Defensive organisation

Session time

90mins total: 15mins warm-up, 15mins for each defensive principle, 15mins game, 15mins cool down and individual feedback

This session is about defensive organisation, and specifically two points: depth control and double marking. 

Its importance depends on the principles contained within a team’s tactical model. The session is important for teams with a high defensive block, who allow space in behind the defensive line – this is a familiar situation in defensive transitions.

Ultimately, the coach has to work what he feels is right into the team dynamic.

While this organisation is simple in terms of training method, the complexity comes through the fundamentals of team tactics.

In the session, we go from a smaller area to a larger one in the final exercise – giving a global application of the principles we train.

What do I get the players to do?

Each of the principles we rehearse is practised in the same way.

The ball starts with an attacking central midfielder and is played out wide.

When the ball goes dead play restarts with the central midfielder. If defenders win the ball they aim for the target goal on the halfway line.

Principle 1: Depth control by defenders

1. Reading the cross from deep defenders make a collective decision to retreat as a unit – in this way offside is a collective decision
2. The defenders must communicate at all times, moving closer together where necessary but never stretching more than 10 yards apart
3. The defenders control depth by holding their line at a predetermined distance relative to the perceived threat from opponents
4. Defensive midfielders must be aware of the space between themselves and the defence. They should try to compress the area so that the distance between themselves and the defenders is 10-15 yards, as well as denying attackers space to receive passes between the lines.

Principle 2: Controlling defensive areas

1. The full-back nearest must decide whether to press the wide player or drop back to cover. He will get the call when the central defender’s line of vision to the ball is disturbed, at which point he presses the winger. If the winger has moved past this line, the full-back retreats
2. The defenders must anticipate the strikers’ movement and move to cover all finishing areas. They must expect a striker to make a run across the near post and one central, as well as being aware of the possibility of the opposite winger moving in on the far post. They cover the areas accordingly
3. One of the central midfielders drops to cover the pull back and any late breaking midfielders. They are also well positioned to collect any second balls and launch counter attacks

Principle 3: Press the man on the ball

1. When the ball moves wide we press as a team. The nearest defender presses from in front, the nearest midfielder presses from inside
2. Double marking forces the opposition to play backwards – away from danger. Now we reorganise
3. The third man closes the simplest passing line.
• We use the same pressing and collective movement on both wings. Having successfully forced play backwards and as the opposition switch the ball to the other wing, our movements are mirrored

Application of principles trained before

Play 11v11 on a full-width pitch from box to box. Players must put into practice the elements rehearsed up until now.

Attacking moves must come from the flank, with defenders showing depth control, the skill and organisation to double mark, and the confidence to move across in closing down the threat from the flanks.

This is a continuous game played for 15 minutes. All normal laws and restarts apply.  

1. Cover passing lines
2. Double marking
1. Depth control
1. Reading passes
2. Press or retreat?
3. Anticipating movement


  • Ball movementBall movement
  • Player movementPlayer movement
  • DribbleDribble
  • Optional movementOptional movement