Playing With A Man Down (10 v 11)

Wayne Harrison was the Technical Director for Youth for the Al Ain Football and Cultural club in the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East. In his time in Charge the youth teams won SEVEN National Champions at Youth Professional Level in the United Arab Emirates in 2 years. The most successful professional academy in the country. 6 Finishing Championship Runners up. The academy was Voted the Top Professional Academy in the UAE by Marco Monte of Inter Milan the Consultant for the Abu Dhabi Sports Council in 2011. Also beating teams such as Inter Milan, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Raja of Morocco in tournaments at U15 and U16. 

Here is the 4th example of some Coaching Clinics he taught to the 40 plus full time coaches he oversaw; all entirely relevant to what is being taught today.

Part 1: Back Four Defending and Attacking Team Shapes

Part 2: Attacking Team Shape And Off The Ball Movement For 9 v 9

Part 3: Defending With 10 Men When Winning 2-0 And Counter Attacking

Defending with 10 men and Counter Attacking

  1. PHASE OF PLAY: Play 7 v 9 (4 + 2) against (3 + 3 + 2) with 3 target goals. Defend with depth and patience.
  2. 3 targets represent the 3 forwards when we break. When winning possession our player can hit a goal then start again; unless able to dribble forward.
  3. Play 7 v 11 (same principle but 4 + 2 v 1-4-4-2) 
  4. Play 9 v 11 (4 + 4) against 1-4-4-2 (win possession 2 wide players spread out immediately).
  5. FULL GAME SITUATION: but Play 10 v 11 (should be easier now)
  6. Start position 1: CM plays the ball behind their defense in the corner, 2 solutions, we can press, and we can’t press.
  7. Start position 2: Their GK passes to a defender. Same 2 solutions, we can press, and we can’t press but ST can push one way. Work on distances between units defensively and across units. Keeper / Sweeper.
  8. Start position 3: We play to our striker and the ball is intercepted (in the air or on the ground).
  9. Start Position 4: Keeper kicks the ball we win the header, they pick up the 2nd ball.
  10. Start Position 5: They play into their ST’s feet. We condense around him.
  11. Start Position 6: They play a ball in behind us.
  12. Start Position 7: Our Keeper kicks it long to our striker
  13. Jockey and delaying:  Identify when it is wrong and coach it (such as being beaten 1 v 1 when we can just delay)
  14. Show press high if able; or drop off if not; in attacking third
  15. When to drop: Cue: Opponent on the ball has head up and is preparing to play the ball forward. Can we press and get his head down first?

Once we have won the ball

Speedy decision making. 

Move the ball forward as early as possible:

  • Pass 
  • Direct to/for front players. a) Behind defense b) To feet c) central d) wide                                  
  • To 'launch' close support. Set up, hold and shield the ball.
  • To break free of pressure, one touch and quick play. Be clever in the attacking 3rd. One-two's and take over’s.
  • Running with the ball. Run with the ball-at spaces, at defenders.
  • Dribble


  • Players ahead of the ball.
  • Attack the back of the defense
  • Attack the spaces between defenders
  • Make forward passes possible. Can you come short? Can you set up a support player?              
  • Those around the ball
  • early support positions
  • Move 'past' opponents
  • Support the forward play momentum.
  • Those behind the ball
  • Move forward
  • Slide across to be a pass receiver or to compact play

Compact Team. Coach the team to move up where they are needed if the move breaks down. 

Momentum. Keeping the ball moving. 

Safety. Two centre midfield players sit in case the move breaks down.

These are my thoughts only: 

  1. You can play 4-4-1 when winning against a 1-4-4-2
  2. How to change against 4-3-3 (can be 1-4-3-2 to go 3 v 3 in midfield) or a very tight mf 4 to stop them attacking through the middle and make it a 4 v 3. 
  3. You can play 1-4-2-3 when attacking against a 1-4-4-2 but dropping immediately into a 1-4-4-1 when we lose the ball.
  4. Back 4 stays intact, FB’s don’t overlap (security) and we keep a solid base, after all we are winning 2-0 and do not need to chase the game.
  5. CM2, hold position (unless FB does attack and then a CM drops in for him).
  6. How do the opponents defend, high or low, or; it depends on the moment? How you break can depend on that.
  7. Wide players in MF4 cut in and forward and support the lone striker in possession (the striker must be able to hold ball up). Physically challenging for these 2 players. May bring fresh legs subs on to help this.
  8. Have opponents throw players forward so they leave gaps at the back to counter attack against (They are Losing so need to score and take some chances)
  9. We are LOSING 1-0; what do we do with only 10 men? Can play 1-4-2-3 with fullbacks very offensive and three strikers to play to. CB’S solid, CM’s solid.


