Defending as a back four

This session is focused around a back four working as a unit. It helps players to recognise defensive triggers and identify when to move backwards, forwards and sideways.

The defensive principles within this session are a key part of how we defend, enabling us to maintain good distances between the players in the back four and ultimately between the back four and the rest of the team.

We regularly use this training session, and variants of it, to enhance the level of communication between our defenders and to improve their understanding of when to squeeze and when to drop. It’s also a good session to work on the quality and technique of their clearances, and it helps defenders to keep the correct body shape so they are able to react quickly to a threatening long pass or through ball.

SET-UP

Area
Up to two thirds of a pitch
Equipment
Balls, bibs, cones, three goals
Number of Players
Up to 18 players + 2 goalkeepers
Session time
Back-four practice: 20mins
7v7 game: 20mins
8v8 game: 20mins

What do I get the players to do?

Back-four practice

We set up on two thirds of a pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at one end. We’re using 16 outfield players, split into a defensive back four (the blues) and 12 red attackers, starting as shown [1].

1

1. The coach calls out a number and the corresponding player from the back row turns, collects a ball and plays a long pass behind the defenders
2. The blue back four try to clear the ball out of play or beyond the shaded area
3. The four red attackers in the shaded area can attack in a 4v4 as soon as a defender has touched the ball


The session works on rehearsing the defenders so they know when to squeeze and when to drop.

We position the back four in front of the goal and place balls behind the attacking formation 30 yards from the defenders. We number the back row of attackers from one to four and call out a number. That attacker turns, collects a ball and plays a long pass behind the defenders. The challenge for the defenders is to clear the ball out of play or beyond the shaded area.

The four attackers in the shaded area can attack the goal once the ball has been touched by a defender, turning this practice into a 4v4.

We would usually work with two back fours, which we would rotate in at regular intervals. We also rotate the attacking players and can use either groups of four, as here, or groups of three, depending on the formation we want to defend against.

How do I progress the activity?

For the first progression, use the previous set-up but this time the starting player dribbles forwards and then back before playing the long pass behind the defenders.

For the second progression, after the starting player dribbles forwards and back, the coach shouts a different number and the corresponding player makes the long pass behind the defenders.

To progress further, the coach could allow the four numbered players to pass the ball sideways between themselves before shouting out the number of the player to make the starting pass.

What do I get the players to do next?

7v7 game

Next we set up on just over half a pitch with a goal and goalkeeper at one end and an additional goal on each side of the pitch, as shown [2]. We’re using 16 outfield players, split into two teams of seven and two target players, who are positioned just over the halfway line and who play for the attacking team.

2

1. It’s a 7v7 game with the blues as the defending team
2. The red attacking team can only score in the side goals from a pass beyond both the white line and the blue line
3. The reds must score in a side goal with a header or volley before being able to attack the main goal
4. If the reds score in a side goal, the coach plays in a second ball so they can attack the main goal next
5. The attackers can use the two yellow target players to keep possession. This would be a cue for the defending team to press high up the pitch


Play a 7v7 game. The attacking team must first score in one of the side goals before being able to attack the main goal – and they can only score in the side goals with a header or a volley from a pass beyond the white line marked just outside the edge of the penalty area. The pass must also come from beyond the blue line too, meaning the attacking team has to switch play from one side of the pitch to the other to set up a scoring chance in the side goal. This is so we can work on the horizontal distances of the back four.

Once the attacking team scores in the side goal, a second ball is passed in by the coach so they can attack the main goal. The attacking team can use the yellow target players to help them keep possession – but this would be a cue for the defending team to press them high up the pitch.

What are the key things to look out for?

The objective of the 7v7 exercise is to work on defensive distances, both horizontal and vertical. If the defenders are too deep they cannot get near the attacker, allowing the attackers to create a chance to score in the unguarded side goal. Also if the defenders are too narrow, they cannot get near the wide players.

Look for the attacking team to work on big switches and penetration down the side of the centre halves.

What do I get the players to do next?

8v8 game

We set up on two thirds of a pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 18 outfield players, split into a defending team of 10 and an attacking team of eight. The game is 8v8 in the main area, plus the defending team has two extra players (wingers) positioned either side of the goal they are attacking.

The attacking team starts by passing out from their keeper and building play from the back, as shown [3]. If the defending team wins possession, the two players either side of the goal can enter the playing area and join in the game, giving their team a 10v8 overload in the transition to counter-attack. When the ball next goes dead, even the numbers up again, with the two extra wingers returning to their starting positions either side of the goal.

3

1. Play starts with the red attacking team playing the ball from their keeper in an 8v8 game
2. If the blue defending team wins the ball, they counter attack
3. When the blue defending team wins the ball, the two waiting players either side of the goal can now join in, giving the blues a 10v8 advantage
4. When the ball goes dead, the numbers are evened up again and play restarts with the keeper of the red attacking team


What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?

Common mistakes are the back four not working as a unit and seeing different triggers, which makes defending disjointed. We encourage awareness when out of possession and good communication.

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