Ultimate Defending Tips
Find the balance between closing down quickly and not rushing in.
There is a fine line between selling yourself and applying pressure.
By closing down your opponent quickly, you force the player into rushing his decision making. Your opponent will have less sensory information available to him if you can put him under pressure before he’s able to get his head up and read the game.
However, a good soccer players can always read when a defender is diving in to rash. If you apply pressure and dive in for the tackle to blatantly, a top level soccer player will take advantage of this and make you look like a fool in the process.
The key is to close down quickly, but not so close that your open to being beaten by a swift change of direction. Only go in for the tackle if you’re confident that you can win the ball, simply holding your opposition up and blocking his passing lines can be far more benefical than giving away a free-kick for an over-enthusiastic challenge or selling your short.
Know your angles.
It’s always best to listen to your coach when deciding what angle to show your opponent. However, in general practice it’s always better to force your opponent ‘down the line’ or out towards the wings. This takes your opponent away from the danger areas and forces them to an area where they’re unable to create a clear goalscoring opportunity without bypassing you first.
The way to do this is to ‘shepherd’ your opponent away from the areas of the pitch you want to protect. To do this, position your body so that it cuts off the direct route into your dangers areas and opens up a small amount of space in the direction you want your opponent to travel. When doing this it is important that you have your body opened up into a position that you will be able to quickly accelerate after your opponent as soon as he moves in the direction you force him.
Some coaches like there team to shepherd opponents into areas of the pitch which are heavily populated. For instance, a team playing with 3 central midfielders may want their full backs to force an opponent inside to the centre of the pitch where they have more bodies, as opposed to the common practice of forcing an opponent down the wing.
*** Body positioning tips ***
Don’t be caught with your hands in you pockets. Stay on the balls of your feet and bend your knees slightly to lower your centre of gravity. This will put you in the optimum position to accelerate and change direction if necessary. Putting your arms out slightly to the side will aid your balance and defend yourself if the opponent decides to cut across your body or push you away.
Wait for the right opportunity to tackle
We discussed diving in earlier. Try to wait for your opponent to take a poor touch or move the ball away from their body before you make a challenge. If you put them under pressure frequently enough by closing down quickly and holding your defensive stance, sooner or later the opposition will give you a chance to nick the ball.
Tackle with the instep or laces.
Don’t toe poke the ball or go in ‘studs up’. You’ll either get embarrassed by the attacker or give away a stupid free kick. Where possible, tackle the ball as if you were playing a pass, but be aware not to knock the ball into the direction of an opposition team mate, as you will have to re-adapt your position and could end up giving the other team an advantage.
Pick a man, stick with him and learn about him.
Sticking with the same player while defending helps your team to simplify organisation. Once you know which opponent is your responsibility, ensure that you learn about his game in order to improve your chances of bettering him. Notice which foot he prefers to play with, whether he likes to take several touches or move the ball on quickly. All of these small character traits can help you to dominate the opponent, as you can begin to anticipate what they’re going to do.
Hunt in packs.
Back up your team mates by supporting them in closing down when you’re not man-marking a player. If you can see your team mate shepherding the opponent into a certain direction, position yourself so that when the opponent makes a move you can sweep in to regain possession or apply additional pressure.
Don’t be afraid to call your team mates over to support you when pressing either. If you can see an easy pass for the opposition, have a member of your team cover the space. Be proactive at all times.
A good tackle can be as important to your team as scoring a goal. Never be afraid you to commit fully to a tackle, injuries most often occur when one player pulls out or is wreckless. Hard, well timed tackles almost always result in the ball being won and the flow of the game continuing. By being fully committed the opposition will know that you’re not going to be pushed over and allow them to have an easy, relaxed game.
Foul if you have to.
Giving away a free kick is far better than conceding a goal. So long as you aren’t injuring an opponent or risking a red card, it is OK to make a deliberate foul at times. In the professional game, if you’re hit by a counter attack and find yourselves outnumbered by the opposition, it’s often expected on a senior defensive player to deliberately foul the player in possession and break down the attack. The resulting free-kick gi es your team mates time to re-group and regain an effective formation.
Get close on set pieces.
Don’t just follow the run; block and offset it. When defending a set piece you want to be tight to your opponent and ensure that they don’t have the opportunity to ‘get a run on you’ (gain an advantage). You can’t push or pull them, but you can nudge into them and make them feel your presence.