Developing Defensive Shape at the Back - Training Center Exclusive

Back four team shapes defending and attacking team shapes

In the practices illustrated both back fours operate on defensive and attacking aspects of their game in the same practice. The coach may choose to work with one of the back fours specifically or may work with both back fours in the same practice.

Initially have a field 25 yards of the half way line then box to box, narrow field.

Developing defensive shape at the back

No goalkeepers are needed in this practice to begin; which is situated around the edge of the middle third of the pitch - marked by cones.

  • The Coach start the practice by serving the ball into any player of the back four

  • When the ball arrives at a full back it is delivered some 30 yards forward to the opposite fullback.

  • As the ball is delivered from one side to the other the back four pushes forward to compact the play.

  • On receiving, transfers the ball across the back four and the team 'changes the play' to the other side, and the left back then delivers to the right back on the other team for the process to begin once more.

Technical content of the practice

Coaching Points:

• Attacking


• 'Changing the play' across the field

• Shape of the back line, distances from each other.

• Quickly with minimum touches (one or two touches if possible), possibly 'missing out' a center back in the process.

• Awareness of others positioning prior to receiving the ball.

• Pass quality - along the back line

- Pass forward to the other group.

• Supporting the forward pass

- Pushing forward

- When?

- How far?

• Distances between players and role as the ball is moved across the field.

• Defending

• 'Sliding' defense across the pitch as opposite back four transfers the ball across their line

• Positioning off other players in the back four - ahead, behind, distances.

• Depth of the back-line and awareness of other movements.

The ball can be transferred across 2 or 3 players for greater speed


1. Introduce one central midfield player (or two if the team operates with two central midfield players} to each team.

The central midfield player (6) can now combine his play with the back four players. The four central backs on both teams can now receive passes and run with the ball into the midfield area.

2. Should this action take place, then (6) replaces the center back going forward with the ball and becomes an integral part of the back line and the center back now operates as a midfield player. The three movements are in numbered order of 1 to 3.

Also, on receiving the ball at the back, the right center back may choose to play a "cross-pass" with the left back as he comes out of the back line.

Once into the midfield area, our central back now distributes the ball into the opposite back-line and the whole process can be repeated.


Technical content of the practice

• Attacking

• 'Changing the play' across the field - all factors from the previous practice


• Combining with central midfield players / Wall passes

- Feints to pass to central midfield

• Running with the ball from base line and adjustments of position from other defenders

• Involving the central midfield player in changing the play / Pass quickly Across the back line

- To and from the central midfield player

- Distribution from the central back in midfield areas

• Central midfield operating in the back line

• Central back operating in midfield

• Defending

• 'Sliding' defense as the ball is changed across the opposition back line.

• Positioning off other players in the back four.

• Depth of the back-line and awareness of other movements.

• 'Sliding' of central midfield player as opponents change the play, etc

Focus on defending: teaching zonal defending as a unit using the four goal game

Rules: This activity begins as 4 v 4 games working on zonal marking (marking space). Use a rope (red lines in diagram) to tie the players together so they have to move as a unit and so they "feel it". It can be a back four or a midfield four - the responsibilities are the same.  Four 5-yard wide goals are created with cones for each team to defend as shown.  Teams can score in any goal at any time. Each team must work in a unit of four (or a three with three goals to defend). Each goal is zoned off for a player to fill.


To maintain a shape players defend their own goals but must support their team-mates to regain possession. By focusing on a goal of their own to defend it helps the four players keep a sense of shape as a unit. They have to think about defending their goal, keeping their zone, protecting the passing lane, supporting the pressing player and marking their own player who is in their zone. Players must try to maintain their shape and not be moved around by the opposition as they would if they were man-marking players not space. Players must squeeze centrally behind the ball. To establish where zones begin and end, place cones down to represent boundaries. 

Note - Players take their shape from 4 references, the rope, the zone the goal the opposing players.


The ball is passed to (B) and the defenders adjust accordingly. They squeeze centrally behind the ball marking space but close enough in distance to close their immediate opponent down. For example (2) judges position by where the ball is and where the immediate opponent is so if the ball is passed to (D) there is time to close down and get to that player.

Show the positions of the players in relation to their own goals, can the opponent with the ball see the goal and score?

As the ball moves each player adjusts to become the pressing player (if it´s to their immediate opponent) or a support player who judges position from how close they are to the ball. The closer to the ball the more they mark the player the further from the ball the more they mark space. As above (5) is closest, (3) and (4) are next closest and (2) is the furthest away but still close enough to close down as the ball travels. Introduce offside to make it more realistic.



a) Introduce two players each team so it is a 6 v 6 as shown here

b) Introduce an attacking midfielder to each team so it’s a four, two and one set up. Attacking team try to move players around, defending team try to hold their zonal shape but also win back the ball. We are still trying to maintain a shape marking zones (spaces) but being aware of the immediate opponents’ position.


As with all the games in this book ensure you keep the score or have a target score for the players to reach, this maintains their competitive nature and improves motivation.