Defensive principles can be used to help support your players within your team by providing them with a framework of how you will defend as a team. When working on the defensive principles of play it’s important that we don’t just look at team defending but also individual and unit defending as well. Working with individuals is a great way of helping to develop understanding around the principles of play. These five principles are: Delay, Compactness, Depth, Balance and Control/Restraint. In this analysis piece we are going to look at these five principles and what they are but also how they can be coached to individuals as well as a unit and a team.

Delay – Is the decision of the team, unit or individual of when to press and when to drop. Teams may be encouraged to press once they are in balance and compact, likewise, when they are overloading the opposition in particular areas of the pitch. A team may need to drop when out of balance or when they’re not in a position to win the ball back. It may be a better decision for the team to drop by recovering and returning to a compact shape.

Compactness – Consists of the movement or positioning of players in a concentrated area to limit distance between players. Distances should be between 8-10 yards when your team is playing 11v11 which will help support you as a team to remain compact and limit the opposition from being able to play / break lines. Compactness should be both horizontal and lateral and will link to the depth that you have as a team. By being compact, this will help your team when in both defending with a low block by forcing the opposition around and back, but also help you to win the ball back as a team when pressing too.

Depth – Refers to the reduction of space behind each unit, team or individual player that is pressing the ball. When pressing, your team should be encouraged to reduce the depth between each unit to ensure they’re compact and in a position to win the ball back. Leaving too much space between each of the units will enable the opposition to bypass the press or receive in the space left. Depth is also required to prevent the opposition exploiting space in behind, particularly if your team is looking to press high as this may allow the opposition to exploit this space. Alternatively, it may be that you as a team have depth by dropping deeper and setting up with a low block to prevent opposition getting into spaces behind units and also behind the defence too.

Balance – Is the extension of the defensive support around the primary player that is pressuring the ball or nearest to it. An example of balance is when the left back is pressuring the oppositions wide player and your two centre backs and full back cover around to support that player. This helps back up the full back if they’re beaten but also prevents the opposition from playing/breaking lines in your defensive unit. A help line can be referred to which is a line down the middle of the pitch which ensures your team isn’t over covering. Balance is essential when both pressing and defending deep.

Control/Restraint – The decision of the team of when and where to press should be dictated by the individual, where the ball is and the scenario of the game. The above principles help govern these too. Individual players need to have control/restraint when pressing by making the right decision of when to press and when to drop. If an individual makes the incorrect decision, this can often lead to the team leaving spaces between their lines or individual defenders being left isolated and played around. Players need to concentrate and continually scan to stay alert to the surroundings to help their positioning and adjust to where their team mates are, opposition and ball.

How to Coach the Principles?

The principles above should provide you guidance on how you may support your team with how they defend, however, you with your players will need to decide on how you will approach each game by discussing the tactics and strategies of how you will defend.

Below is some guidance on things you may wish to consider when working on the above principles with your team:

Game Related Practices – Keep all your practices game related and link your practice design to the format of the game.

Depth and Width in the Area – Do not make it easy for your team to defend by having a tight area that doesn’t provide width and depth. Defending in larger spaces will help individuals have to make a decision on how they will defend throughout.

Make it Realistic – Does it look like a game? Are the number of players on the pitch the same as you’d have on a game day? Are your players in positions that they would normally be in when defending? Are the attacking team creating problems for the defenders like they would on a match day?

Scenarios / Game Situations – You may want to focus on specific scenarios I.e. your team is winning 1-0 with 5 minutes to go and this will then change your strategy of how you defend. Game situations are also a great way of helping your team understand how to defend, for example it may be that you want to focus on how you press as a team when the opposition has the ball with the GK in open play.

Working with Individuals / Units – When working on the defensive principles, it may be that you need to relate it to individuals and units by helping them to understand how they need to defend in a particular situation or scenario. Likewise, it may be that you see areas that the individual needs to develop when defending too.

Individual Defending – To help individuals understand how to defend, here are some key tips that you may want to coach to your players on and a few simple practices they you may want to use to help support with this as well:

Speed of Press/Recovery – Players should be encouraged to press and recovery quickly. This running shouldn’t be done slowly but instead with players sprinting to either press or recover back into their shape. If players are to press, it’s important they slow down as they approach to ensure they’re not beaten by the opposition player with the ball.

Angle of Approach/Recovery – As players approach, they should look to do this at an angle to help to allow them to block off passes from the player that they’re pressing that could be played behind them. Pressing at an angle may also help individuals dictate the ball a certain way to help the team to set a trap or work collectively to win it back. If players aren’t in a position to press, players can also look to recover either to the ball, space or goal.

Body Shape – Players body shape should be side on when pressing to help players to force them one way. Players should look to have their knees bent with one foot in front of the other with their chest slightly pointed towards the ground to maintain a low centre of gravity. This will also help players to be able to shift their weight and pivot when changing direction when defending 1v1 etc.

Use of Body – When defending, players should look to use their arms and their body to help them to win possession from the opponent. A bent arm will allow the defender to omit more force and the use of the hip and thigh can also be used to off balance the defender too. Defenders should use their arm also to help them to maintain an arms length distance from their opponent, allowing them to see the ball and their feet too.

Front/Back Foot – Players should look to use their front foot to help them to win the ball back from their opponent. The use of their front foot allows the defender to win the ball back with their body whilst also being able to adjust if they aren’t able to win it, often the back foot can be used for ‘emergency defending’.