Defending against the counter attack can be instrumental in ensuring your team doesn’t have space exploited once they have lost possession of the ball. Teams can defend against the counter attack in plenty of different ways from pressing once possession has been lost, to retreating back into shape. In this tactical analysis piece, we are going to explore some different approaches that can be used to help your players understand how they can defend against the counter attack.

Firstly, what is a counter attack?

A counter attack is ‘an attack made in response to or in defence against an attack made by another’. Counter attacks take place when a team loses possession of the ball, with the opponent that has won possession of the ball forming an attack as they transition from defence to attack. Counter attacks are often quick, with opponents looking to exploit space through individual play and players combining with one another. Counter attacks can take place from any area of the pitch, however, they are often more effective when a team has won possession in their own third and are able to exploit space in behind that the opponent has left whilst they were in possession of the ball.

One of the main things to speak to your team about is thinking about defending; whilst they’re attacking. Whilst your team is in possession of the ball, it’s important that they position themselves to create width and depth to help the team to regain possession of the ball. However, it’s equally important the players think ‘what if we lose the ball?’. Therefore, players will need to think about how they both cover space and cover their team mates. For example, if your team has launched an attack with both full backs joining the attack, it may be that one of your midfielders covers the space that has been left by them to ensure they team has balance and is able to deal with the loss of possession by having sufficient players being able to cover and quick counter attacks.

Another way may be having your full backs moving inside the middle of the pitch, whilst the wide players stay wide. This will allow for the team to have numbers in central areas, which will lead onto the team being able to press if possession is lost to delay or stop any counter attacks, whilst also protecting the central area of the pitch.

The importance of distances between the units ensures that players have depth and compactness to ensure the team is in a position to deny any counter attacks from the opposition. Teams that are proactive with how they deal with the loss of possession will be able to deny counter attacks by either applying immediate pressure on the ball, or by recovering back into their shape. For example, if the team has played the ball forwards and lose possession but fail to move up collectively as a unit, this may lead onto the opponents being able to exploit space that has been left in transition.

It’s important that the team is able to protect the middle of the pitch which will ensure that if possession is lost, they’re able to force opponents wide and away from goal to stop them from exploiting space in central areas where counter attacks can be most dangerous. For example, if your central midfielders are in advance of the ball, if possession is lost this could cause issues for the team as they will be out of shape and balance leading onto the opponents potentially being able to exploit space that has been left. Therefore, equipping individuals with the understanding of how they cover their team mates, particularly in central areas, will certainly help the team with defending against the counter. An example of this is below, where one of the midfielders in advance of the ball drops deeper whilst others move ahead of it to cover the space and their team mates.

Delaying the counter can take place by the team that has lost possession pressing the ball, or moving back into their shape and preventing the opponents from being able to exploit spaces. The nearest player to the ball, should look to either place immediate pressure onto the ball if they feel they can delay the attack or regain possession, or simply try and cover space that has been left whilst their team was in possession of the ball. A 5 second rule could used a framework for delaying the attack for example, with you encouraging the team to win the ball back within 5 seconds of possession being lost. This will allow for the team to delay the opponents from being able to counter, but you will need players within good distances of one another to be able to do so effectively.

If the team isn’t able to regain possession back quickly, or place immediate pressure on the ball. Players should look to recover into their position to allow for the team to regain balance. Recovery runs may be to space, or to goal with the objective being to try and prevent the opponents from being able to exploit space as they look to counter attack.

Lastly, securing possession of the ball once possession has been won is important to ensure that the team has an opportunity to keep possession after working hard to defend against the counter attack. This will enable the team in possession of the ball to regain their shape and begin to build the attack, or even potentially counter attack themselves as the opponents may be out of balance themselves after counter attacking.