Soccer defending is often looked at as the negative side of the game, the boring part of playing, the least entertaining aspect of the game and teams are seldom revered for their soccer defending performance.
However if you doubt how important soccer defending is, look at the stats of all major soccer tournaments, you will find the team with the best defensive record usually runs out the winner of the tournament!
The best way that soccer defending has been described to me was that it is 80% hard work and 20% science. So much time is spent as a team working out the “science” of soccer defending , yet it still is made up of 80% hard work.
So What Does That Hard Work Entail?
Well, it is important that your team has a culture or a way of doing things or an attitude to soccer defending. Firstly it is important that the whole team defends together and not just leaves it to the defenders on the team to do the soccer defending.
The Hard Work
I have taught my teams to defend “Like a pack of dogs,” as well as “Be like a tank of piranhas” in our penalty box. I instilled the culture that the other team does not deserve the ball and that we are immediately going to close them down and regain possession. Once your team has bought into the culture or attitude you are looking for, then you will defend better very quickly.
That takes care of the hard work part of soccer defending, now let’s look at the scientific part….
The scientific fundamentals or “Key Factors” of soccer defending are:
- RECOVERY RUNS
PRESSURE refers to immediately having the closest defender to the ball move towards the opponent with the ball and apply pressure by closing down the space, reducing the options available and trying to dispossess the player of the ball. This can be your goalkeeper, your left full back, your creative midfield playmaker or your star forward. Just take a look at the defensive work Wayne Rooney of Manchester United does as a good example.
COVER refers to the next closest player to the ball getting over there as a back up, as a team mate, as a two pronged attack working with the first defender who is pressuring the ball.
BALANCE refers to a third team mate working behind the first two defenders. So, as an example, defender 1 is pressuring the ball and defender 2 comes in to help just off the left shoulder of defender 1. Balance is provided by defender 3 who gets in behind defenders 1 and 2, this time off the right shoulder of defender 2 to provide “BALANCE.”
RECOVERY RUNS are often unseen, yet are so very important. I just watched the goal scored by Wolverhampton Wanders against Blackburn Rovers and the lack of recovery run from the Rovers left back was painful to see, resulting in the Wolves player sneaking in at the back post to score a free header, tying the game and taking two points off Blackburn. At the end of the season those dropped points could have massive significance. So, RECOVERY RUNS are huge and they basically involve the defender tracking back to get between an attacker and the ball as quickly as possible to intercept a pass or to deny space to that attacker.
COMMUNICATION.” Just watch the next game on TV and see how a lack of communication often results in a team conceding a goal, even at the very highest level of the game. All 11 players on the team need to communicate to each other who is providing the PRESSURE, the COVER, the BALANCE and who is making the RECOVERY RUNS.