Defending as a back four unit

This is a session that teaches players how to defend as a back four unit. The key part of this deals with the core principle of when to show an opponent inside, and when to show him outside.

This coaching practice helps us to get the back four working as a unit, whilst developing a clear understanding of defensive roles. That solidity is difficult for opposition teams to penetrate, meaning attackers can only create chances by doing something really special.


Up to 50×30 yards
Balls, cones, goals
Number of Players
Up to 16
Session time
Defending technique 10mins
Warm-up 15mins, inside/outside 20mins
Small-sided game 20mins

What do I get the players to do?

Defending technique

We begin in a 25×10-yard area, as shown in the diagram – diagonal cones are 8 yards apart. Each player pressures cones as if they were defenders – making up ground quickly, judging the angle and slowing down on approach, then arriving sideways on (1). The knees should be bent with the player showing the cone (opponent) inside or outside, before pushing away off the front foot at the turn.


• In Defending technique, players run diagonally, attacking each cone in turn


In a 15×10-yard area, a defender passes the ball across to his opposite man, then closes down straight away. He presses until his opponent passes sideways, then retreats, replaced by the next mirroring defender (2a). We work each side for 30 seconds at high tempo. Players must stay compact, and work off each other, knowing when to squeeze and cover the position.


• In the warm-up, defenders close down the player on the ball and recover when it gets switched

To progress, when a member of the attacking team releases the ball, he can make a run to the base line – the defender must track the runner (2b).


• In the progression, defenders must track players who make offensive runs

Show inside/outside

We now apply learnt principles into a game situation (3a/3b). Whites – who defend the central goal – have to show reds outside, staying compact to the centre. Reds, on the other hand – who defend the two wide goals – have to show whites inside, staying compact to the sides.

Body shape and communication is key in making play predictable and ensuring that defenders keep clean sheets.


• In the ‘Show inside/outside game’, reds attempt to channel play outside…


• …while whites need to keep the process narrow in order to protect their respective goals

Small-sided game

We set up as shown with a back four and midfield four (4). Any side losing possession has to retreat back into shape. Teams cannot tackle, but can block and intercept. The team in possession cannot score until entering the end zone. We progress by allowing tackling.


• In the small-sided game it is vital that players communicate to attack and recover as a unit

What are the key things to look out for?

The key technical points are body shape, closing down, jockeying (in 1v1s), tackling, interceptions, marking, covering and adopting balanced positions. Tactically, players need to know when to show inside or outside, when to squeeze, when to drop off and when to press.

The biggest mistake is in players diving in and selling themselves.

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