  1. Pre - Designed Start positions allow for the coach to create situations in training that he knows will happen in a game at some stage. These here are designed to create many different scenarios that your team may face in a game and in each third of the field.
  2. Structure the start positions so you go from the front to the back of your team and so there a pattern to the developments.  
  3. First one is a ball played behind the opponents back four. Your team need to decide: a) Can we press from the front, for example can (9) and (11) get there quick enough to press (A) who likely will be first to the ball? Or b) we can’t get there so we drop off as a team and defend from the half way line or the edge of the attacking third line.  
  4. So we can practice HIGH PRESSURE AND LOW PRESSURE DEFENDING HERE, depending on the player positions but you can also set this up and determine which you use initially by player positioning. So, the first idea is CAN WE PRESS THE BALL IMMEDIATELY? If not we then we must drop off quickly as a team and get as many players behind the ball as possible.          
  5. Defending deep means it is difficult for them to play the ball in behind us.    
  6. If we defend high in this situation we must be pretty sure we can win the ball, or it is wasted energy on the part of the pressing player or players.  
  7. If we defend deep then our wide attacking players must have a lot of energy to get up and support the striker and then get back when it breaks down.  
  8. This is where substitutions can play a part as we defend longer in keeping these wide players fresh.




Start positions of (9) and (11) are too far away so it would be wasted effort to try to close so save energy and drop off. 



Players (11) and (9)’s start positions are closer to the position of the ball, so they can press high.  This is the CUE for the rest of the team to adjust behind them, (3) pushes in on (K) the rest slide across and up to cut down the spaces. Important the pressing player shows the player on the ball towards his immediate support.



The ball is played from their keeper to the edge of our attacking third, their defending third, can (9) press the ball and win it, or at least force the play one way so the team behind him knows how to position and condense the spaces around where the ball is being forced to go. 



The ball is passed into our striker (9) dropping into the middle third and it is intercepted by their center back (B) and they attack from there. Now we have (9) out of the game initially so it is 10 outfield players against 8. All the time the start positions are getting closer to our goal, so we have a structured session.



Their keeper kicks the ball long. We win the header and it falls at their center midfielder who wins the second ball in the middle of the middle third of the field. We must press quickly to try to win the ball back immediately if possible, the next best thing would be to stop the forward pass and delay until we get organized defensively as a team in a stronger way. Example let’s say (8) can’t win the ball but he can press to stop the forward pass and slow (F) down; and this allows (6), (7) and (11) to tighten the midfield 4 up by tucking in and maybe even delay (F) to allow (9) to double team from behind...



The play the ball into the feet of their striker in our defending third; their attacking third. Now we need to defend around the outside of our box. We must condense around the ball, (5) gets tight and (6) can double team for example. So now the ball starts behind our midfield four and we will need to make recovery runs to try to get goal side and track the runs by the opponent’s players.



They play a ball behind our defense deep into our defending third to get us turned.



Our (9) is good in the air so we position him against a smaller fullback and away from the taller center back.  Our keeper kicks it long to him and we look for a flick on for (8) pushing beyond (9) for the knock down and (11) joining in. This is another counter attack ploy we can use. They do not go too early in case (9) does not win the header and then they are too far forward to defend.    

Knowing where the keeper is kicking the ball tells the team to slide over and look for the 2nd ball around (9) either in front of him; to the side; or if they win the header through (D), then (7), (2) and (4) are in a good position to pick up the 2nd ball.



Similar to the above one. To help us win the first and then second ball we must have the players organized. The CUE for where they set up is by the position of the keeper. Here he positions on the left, so he is kicking down the left. Striker (9) comes across as the target player.  Other players position around him for the 2nd ball.

In the immediate area of the ball we may even outnumber the opposition and have a great chance to keep the ball, AND; in the attacking third, especially if we do it quickly before the opponents know what we are doing. 

It is better to do in the last 20 minutes or so, protecting our lead; than rather try to play from the back and take chances when we are down a player.

Different scenarios to create and practice

  1. Here we are down to 10 men having had a player sent off. It is important we practice playing with 10 men against 11 in training as red cards are given out here quite liberally, so all teams can expect at some stage of the season to be playing with only 10 men. Therefore, it is important we know what to do when it happens.
  2. Different situations in the game will dictate how you deal with this and how you organize your team. Are we winning, are we losing, are we drawing, is a draw a good result to get; or do we need to win?
  3. The style of play the opponents use will also affect how we play, do they play one, two strikers or three strikers for example? My opinion is; 1, 2 or 3 it does not matter we still can play with a back four against them. Midfield is the key area of concern.  
  4. Let’s discuss what we can do to get a winning situation from a player down and ensure we are prepared for this by practicing it in training.  
  5. I have taken the number (10) out here but it does not necessarily have to be that player as he may be to player you need up front alone. You must know your players well and know which players can play this system best in such a circumstance.
  6. It may not even be your best team you change to, you may bring in two fresh and fit wide players to take on the role of quick support and quick recovery, and who may especially be better defenders than your starters which will be important if you are winning and need to keep the lead. This role will be very physically challenging and that may add to your reasoning as to who you play there.
  7. If you are losing you may put on more offensively skilled players in these two positions.  
  8. There is far more to consider and think about when this happens than on first thinking.



