Defenders’ decision making


Up to full pitch


Balls, cones, goals, mannequins

No. of players

Up to 11v11

Session time

60 mins

Getting defenders comfortable with how to react in certain situations takes practice and repetition. At Dagenham, we found we were conceding far too many goals from open play. Opposition teams were switching and dictating play far too easily which was resulting in needless goals being conceded.

We came to the conclusion we should play a certain formation and try to press whenever possible. We’d also make sure we were approaching opponents at the right angle, as well as showing outside at all times in all thirds of the pitch.

In any team, it’s imperative players understand their roles and responsibilities within the team structure, and this session improved those key elements considerably.

Front exercise

The drill teaches players to press as a defensive unit, and would be practised in two-minute phases. The objective is for the yellow team to try to hit the mannequins or play through to their support player.

The defensive team’s objective is to stop this happening by pressing and showing outside.

Defending from the front

Stifling the threat before it arrives means everyone on the team adopting a pressing, defending mindset, not just the defenders.

Defending mid-third

The defending team has to stop their opponents from playing through the two gates. A point is scored by either player passing through the gates, or if possession is kept for 10 passes in the opposition half.

If possession is regained, the team can keep the ball in the opposition half or take it back into their own in order to play through the gates. The outside players act as support and can only join in when a team has possession in its own half.

3v2 boxes challenge

Setting up as shown enables us to coach defenders in coping with multiple switches from left and right. Each half of the pitch is 3v2, with an additional defender able to move across the halves to make a 3v3. Play can be switched from zone to zone, and is continuous for 2mins before the central defender is rotated. Defenders can move outside the penalty area in closing down and pressing attackers, but the main aim is to lock attackers into one zone and not allow them to switch play.


Wrong body shape and not forcing the opponent outside. Although the initial switch has been prevented, the defender still allows an attacker to cut inside.


Moving square of the attacker limits his options. He cannot lay back to the server as that man is now being pressed by a defender, so the only option for the attacker is to push the ball down the line and away from goal.

Coaching considerations

Technical – body position, angle of approach, speed of approach
Tactical – show outside, cover, support, balance, pressing
Physical – balance, agility, coordination, speed
Psychological/social – communication, discipline, patience, teamwork

Why this works

We chose to break defending sessions down into units and sections of the pitch rather than adopt a progressive format. This gives the players a greater understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

[Front exercise diagram] Red defenders close down and prevent yellow passing options, be that to the waiting target man or a mannequin

[defending from the front diagram 1] When losing possession or in a dead ball situation, the reds compact the area, creating a 10v4 situation in the middle of the pitch, thus inviting the ball outside

[defending from the front diagram 2]
  1. The keeper plays to the centre-back
  2. The no.9 reacts and presses
  3. With no.11 covering the centre-back, the ball is forced to the outside, where no.7 presses
  4. The no.2 covers the winger, as the back four move across to cover
  5. The no.8 covers the middle area
  6. The no.11 covers the pass infield


[Defending in the defensive third and showing outside diagram 1]
  1. The ball starts with the yellow centre-back, who plays into midfield
  2. The no.10 presses, with no.8 dropping to cover the pass infield
  3. No.7 moves across to compact play
  4. No.8 presses, with no.10 dropping to cover the advanced midfielder
  5. The no.11 moves to support the no.8


[Defending in the defensive third and showing outside diagram 2]
  1. The ball is forced wide
  2. The no.11 follows to press, while no.8 drops to cover
  3. As the ball is passed down the wing, players 5, 8 and 11 converge to make an overload
  4. No.5 moves to cover the wide player, and the rest of the team move across to compact play



[3v2 boxes challenge 1] Good pressing forces a pass across the face of goal. Centre-backs respond well, tracking across to cover the third man

[3v2 boxes challenge 2] Poor defending by the full-back, by ‘jumping in’ at the wrong angle, allows the attacker to get a shot in

[3v2 boxes challenge 3] In an example of good defending, quick pressing forces the ball wide. The full-back shows outside, then times his tackle to stop the cross


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