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, look at the stats of major soccer tournaments and the team with the best defensive record usually runs out the winner of the tournament!
The best way that soccer defending as a team was described to me was that it is 80% hard work and 20% science. That’s the ultimate goal, yet it still is made up of 80% hard work.
So what does that entail?
Well, it is important that your team has a culture or a way of doing things or an attitude to 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.
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.
Next, 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.
The most important factor of all however is “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.
Tackling and Defending
This is the most used tackle in soccer. Effective, quick and has less risk then the sliding tackle.
A great way to win possession when opponents are looking to take you on. Very effective but can be risky.
Intercepting the ball
This is a good way to win the ball off the opposition without having to put in a tackle. You need to be quick and more alert then your opponent to pull off an interception.
blocking the ball
Shot blocking can make the difference in defending. It is important to always put yourself in front of a shot.
You might find yourself in a situation where its 1v1 between you and an attacker. Its important to know what to do in this situation otherwise you could be left behind!
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