Offensive Transitions: How to Master Counterattacks



Mo Salah during an offensive transition

Offensive transition is one of the unfairly underrated topics in the nowadays approach to the football analysis. Compared to the attack and defense, transitions stay in the shadow. We will try to find the reasons for this injustice and dive deep into the offensive transition in this article.

The majority of the coaches love attack and defense. These topics are exciting: there is an endless number of papers written about them, an endless number of videos filmed and an endless number of exercises worked out. But what about the transitions?

Not much information is available, despite the fact that a correctly accomplished transition can be game changing. However, transitions occur very fast and, obviously, not as smooth to work on. At Ekkono, we’ve been analyzing them for years and in this article we will share some of the conclusions that we obtained.

There are three types of offensive transitions: open recovery, closed recovery and semi-open recovery


One of the main objectives for the goalkeeper is to have a plan. It means that, before receiving the ball, they should have a clear idea of their following actions.

First of all, the goalkeeper should turn their head with high frequency, observe the situation and figure out the players that they are going to play with. In other words, recognizing the players who are available is the first step that the goalkeeper should follow.

The second step is to adapt the plan based on the positions of the opposing players who are going to jump to press. This step would help to take an appropriate decision to which player the goalkeeper should play, to avoid the pressure and minimize the risks. The best goalkeepers will organize the team, as well as recommend their teammates the position inside the box. This strategic thinking and analytical skills are crucial for goalkeepers.

No doubts, obvious objectives such as not losing the ball, playing easy and playing with a player with an advantage are vital for this role. However, these objectives are much more reachable, when the goalkeeper prepares a plan in advance, observes the game and tries to prepare the actions according to the most probable opponent’s actions.

In the example below, Meslier (Leeds United) shows the way that team can benefit from having a plan. The ball is close to him and he is looking for the teammates who are available to receive the ball. As he knows where are his teammates, he can help the ball holder find a solution to progress in the game.



When we talk about an open recovery, we consider that the ball possessor is free (and facing the opponent’s goal), and that the ball has been recovered in zones 2 or 3. The main objective in this type of recovery is for all the players to arrive to the opposite box as soon as possible. It is important to mention that the team should guarantee two waves of attack. In both waves, players must consider certain purposes that are mandatory to ensure a successful transition. The more careful, accurate and stuck to the point players are, the more effective and fast the transition will be.

Let us look carefully at the objectives for players who are in front of the ball (first wave players), when the transition begins. The ball holder must prioritize the progression: they must make a progressive pass to a player with advantage, or drive the ball forward in order to give time to the team members to position themselves in advantageous positions.

Offensive Transition 1

In this example, we can see Matip (Liverpool) drive the ball, giving time to his teammates to be in a position to receive the ball in advantage and allowing the team to progress.

Players without the ball need to either attack the space, being available to receive the ball and keep attacking fast, or create free corridors to attack (as it increases the chances to score). In other words, these players should observe the situation on the field carefully and find the best solution. Obviously, if a player with the ball is able to give them time, the chances of coming up with the better decision are increased.

Offensive Transition 2

In this example, we can see Mané (Liverpool) making a movement to be available and in a diagonal position from the ball possessor, in order to receive the ball with advantage


As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, this subphase can be implemented on the advanced levels and is not obligated for the teams under 18. The main objective of this subphase is to find a player with an advantage to develop the fast attack. In this recovery, there is a player with an advantage is in our zone, and passing to them can turn the subphase into an open recovery. For semi-open recoveries, we will consider ball recoveries in all three zones.

In this situation, the ball possessor is pressed or not facing the opposite goal. However, by playing to an open player inside their own zone, they are able to create this advantage and start the progression. Once this first pass has been completed, we should apply the same principles as in an open recovery.

In this situation, the ball possessor passes the ball to an open player inside to create an advantage.

Offensive Transition 3

In this situation, the ball possessor passes the ball to an open player inside to create an advantage.


Finally, let’s talk about closed recoveries. In this sub-phase, we are in a situation where the ball possessor is under the pressure in zones 1 or 2, with no player with advantage inside their zone. The main objective is to protect the ball and to avoid losing possession. The main priority for the ball holder should be to ensure the ball possession and not take any risk.

Therefore, teammates must be fast to offer emergency supports and help the team move the ball to zones where there is less density of opponents, and restart their attack. This means that players who don’t have the ball must identify the areas where the ball possessor might be able to pass and position themselves to offer solutions. It is crucial that players who receive the ball don’t close the game, as this would help the opposition counterpress them.

A very important detail about this sub-phase, and that can also be applied in the semi-open recovery, is that the player who recovers the ball plays the ball with their first touch. This action prevents a player with an advantage from being pressed by the opponents.

In this example, we can see Carlos Soler (Valencia) recovering the ball under pressure, but being able to find an open player to start the transition.

Offensive Transition 4

In this example, we can see Carlos Soler (Valencia) recovering the ball under pressure, but being able to find an open player to start the transition.

To summarize, offensive transitions is one of the phases that we should not forget when planning the training content for your season. Deep understanding of the transition process and players’ objectives in each subphase is crucial to be understood by coaches and transmitted to players, as the decisions in this phase should be taken fast and without much time to think, in order not to allow the opponent team to reorganize their defensive block. Despite the fact that transitions are not as stable and easily controlled as the attack or defense phases, teams can significantly benefit from accurate application of them. Your teams will develop offensive transitions much more effectively with the implementation of the principles mentioned above and will increase the chances to score.Learn more about

Offensive Transitions. Watch our latest webinar about the topic here.


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