Clearly, we are at a disadvantage with only 10 men. Let’s say it is the last 25 minutes of the game, we are winning, and we have a player sent off. Here are the coaching points associated with this winning situation AND ONE WAY to enable to best keep the lead and win the game. 

  1. Play a 1-4-4-1
  2. Have a strong center forward who can hold up the ball to keep possession until support arrives. It will help if he is quick also. If the opponents defend deep, then play into the striker’s feet. If opponents defend high, then we can play the ball behind them also. Therefore, if playing it behind them is the best scenario; we may replace a big strong striker with a smaller faster player. You decide from what you see as all games are different; and this is where you earn your salary, in the game situation!!  
  3. Tell your fullbacks to stay in position and play as a defender only, attacking means they leave a gap at the back that can be exploited so we need to keep the back four intact always.  
  4. Our two center midfield players stay in defensive position and play a disciplined game.  
  5. This way we keep a solid defensive base of a keeper, back four and a central midfield two screening in front of the center backs.  
  6. Have wide midfield players (7) and (11) be the supporting attacking players in the team. They need to be very fit and prepared to work very hard to support when we attack and recover back immediately when we lose the ball and defend.  
  7. Use low pressure defending as (9) is alone against a back four so let them have the ball at the back (unless there is a CLEAR chance to win the ball).  
  8. Have two banks of FOUR players defending short and tight making it difficult for the opponents to find space between each player to play through.  
  9. This means the players must be at their disciplined best to be patient and wait for any opportunities to attack.  
  10. Develop a counter attacking game plan where we win the ball and counter quickly. Practice this in training also, whilst the main priority is to not concede a goal and maintain our lead, we will get opportunities to attack and score ourselves, especially as the opponents push more players forward to try to press and score.  
  11. So, we have TWO GAME PLANS: a defensive one and an attacking one both directly opposite, one to defend and get players behind the ball, the other to counter attack quickly.

So, consider the team shape / style you use, and the offensive and defensive shapes will change and perhaps be as simple as a 1-4-4-1 when defending and a 1-4-2-3 when attacking or even more offensive shape if one of the fullbacks gets into an attacking position leaving three at the back AND IT COULD END UP A 3-3-3 TEAM SHAPE but we have a defensive team shape of 1-4-4-1 when we lose possession and recover.

So often the team shape depends on the MOMENT IN THE GAME and who has possession

This would be the general set up, but situations will happen where it is a fullback who pushes on; when we are generally asking him to stay back.  In these circumstances just have another player fill in his position to ensure we have the solid six defensively to protect us.

Variables to account for:

  1. What team shape the opponents play  
  2. Knowing their areas of strength and adapting to them
  3. Knowing our strengths and using them
  4. We strengthen one area of the field; to improve our attack; for example, we will inevitably weaken another one; so we need to always consider the consequences of this.
  5. Playing more forwards means we may weaken the midfield. Pushing more players into midfield from the back, means we weaken the back area. With one player down, we are at a disadvantage and the secret is to find a way to minimize this disadvantage.


1.  How adventurous you play depends on the importance of winning the game.  

2. You may play the above style with your two wide players being very athletic and fast and very offensively minded. So, whereas you may play more defensively strong wide players at (7) and (11) who can also attack when need be, but are better at defending when you are winning, in a losing situation you can do the opposite and put better offensive players on.



Here we play a 4-3-2 style with two strikers and three in midfield. We can still win the central midfield battle with 10 men depending on how we set the team up.

Here we have created a 3 v 2 in the center in our favor. The problem is their wide players when they get the ball, so our fullbacks must be more proactive and push on when (E) and or (H) get the ball as there is no direct midfield player against them.  

Offensively though, we need to press and score, so our fullbacks are allowed more freedom and our midfield players must get forward and support the front players and we must take the gamble and push players forward.

Question: At what stage of the game do we do this and go for broke? Depends on the state of the game, are we confident and playing well, if so then go for it early, are we not so confident, then defend well, make sure you do not concede another goal and wait for the clear breakaway chance to counter. Much will depend on the mentality of the coach and confidence of the players, the mentality of the opponent’s players; and the state of the game at that moment in time.

