A low block is a tactic regularly used by teams as a strategy to defend deep and protect space behind and in between units. The purpose of this is to limit the amount of space for the opposition to prevent them from creating goal scoring opportunities. Defending deep is also used by teams that are looking to exploit by using a counter attack. In this blog, we are going to explore how you may with your team break down a team using a low block when defending.
When approaching how you will break down a low block, it’s important that you use principles to guide your players that can be applied to other moments in the game. Often, teams defending in a low block will defend three out of the five channels and maintain compactness throughout to limit passes being played between their units. Below, we will explore how you can use the attacking principles to support you in beating the low block.

Spacing (Five Channels):

When in possession of the ball, your team should look to maintain width across the five channels outlined in the diagram below. Width should be created by your wide players or full backs, as they look to hug the touch line and look to exploit space in wide areas. Likewise, this width created by your wide players may entice the full backs which may create space in behind them or between them. Encourage your midfielders to keep distance between them, using the centre circle as a reference. This is important as it will enable you to create space between, but also allow your players to be ready to switch play if needed. The centre backs should split and maintain distance between them, but also provide depth behind the ball to help the team switch play if needed. See the diagram below for an idea of how your team may look to maintain width across the five channels:


In order to penetrate against a low block, teams should be encouraged to be patient in possession. Teams will need to move the ball quickly horizontally by changing the point of attack with quick ball speed in their passes as they attempt to disrupt the shape of the opposition. The half space is the space between the 6 yard box and 18 yard box, often the space left between the centre back and full back. Due to the lack of space in the central zone, this space can often be exposed by space created from the wide players and full backs maintaining width and either them moving into it or the midfielders and centre forwards making runs into this area too. In order to penetrate the opposition, teams should encourage their team mates to find spaces between the defensive unit, particularly when the space is larger than 8-10 yards. Attackers will need to play short, firm passes when playing between lines and the receive will need to be able to receive under pressure as well as be able to play forwards to take advantage of any passes that are played between lines as well. Space can also be exploited by players travelling with the ball through engaging the opposition, this space may be exploited by the player on the ball as it opens up or the player on the ball moving defenders to create space for another player to move into.


Movement by the team in possession should take place in front and beyond the ball. As the ball is transferred from one side of the pitch to the other whilst the team is maintaining possession, players should look to make forward runs into the spaces created as the ball is moved quickly. The movement from your attacking players, particularly the CF/CFs, should be to disrupt the back line by continually looking to move into spaces between lines. The CF should be encouraged to play off the shoulder of CBs and look to overload the side that the ball is on to help combine and move defenders to create space for players to run into from behind the ball. For example, if the ball is transferred from the CB to the wide player, as the defensive unit is shifting across, it may be that the nearest CM can run beyond into the half space or your full back makes an overlapping or underlapping run. Players should continually move to create angles to receive the ball to be available to the player on the ball and should look to where possible make movements between the lines of the opposition.


How your team supports behind the ball is crucial. If your team is unable to support behind the ball effectively, the opposition will be able to create defensive overloads and win the ball back. If your team mates cannot play forwards, support behind the ball is important for your team to be able to switch play and get away from pressure. Likewise, support also may be needed in advance of the ball too, as players may need to play in front or beyond them to evade pressure as well. An example of how your team will need to support one another will be when the ball is played into the wide player and they receive under pressure, support can be offered behind the ball by the full back, centre midfield or centre back. In addition, your centre forward may also come across to support them by offering an option to combine.


Ultimately, due to the lack of space between players there will be more of an emphasis on individual and collective creativity to beat the low block. Individual travelling with the ball, or players beating oppositions in 1v1 situations should be encouraged. Your team may look to move and create space to help particular players expose specific players in one on one situations. Likewise, your team will need to be able to be creative with quick combinations to play between the spaces left in the low block. An example of this may be a central midfielder travelling with the ball and then combining with the centre forward to play a give and go.
Beating the low block is a challenge for most teams that dominate possession or are chasing a goal to get a result. In recent years, we have seen Mourinho successfully deploy this tactic at a number of his teams that he has managed but also Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid as well. Understanding the low block is a great start for any coaches, once you know how it can be deployed; you will then begin to understand how you can beat it.

Influencing your Coaching Sessions:

When looking at your practice design as highlighted above it’s important that you create practices where your team are exposed to playing against a low block. A great way of creating practices to allow your team to play against a low block if by splitting the pitch into two halves and allowing for your team to play in either three or five channels depending on the format of the games. Small Sided Games, Phases of Play or Technical Practices are a great way of recreating game related practices for your players. As you can see in the practice below, we have removed some players to make it a 9v9 practice across half a pitch. The black player in the centre circle plays on the defending team if they win possession where they have to score in either target goal but also plays for the orange team when they have the ball acting as a CB. For more ideas on how you can plan a session based around this topic, have a read of my previous blog: https://footballdna.co.uk/how-to-plan-a-session-from-start-to-finish/

For more information on how to defend deep in a low block, have a look at our analysis on defending deep: https://footballdna.co.uk/features/key-principles-of-defending-deep/