sure that you have enough defensive cover if the attack breaks down.

If the opposition team leaves 2 attackers up make sure you have 3 defenders back.

2 defenders should mark the attackers in a goal side position with 1 defender who is free, behind them to cover.

4. Don’t dive in, encourage your players to stand up to attackers

When defending a counterattack it is all hands on deck to ensure the other team does not score a goal.

The rush of blood to the head can cause players to dive in with a defend at all costs mentality.

If the player misses the ball they are out of the game and it gives an even greater numerical advantage to the attacking team.

Encourage your team to stand the defender up and buy enough time for your teammates to get back into a better defensive position.

5. Use tactical fouls

Committing tactical fouls are a great way to slow and prevent a team from counter-attacking at pace as it allows your team to recover and get back in position when the whistle is blown for the free-kick.

Be careful of where you commit the foul though, if you are the last player it will be a red card and it will put your team at a disadvantage.

The best area to commit a tactical foul would be around the halfway line.

This does come at a cost though with the player committing the foul usually getting a yellow card.

6. communication

When defending a counter attacker your players’ communication has to be quick and concise.

This is important as players will be tracking back to cover space they are not used to in their positions.

Giving information such as where opposing teams players are making runs to, what space needs to be covered, and who is going to the ball can make a huge difference when stopping a counter-attack in soccer.

7. Push your keeper further up

A way in which a team may counter-attack is by playing a long ball over the top for an attacker to try and chase down.

If the ball goes over the head of the defender and the keeper is pushed up a little higher the keeper is in a great position to come out and win the ball or bring it under control if they have time.

If a keeper is hesitant or standing too far back they will get caught in no man’s land and allow the striker to finish an easy 1v1.

This is why it is important to help develop your keepers’ passing and receiving skills.

8. Make sure your holding midfielder does not go missing

A holding midfielder has the role of breaking down opposition attacks before they get to the defenders.

A great holding midfielder is able to read the game, win the ball and help set up attacks.

However, if this player goes missing or is caught out of position this leaves a huge space in the middle of the midfield for the opposing team to attack.

The defenders are then caught in 2 minds as to whether to go to the ball or allow them to dribble closer towards the goal.

If a defender commits they will leave behind another space an attacker to exploit but if they do not attack they run the risk of the attacking coming into shooting territory on the goal.

9. Force players into wide areas

As well as standing players up to bide time for your teammates to get back your should be encouraging your team to show the attackers into wide areas.

By forcing the attackers into wide areas you are showing them away from the goal and reducing their chances of finding a pass or shot on goal.

The small-sided soccer game to stop the counterattack.

The best way for players to learn these tactics would be in small-sided game scenarios, you can also add certain conditions to make certain behaviors occur more frequently.

This is how the small-sided game works.


The purpose of this small-sided soccer drill is to encourage players to transition quickly from an attacking mindset to a defending mindset in a game-like scenario.

Set up:

  • 30 x 50-yard area
  • 2 goals
  • Clear halfway line
  • 2 equal teams of 4 or 5


This will be a normal scrimmage however if the attacking team is able to score a goal before the defending team is able to get all their players back in their own half then the goal will be worth 3 points.

If the attacking team scores when the defending teams’ players are all in their half the goal will be worth 1 point.

The winning team will be the team that has the most points.

Coaching points:

  • React quickly and get back into a defensive shape with the change of possession
  • Stand the attackers up and force them away from the goal to bide time for your teammates to get back in position.
  • Communicate with your teammates to help them know what is going on around them

Questions that can lead to coaching points:

  • When your team has lost possession of the ball what should you be thinking?
  • How can you bide time for your teammates to get back in position?
  • What can you do to help your teammates know what is going on around them?

Different variations:

These same rules can be applied if you were to work on a counter-attacking exercise too.

Another variation you can use is by asking teams to try to score a goal under a time limit. This would be a great soccer drill to stop the counterattack if you wanted to work on your player’s ability to slow down opponents to allow their teammates to recover and get back in position.

How to stop a counterattack conclusion

I hope this post has helped you and your team on how to stop a counterattack in soccer.

By including more transitions in your session you will help your players react quickly to changes of possession and how that affects their responsibilities in the team.

Also by working on minor tactics and encouraging certain behaviors in your players, over the long term you players will build a solid foundation on how they can stop counter-attacks in the long term

Remember there is no magic formula or tactic that will help your team stop counterattacks overnight.

If you found this helpful or have any other useful tips on how to stop a counterattack in soccer then please share your idea in the comment section.

Also if you know a coach who would find this helpful then please share it with them using our social media buttons.

Thank you,


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