Defending shapes

This session is looks at defensive structure – movement from side to side, pressure on the ball and cover from supporting players.

Good defensive organisation is obviously called upon throughout matches, so these are principles that must always be practised. We believe that the unity of defenders and a shared knowledge of how to deal with attacking threat provides a solid base on which the rest of the team can build.



(Up to) the space between penalty areas


Balls, cones, goals

Number of Players

Up to 24

Session time

2v2s 10mins,

4v4s 15mins

What do I get the players to do?


We place an attacker and a defender in each of two 20×5-yard channels (which are side by side). Attackers advance forward, moving the ball between channels. Defenders jockey but cannot tackle in retreating back (1). The responsibility of pressing the ball always falls with the defender opposite the man in possession, but a team mate must always be covering. Once at the baseline, roles are reversed as the sequence comes back the other way.


• In the 2v2, blue attackers move forward playing left and right while red defenders jockey and cover


We now progress to a 4v4 (2). Again, each time the ball is moved, the working defender drops back while his team mate goes to press (3). Work to the baseline then reverse once again.


• We replicate the movement in a 4v4 – the nearest man to the attacker always presses the ball


• But when the ball is transferred, the working defender drops back and the covering player moves in to press his man

Pitch game

We now work in the space between the penalty boxes, extended out to the touchlines. Using three teams of eight players, the ball begins on the baseline (4a)Red attackers attempt work the ball through the zones, looking to thread a pass to their team mates on the next line (4b).


• In the Pitch game, the principles practised are applied to a game environment with the man on the ball being pressed


• Right-sided yellows are too slow to press their men, and two passes in quick succession see reds successfully transfer to the blue team

Defenders aim to prevent this by pressing the ball, making a tackle or forcing a misplaced pass. Reds are successful if they manage to pass the ball through two lines of defenders to the blues. If this happens, yellows retreat, and from the top touchline, play comes back the other way (4c).


• Now yellows retreat and the move comes back in the other direction

If defenders are successful in intercepting, or if the ball goes out of play, the game restarts at the baseline.

To win, attackers must make six transitions from one half to the other, while defenders require three interceptions.

What are the key things to look out for?

Make sure players pressure attackers, drop and cover quickly, always looking to stop gaps appearing in defence. Defenders can become lazy, not pressuring quickly enough nor communicating properly, and you must ensure attackers always play with their heads up, not being afraid to pass sideways if no forward pass is available.

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