Defending compact in midfield

This session places an emphasis on midfield units staying compact and being hard to penetrate when out of possession.

I like to run this because although it is midfield weighted, it strongly focuses on defensive ideas, which is important because defending is traditionally a less appealing topic in the minds of players. The introduction of specific defending zones for midfielders in this practice gives clarity to job responsibilities and adds competition from an individual perspective.

This session will be run frequently so that the principles of unit defending can be periodically reinforced.

Because of how it focuses players’ mindsets, we will typically deliver this session in advance of a game against opposition who play ‘through the lines’ into a traditional no.10.



Up to 100×60 yards


Balls, cones, goals

Number of Players

Up to 11v11

Session time

Practice 1 20mins,

Practice 2 25mins,

Game 20mins

What do I get the players to do?

Practice 1

In this first practice the aim is to pass through defenders who screen to intercept the ball, as shown (1). Passes must be made in each section with defenders working in unison to block passes whilst remaining on their line. The lateral movement of defenders in this means they must consider passing angles only and not distance to an opponent, with the premise being to learn to recognise where small gaps and holes are, and to plug these straight away or be ready to plug them should the ball position move and they need to react.


• By keeping a close check on gaps and spaces, the defenders successfully block an attempted through-pass

Practice 2

In this practice, three midfielders are positioned in four squares, patrolled by three defenders in front of them, as shown (2). The task is for midfielders to pass left and right until they are able to create an opening into an attacker.


• In this instance, defenders do not get close enough and a pass makes it through to the attacking trio, who combine for a shot on goal

Midfielders, who are defending, fill gaps closest to the ball, leaving free the box furthest from the ball. Once the ball goes into the centre-forward, one attacking midfielder and one defensive midfielder release to make a 3v3.

This practice reinforces the same principles as the first, albeit then potentially breaking out into  a full opposed ending in order to integrate recovery runs, open play and a reward outcome (namely a shot on goal).

What are the key things to look out for?

Tactically, in closing down opponents we need to see the nearest player engaging. The task of the second player is to cover and support, and all spaces between players must be kept small.

Technically, we are obviously looking for the ball to be intercepted, with each opponent getting his body between the ball and the targets ahead of the ball.

Players mustn’t release to engage when isolated, and covering needs to be deep of the engaging player.

How do I put this into a game situation?

For a game set-up, I will utilise a 100×60-yard pitch (almost full size) with four players in a midfield unit, as shown (3). While this gives them success it also serves to build the relationship between centre-midfielders and wide players.


• Moving this to a full pitch size enables the midfield unit to play out what’s been learnt in a game environment

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