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2 teams run after the ball


Picture the scene. Your press gets broken, leaving the opposition with space out wide. They pour forward in numbers.  

As they rampage down the wing, an opponent makes an overlapping run past the player on the ball. Your wide defender is now outnumbered, two to one. 

This is an overload. Put simply, it’s when the opposition has more players than your team in an area of the pitch.  

Because pressing is central to England’s philosophy, our national teams are open to overloads when their press is broken. 

They’re not limited to the area near your box. Overloads can happen anywhere.  

We’ve seen how a wide defender can be faced with a winger and an overlapping player. Alternatively, your team could become outnumbered in the opponent’s half as you try to press their defence. 
The second situation is common when teams have a strategy like England’s, of staying compact and encouraging the ball wide. The opposition tries to win the battle on the wings, safe in the knowledge that their players have more time and space out there. 

Like in other defensive situations, players need the skills to defend 1v1, cope with moments of transition, and defend the space in behind. But an overload adds another layer of difficulty. 

Who do you press? Where do you show them? How do you stop them from creating something? 

It takes time for players to adapt their skillset to deal with two players on their own. As a coach, it’s your job to provide opportunities to practise in game-related activities.  

Time on the pitch gives players the chance to work out different tactics, like how their body positioning can delay the attack. 

How our national teams deal with overloads

To see the skills your players are aiming for, watch how the England Men's senior team handle an overload: 

Let's take a closer look at some of the information in this clip...



Both of England’s wide defenders are overloaded by the opposition, with two players each to deal with.

As the opposition looks to build their attack from the back, they push forward and out to the wings. This overloads England’s wide defenders with two players each.  

The opposing team are free to play down the side closest to the ball. The strategy lets them switch the point of their attack and put England under pressure by spreading the players out. 

How does the opposition create overloads in central areas? 

England is outnumbered by opposition players four to three within central areas.

The opposition works the ball into their centre-forward. They outnumber the England players four to three within central areas.  

England’s response? Recognising that the opposition has time and space to play forward into the area, the team defends the space in behind their backline.  


How does the opposition create overloads in wide areas? 

England’s wide defender has two opposition players to try to stop within wide areas.

As the opposition progresses the ball onto the wing, England’s wide defender is left to deal with two players. At this moment, the England team's focus turns to delaying the speed of the attack and forcing the opposition into the least threatening areas away from the goal. 
England’s wide defender chooses to force the ball inside, into the opposition’s centre-forward, who is well marshalled by the central defender. This prevents the England player from being exposed two against one down the outside. 

When it comes to your players, overloads might look quite different to this. But they will happen, and your team needs to be ready. 

Here are three ways to take inspiration from our national teams’ defensive tactics:  

  • Give your players the chance to experience how overloads vary across the pitch, by putting them in different positions. A rounded education is crucial for developing the skills needed in the game. 

  • Help your players read the clues, cues and triggers that suggest an overload is imminent. Ask what will happen if the player on the ball isn’t closed down in an overloaded situation. Work on their positioning by asking how they could keep both players in their eye-line. Over time, these thought-provoking questions will help develop your players’ perception skills. They’ll be able to predict and adapt to game scenarios better too.

  • Consider how closely your practices replicate the ‘real’ game. How often do you put your defenders under real stress? Are you testing their decision-making skills? Are you exposing your players to bigger areas where they’re overloaded? These key components of the modern game need plenty of repetition. 


Want to find out more? 

For more on effective defending, check out the other articles in this series: