In this blog, we will explore the best defensive football formations focusing on the traditional 4-4-2. We will show you how to set your team up to press high as well as defend in a mid and low block. We will give you some examples of how you might set your team to play in each of these areas and explore some of the considerations within each setup.With every defensive formation, it should be linked back to your own principles of play. An example of this can be found in a previous blog where we covered the defensive principles of play. This will help you when looking at the best defensive formations and how your team can adapt to the different scenarios or sets ups from the opposition team that you are defending against.

High Pressing Defensive Football Formation

The first area we will look at is the ‘High Press in a 1- 4-4-2’ where we will look at how you may look to set up your team to defend high up the pitch to regain possession against an opposition team that is building from the back.

With the ball being central from the goal kick the front two can position themselves ready to press the two centre backs as well as screening the central midfielders from the opposition team. Once the first pass has been played, the defensive unit can step up and play with a higher line in the opposition half.

Once the first pass has been played, the second forward begins to press from the outside shoulder of the goalkeeper to screen the switch of play and to force play one side. As the pass is played, the nearest forward begins to apply pressure on the central defender who has received the ball.The midfield unit begins to slide across to the side of the pitch the ball has been played into to ‘lock’ the opposition into one half. They can begin to get tight to the central midfielders, ready to intercept any passes that are played into feet. The nearest wide player should keep the fullback in line or ahead of their nearest shoulder so that they can’t be beaten with a forward pass.The defensive unit can also slide across to one side of the pitch, ready to intercept any forward passes into the opposition forward players. With the goalkeeper ready to cover the space behind for any passes that are played over the press.

It’s important that the team maintains 8-10 yards between them as the ball is transferred across to one side of the pitch. The distances between the units as they move both vertically and horizontally will ensure that they’re compact and can defend the space the opposition is trying to exploit.It’s essential that the player pressing the ball curves their run and defends from the outside shoulder of the player that they’re looking to press. This will enable them to press effectively prevent the opposition team from being able to switch play.

Setting up with a high press may encourage the opposition team to go long from the goal kick. If this is the case, your defensive unit must be prepared to be aggressive in winning the initial longer passes into/onto the opposition forward, with the full-backs/second centre-back being prepared to provide support & and cover.

Your midfielders then can provide pressure from the front, ready to double up on the attacker that is receiving the longer pass. This will help you to apply pressure from both sides, narrowing down the opportunity from being able to receive and combine with their team mates.

Mid Block Defensive Football Formation

The next piece in this blog that we will cover is the 1-4-4-2 in a mid block. A mid-block is a strategy to protect the middle of the pitch, remaining compact to prevent the opposition team from being able to play through or over. The team must remain compact both vertically and horizontally, with the forwards not engaging with the opponents high up the pitch. Typically, this is set up where the defensive team encourage the attackers to have the ball in their half of the pitch.

Within the mid-block the distances between the units and each player within the unit should be 8-10 yards. The defensive could aim to defend the width of the box to maintain compactness when the ball is central. As the ball is played across to one side, or the line of confrontation is broken the defensive team engages their opponents with pressure.

Agreeing upon the line of confrontation can provide a guideline of when pressure can be applied on the ball. This will help provide both unity & and clarity in how your team defenders within the mid-block.The helpline runs through the middle of the pitch and can help players slide across and be compact. The purpose of the help line is to support the furthest player in the defensive & and midfield with a guideline of how far they can slide across to cover. This will help the defensive team to remain compact horizontally as the ball is transferred from one side of the pitch to the other. Additionally, it can ensure that players do not over cover where space can be exploited with a direct switch of play to the opposite side of the pitch.

Within the shape, the midfielders can screen their forwards and provide cover for the central defenders. This will help them to apply pressure from both sides if a pass is played into/onto the forward players. The wide players can screen and show players back inside into the middle of the pitch. Screening the wide player and curving the run can help them to show play back inside where there are numbers. Alternatively, they may look to force them wide and not allow them to play back inside. The centre forward can also work as a pair with one apply pressure on the ball, and the other forward providing support.

It’s important that defenders away from the ball maintain an open body shape to help them be able to see both the ball and the players around them. A closed body shape may make it difficult for them to identify any runs that the forward/wide players are making. Players must maintain concentration in the mid-block being prepared to follow runners if necessary.

Low Block Defensive Football Formation

The last defensive formation that we will look at is the ‘1-4-4-2 in a low block.’ A low block is a strategy used to protect their defensive third of the pitch. It is a way of remaining compact and protecting space in and around the goal. Each unit is positioned deep and engages with pressure when the opposition enters the attacking third. The low block enables you to have players in positions in and around the goal where they can intercept and block/stop shots from the opposition team. Teams typically defend the width of the box, affording space in wide areas where they look to lock the opposition out and stop & and block crosses.

Within the low-block the team must remain focused and disciplined within their shape. Positioning themselves where they can see both the ball and the player around them with an open body shape. Players must maintain their positioning, otherwise, it may create opportunities for the opposition to exploit the space is left.

Within the low block, players may be required to follow runners who are making runs off the ball. For example, it may be that the wide player needs to follow the run of the full-back making an underlap/overlapping run. Another example may be one of the central midfielders dropping into the back line to follow the run of a midfielder making a run into the box when the pass is being played wide ready for a cross into the box.Communication between players within the low block is important and will help players to track runners or mark players that are making movements into positions in and around the goal.