Teaching Defending as a Team in an 11 v 11

The best form of attacking is expert defending.  As a team we need to improve on this. Therefore a big part of our game MUST be heavy pressing all over the field with ALL players tuned into the way to do it. Players on the opposite side of the field when the ball is with opponents especially should understand their roles and the need to condense the spaces.

Defending as a team in a 1-3-3-1-3 

Our set up is keeper (1), three center backs (4), (5) and (6) three midfield players (2, 3 and 8), that is right, left and center midfielders; a false nine (10), two wingers (7 and 11) and our central striker (9). I am avoiding calling (2) and (3) fullbacks or wingbacks because I want an attacking mentality in the players playing these positions. You could call them a “hybrid” of a wingback and a wide midfield player.

We set up in our defensive shape and the opponents pass the ball around. The coach decides when the pass is made to give our team time to adjust their positions and be able to show the players what is needed. So for example, (B) receives the ball and must keep it until we get our defensive team shape correct. Once the shape is correct the coach can shout go again.


  • Our team cannot tackle just shadow the ball to begin.

  • Opponents must play 2 touches.

  • If we win the ball to pass it to their keeper and they opponents start again with it OR we counter attack.

  • It depends on What you want out of the session.

  • For this I like the opponents to have the ball as soon we gain it to test our defending shape again.

team defending

Set up cones for opponents to stand still beside

Opponents continue to stand still beside each of the designated cones. You can set up the cones based on the formation of the team you are playing next. We are marking both players and spaces.

Here we are a 1-3-4-2-1.

Movements of our team. (7) shows INSIDE to our Strength in numbers. (9) covers the back pass.(5) marks (K) CHANNEL side to put off (D) paying the long ball into the channel for (H) or (K) to run into. (11) drops in to add an extra player into midfield. OR, (11) can become part of a back four and (10) drops into midfield. If (F) pushed on then (11) or (3) would drop into a back four so we are 4 v 3 at the back.

Try to close down “passing lanes” as well as closing down players. (10) For example is doing a good job of this knowing (8) behind is marking (E) anyway.

Here we are a 1-3-3-3-1.

(9) Immediately presses to show one way in this case wide. (11) hedges their bets by half supporting but ready to press (A) if (A) receives it. (10) supports (9). Midfield three move across and close down the spaces that side of the field.. Three Center backs move across to fill spaces (B) may play the ball into. (7) has a choice of dropping back and inside to aid the 3 midfielders to staying up but inside to support (9).

Once you get your players positioning correctly wherever the ball goes and they understand their individual and team roles you can now let the opponents move. Our team can press and intercept but not tackle. Opponents are still 2 touches maximum. Now it becomes more of a game situation.

Here we are a 1-4-4-1-1.

(2) Can only press and show down the line. Three center backs drop back and across and (5) fills the open space CHANNEL SIDE of (K) that (H) can see to pass into. (3) drops in to make a back four to give us extra strength.   (8) slides across to support (2) and either (10) or (11) whoever is closest will make up a midfield defensive three. OR both drop in to make a midfield four. 

(7) Can only show outside and not stop the delivery

Before the ball is delivered; in fact as the ball is travelling to (D) the back three should be adjusting already. Now we mark through (5) the big SPACE down the side; NOT the player (K). (3) Now can drop in to make it a back four for extra security. If (D) passes down the line then as you see, we will be first to the ball.

Now with a free ball down the line if (K) is quick we can be in trouble therefore (5)’s positioning is REALLY VITAL now. He MUST defend CHANNEL SIDE or more or less where the ball is likely to go. Most coaches will tell defenders to always defend GOALSIDE, this is one occasion where that instruction would be wrong.

(5) Out of position as happens with us

(5) Is still marking GOALSIDE and allowing a long pass down the line to (K). (K) Is fast so now we have a very dangerous 1 v 1 in a wide area against us. So our wide center back on each side where the ball could be delivered this way MUST mark CHANNEL SIDE of the striker not goal side.

We do not adjust quickly enough and see AHEAD of the play. This is especially so when we attack with numbers and our vulnerability is usually in wide areas on the counter attack.

There must be real condensed team shape closing down immediate spaces around the ball.

Now we are a 1-3-3-3-1.

The ball is forced to be played back to (D). (7) is the VITAL pressing player. If possible (7) should close down to force the ball “Inside” to our strength in numbers. A pass to (H) should be totally blocked now so (2) can tuck inside to where we want the ball to go. Three Center backs push up as does the keeper. (9) is ready for a back pass. (8) and (10) condense across the field to the ball. (11) also but also pushes forward.

teaching defending as a team

Throw in

There must be real condensed team shape closing down immediate spaces around the ball. Man marking now is imperative and we get tight to the opponent to allow no time on the ball.

Here we see we MUST get as many players around the immediate area the throw in is as possible. This makes it VERY difficult for the opponents to regain possession from their OWN throw. Even wide left (11) can run across the field to add an extra player to the mix. (7) shadows the thrower incase they throw it and look to get it back.

throw in defending