This training plan is designed to focus on defending against an opponent whose key threats are identified and incorporated within the session.
The defending components used in the session have been adapted and developed to engage the players, both tactically and technically. It’s often challenging for coaches, especially when focusing on defending sessions, to engage all the players. Defending at times can seem tedious, therefore it’s imperative to captivate the players early in the session to ensure there is discipline, focus and concentration. When delivering a defending session, we tend to incorporate transitions, as this ensures the scenarios are not manufactured.
The importance of good, solid, robust defending should always be the foundation to build upon for any team. The importance of doing the fundamentals well is always a key message.
We would also initially show performance analysis footage from specific games that correlate with the planned training. The session, in addition to performance analysis clips, gives the players an opportunity to assess the main attacking threats of the opponents as early as possible in the match preparation.
We would deliver the activities over a day and a half. The first day would consist of three components that are designed to be more technical. The idea is to bed down the basic principles and then develop onto the tactical elements. We always end the session with a match-related or conditioned game incorporating all the key points from the session.
The game is of a tactical nature and we reinforce team shape and system within the session.
What do I get the players to do?
We set up two pitches between the 18-yard line and the halfway line, as shown . Each pitch has one full size goal and a goalkeeper at one end and two small goals at the other end. We’re using 10 outfield players. Each pitch has a blue attacking team of three, but its striker starts off the pitch at the halfway line, and a red defending team of two, who work with the goalkeeper to protect the main goal.
The coach starts play with a pass into the blue team’s defensive half and the two blues must make a crossover run before one of them receives it. The receiving payer then passes to the blue striker, who enters the pitch at the halfway line. A 3v2 develops as the blues progress towards the goal and the focus for the reds is on denying and delaying. If the reds win the ball, then they clear it into the small goals.
We can progress this activity by combining the two pitches into one game and developing it into a 6v4.
Defending varied attacks
We set up on two thirds of a pitch, as shown, with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We’re using 20 outfield players, split into two teams of nine, plus two neutral midfielders. Each team has a back four at their defensive end of the central box and an attacking three at the other end. The two neutral midfielders also start in the central box. Each team is completed by an attacking full back in one outside channel and by a defending wide player in the opposite inner channel.
Play starts with players in positions inside their zones. The goalkeeper makes the first pass to a blue centre back at one end, who drops to receive and who then plays a long pass into the opposite half. The red back four at the opposite end then have to deal with the long pass whilst also maintaining a defensive shape, as shown [2a].
After the ball is dead, the same goalkeeper plays a second ball to one of the neutral centre midfielders, who knocks the ball to the blue attacking full back in the outside channel and the defending team’s back four then have to defend against the cross with an overload in their favour, as shown [2b].
After the ball is dead again, the goalkeeper plays a third ball to one of the neutral centre midfielders and the blue team in possession must then attack centrally, as shown [2c].
The entire sequence is then repeated with the red defending team now attacking. We can progress this activity by introducing free play, which would allow the defending team to develop decision making.
Transition finishing game
We set up as shown on just under half a pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. We position one additional goal and two mannequin gates on one side, as shown . We’re using 21 outfield players split into three teams of seven. We play a normal 7v7 game with the additional team of seven players positioned around the outside and who play one-touch for the team in possession. Whilst the game is going on, the coach instructs a side player to run through one of the mannequin gates to deliver a cross for a member of the possession team to break off from the main directional game and score in the side goal. One of the defending team’s defenders is also allowed to break off from the main directional game to defend the side goal. A goal in the main game is worth double if it is scored when an opponent is out of the main area defending the side goal.
Quick reactions to defend the transition are important to this activity. Attackers should use speed and get numbers up the pitch, while defenders should delay the attack until their player re-enters the main area.
Defending v midfield shape
This activity is about defending against a team in a midfield shape with inverted wide players. We set up an area of 60×60 yards divided into two halves. We’re using 20 outfield players split into two teams of 10, as shown . The red defending team are all in their defensive half, with two target players at their own end. The reds work on defending against a blue midfield that consists of two inverted wide players who can cut inside to join in with the play from outside the area, and a centre midfielder who plays high and close to the two blue strikers.
The blue attacking team starts with the ball in their half and they pass out from the end player. With the third pass, the blues can transfer the ball into the opposite half and then they must try to hit one of the red end players. If the red defending team wins possession back at any time, or if their end players receive the ball from the attackers, they must try to play the ball from their own half to a blue target player at the other end.
Defending in a condensed area
We set up on three quarters of a pitch with a goal and a goalkeeper at each end. The pitch is marked into two lengthwise halves. We’re using 20 outfield players split into two teams of 10. The reds are set up to play 4-2-3-1 and the blues are set up in a 4-3-3. The two teams are set up with most of the players in one condensed area of the pitch, as shown , and the focus is on the red defending team. The blue attackers have to try and switch the play to the opposite side of the pitch, finding the wide players. The reds must try to stop them and force them to remain to the condensed side of the white line.
In this activity it is important that the defending team try to remain narrow and compact and the attacking team should try to make the pitch as big as possible and switch the ball to wide areas to attack.
What are the key things to look for?
Our basic principles are set on being organised and disciplined; communication is key also. The players need to have an understanding of their own task but also of the team’s task. In football, at the highest level, when it comes to defending, the importance of internal distances and pressing can be the difference between a successful result or not. Denying space, delaying and the timing of when and how to press are integral to our defending principles and are constantly coached within the session.
In terms of the attacking aspect when working on defending, it’s key that we replicate how we anticipate the opponents are going to play. However, it’s always good to throw in random scenarios to develop the team’s game awareness. The best players and the best teams have the ability to make the best decisions when under pressure, so it’s important in all sessions that we try to make training as match-like as we possibly can.
What are the typical mistakes players might make and how do I avoid them?
When delivering defending sessions, I find that the most apparent challenges are when players over commit and then leave spaces for the opponents to exploit. There is also a tendency to press at the wrong time and again this can result in a chain reaction that leaves you exposed in more than one area of the pitch. We have introduced lines and grids to the pitch and we have found this helps in getting the distances and positioning more accurate as a team.