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  • Don Maples

Know Philosophy?

Updated: Mar 5, 2018



Lack of communicating and organizing by the goalkeeper is the #1 villain to a clean sheet. But do you know the defensive philosophy for your team?



The diagram above shows defensive shape throughout the field for all 11 players. Oddly enough, when I show this to most youth goalkeepers, even field players (ages 15 and up), they are unable to explain key concepts such as, Who is the 1st Defender? Who are the 2nd Defenders? What does the "Black Line" represent?

No One is Reinventing the Wheel

“ The concepts of how the game is played are like the Order of Operations in Algebra...they don't change and if not followed, you won't get the desired result."

Coaches prepare sessions working on technical skills, covering attacking concepts so the team understands how to break down the other teams defense. Rarely have I witnessed a coach prepare a defensive session to guard against their teams defense being exploited. Be it in a camp environment or when I have a new team, I always ask, "Who knows the Principles of Defense?" Silence along with facial expressions say it all. I then ask, "Have you heard of it?" Inevitably the reply is "No."

Defensive Concepts

What are the Principles of Defense? Over the years, many revised lists have appeared. Basically it comes down to these five principles:

  1. Immediate Chase & Delay = Pressure (1st Defender): The moment possession is lost the closest player to the ball applies pressure on the ball. Players giving immediate chase, depending on 1/3 of the field, can attempt to regain possession (Attacking or Attacking Middle 1/3) or look to slow down or “delay” the attacking player (Defending Middle or Defensive 1/3) by stopping the other team from playing the ball forward quickly. While applying pressure, the defender must be careful to not over-commit (Principle #5...Discipline). If they are beaten easily, the attacking team may get a scoring chance quickly.

  2. Depth = Support (2nd Defender): While the ball is being pressured, all other players should be getting into defensive positions. The positions taken should support the pressuring defender in case they are beaten 1v1 or closing down passing lanes. This is called providing defensive cover.

  3. Compactness (Length): In the defensive phase, players should recover towards their own goal, getting goal side to compact the field. As you organize your defense, limit the time and space for the opponent by compacting your defense in the general area of the ball. Defenders should also attempt to stay “goal side” in order to limit the other team’s ability to directly attack the goal.

  4. Balance = Concentration (3rd Defender): As your team compacts their defense in the area of the ball, defenders not near the ball (Weak-side...usually wider players) must position themselves to cover important spaces (normally central and wider areas) in order to prevent attackers from making penetrating runs or switching the point of attack into these spaces.

  5. Discipline = Control & Restraint: This is two fold...1) Players must play “under control” when challenging for the ball weighing "Risk vs. Reward" refraining from tackling unless confident one will win the ball; 2) In addition, the 2nd and 3rd defenders must get into proper positions to support and balance the shape.


Defensive Philosophy

“Tactics are so important because everybody has to know what they have to do on the pitch." Pep Guardiola

What is your teams defensive philosophy? Come now...I am sure you have one in regards to attacking (be direct, play possession, get it to Brandon and stand back, etc...) If you don't know it, guaranteed your team doesn't know it and so long as players chase the ball with some effort, pseudo as it is, everyone is happy right up to the moment Brandon loses the ball. A counter attack ensues, players stabbing every chance, ball slotted to the back side of the goal and back of net...GOOOOOAALLLLLLL! Blame, finger pointing and a coach wondering ,"Why don't they understand to delay? Deny the pass? Cover the backside runner? Maybe you didn't explain it! Below is what I shared with my Girls '02 & '06 teams as to our defending philosophy (Yes, the 06 team got a slimmed down version). The philosophy I stress has three critical elements.

  1. The team counter presses as a TEAM...everyone is involved as PRESSURE (First defender), COVER (Second defenders) and BALANCE (Third defenders) with everyone doing their part. If one player does not carry out their responsibilities, the attacking team catches us out of shape, has time and space to expose our weak area and a counter attack ensues.

  2. Must apply high pressure closest to the opponents attacking 1/3...the forward line is the KEY to this. On average it takes a PROFESSIONAL level team 8 seconds to transition into a full attacking shape. Our goal is to win the ball back in 4-7 seconds against NON-PROFESSIONAL players/teams.

  3. Make the opponent predictable...if successful, we will control the flow and possession.

What has been stressed from day 1, irregardless the formation/pattern of play, was the absolute importance of first defender pressure immediately on the ball, as high up the field as we could. Next is the crucial element from second defenders...In coaching circles there are four types of counter pressing strategies, but only three are used in todays game. (Link to video explaining with examples of this in detail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYo_we6CVhw)

  1. Full Team (I call this GANG press)...every player runs to the ball, condensing the area...rarely used.

  2. Leeway Press (used a lot by Klopp)...heavy pressure on the ball, but also mark tight the closest player/options to the ball. Very second defender centric.

  3. Man Press...when attacker loses the ball, instant pressure by closest player to the ball. Attempt to force ball to be played backward, or square, giving the team time to find mark/man with continuous pressure to provoke mistake.

  4. Passing Lane Press...less pressure on the ball with focus on the closest defending players positioning themselves to cut out penetration passes, forcing square or back passes.

In my mind, #2 and #3 are essentially the same. So the style I coach is a hybrid combining #2/3 and #4...(Link to video: https://youtu.be/q4q-FaRjWVI) In our style, ideally we "herd" the attacking team into one half, close down all NEXT pass options with second defenders. This essentially limits space into a two-thirds area, while bringing weak side third defenders more central, anticipating any ball played long attempting to switch the point of attack, which will fall short to our team. The deeper defenders starting on the strong side, give more depth at a slight angle to seek out any ball served over the top. The GK is continually organizing / communicating to teammates so we maintain a shape


Remember the quote, "If you haven't taught it,you can't get angry if they don't know to do it." It fits in this manner perfectly. If your team keeps dropping matches, close or otherwise, due to the inability to keep the other team out of the back of the net, might want to check their soccer IQ on defense. If they don't know these principles and your expectations on defense...then you may want to check your coaching progression and philosophy.

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