1-4-4-1 WHEN 1-0 DOWN

Alternatively you may play a 4-4-1 style which at first thought does not look as attacking as a 1- 4-3-2 with only one main striker rather than two, BUT; if your team has a very well developed counter attacking style and it suits your particular players this may prove to be an even more offensive style than playing two up front because we actually finish up with three strikers..                                                                                                                                                                     Defend well and be patient, then attack quickly when you win possession with each player knowing his role well.

Again, it depends on the makeup of your squad of players at your disposal and the mentality of the coach; and how well he has trained the players.

So, the first diagram showing a counter attacking set up when we are winning 1-0 may also be the best set up when we are in a losing situation trying to get back into the game. You decide.

1-4-2-3 WHEN 1-0 DOWN


Another style to consider is a VERY ATTACKING STYLE OF 1-4-2-3. Here we will be light in midfield so our fullbacks need to push into midfield more when the opponents get the ball to a wide player (and be the immediate opponent with no midfield player of our own to close them down); and we will stay and gamble with a 2 v 2 at the back or slide the other fullback across making a 3 v 2 (unless they play with a lone striker).  

Playing into our front three quickly is the key to this system, again a quick counter attacking style but now with three players to aim for. Being light in midfield may mean we need to bypass the midfield and play a longer game.

The difference here to the 1-4-4-1 is just the start positions of the wide players, who are closer to the opponent’s goal. You could also say this is the end-product and finishing position offensively of a 1-4-4-1 when we counter attack. 

1-3-3-3 or 1-3-4-2

Play three at the back and have more in the attack and midfield combined. We can still have a 3 v 2 or even a 3 v 1 at the back in our favor. So; should they win the ball and play it forward we are quite secure still in these two situations if our players in front of the back three recover quickly and track the opponents runs. 

Playing three means a big mental adjustment for the back players and they need to know how to play with a back 3 as opposed to playing with a back 4.

There are many ways to play this but ultimately what you will do will depend on the game situation and the strengths and weaknesses of your squad of players and how they match up with the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents. 



Here we have the ball at our keeper and the team starting position shape is a 1-4-4-1.



Wide players (7) and (11) have pushed on and we have become a three-striker attack. The ball is passed to our free fullback (3) to attack down the flank.



Here (3) pushes forward with the ball and enters the midfield area effectively making it a 3-player midfield. The back three behind him; for security; should the opponents win the ball, slide over to make sure they have a 3 v 2 advantage. Plus, we have three strikers, so we are now shaped as a 1-3-3-3.

My thoughts on this are that we are best to start with a 1-4-4-1 and we show the players in training how to transition with the ball with a quick counterattacking style of play.

Then it is easy to drop back into a 1-4-4-1 when we lose the ball and players make recovery runs along the shortest route back to get behind the ball as quickly as possible. With this style of play it is important, if it is possible, that the closest player to the ball when the opponents win it delays the forward motion of the opponents to allow the rest of the team to get back into their defensive shape.



Here we are attacking and in our 3-3-3 attacking shape but (3) plays a bad pass which is intercepted by defender (C). Striker (9) slides across to press and delay the forward motion of the opponents through (C).  

If (11) is the closest player then perhaps (9) will drop back to fill his place and (11) will press the ball and delay.


Here (9) is able to delay the forward pass and this allows (3), (7) and (11) to get back behind the ball and in a good defensive position, (7) picking up (E) and (11) picking up (H) and (3) becoming a part of the back four again.


Alternatively if we have enough players VERY CLOSE to the ball even though the opponent has it we can press from the front quickly and try to win it back at the source. Here (9) and (11) are close so double team (C) and hopefully win the ball and start an attack very close to their goal. (7) Can tuck across to outnumber the opponents near the ball. (3) Can still recover back and get in position should this ploy not work effectively.


Whatever method you use it is always important to have a game plan for a 10 v 11 GAME SITUATION as it WILL HAPPEN at some stage of the season. How your players react will depend on what you teach them in training; so, reproduce the most common moments that may occur on the field.

How your team copes may depend on how well organized you are and how well you have taught them in training.  The ultimate test of their understanding in the game situation will be shown by their reactions, such as; for example; we lose the ball, do we press immediately in numbers to try to win the ball; or do we drop off with just one player instead delaying? Only the players can decide this moment.



SO; MAKE YOUR TRAINING “player focused” and not “coach focused” in ALL aspects of the game. 

These are my thoughts on the theme of 10 v 11, I have offered quite a few alternatives, I know which I like the best, you the coach decide; which way suits your players the best; and start to teach it in training.