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2 teams playing football


Picture the scene. Your opposition is patient on the ball, building up play to look for an opening. An aggressive press could disrupt their approach, but it's risky.  

For the press to work, your players need to make some quick decisions. Who initiates the first movement? Who provides cover? How does the team react? 

The answers are heavily influenced by the roles, responsibilities and relationships in your team. It's essential to have a good understanding of who does what, and when.  

Get this right and, in a matter of seconds, your players could have the ball back – or deny the opposition a goalscoring chance. 

The philosophy of our England national teams is to play on the front foot and win the ball back in opposition territory. For this to happen, every player needs a shared understanding of the strategy. 

For instance, imagine a player decides to initiate a press. The rest of the team must be ready to offer their support. While pressing in isolation may not work, regaining possession is much likelier if everyone plays their part.  

When it comes to winning the ball back, it’s easy to focus on technical skills. But strong relationships and good decision-making are just as important.  

Case in point: a great press might look effortless, but the players involved will have been thinking hard about when and how to initiate it. Not to mention how to provide cover and balance. 

It takes time to understand the roles and responsibilities within a team. As a coach, it’s your job to provide the tools to get your players there. Why not start with more time on the pitch? This helps teammates gel together and make informed decisions. 

Watch how the England Men's senior team do just that: 

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

The closest England player goes to press the player on the ball, which puts the opposition under pressure.

Here, England’s wide forward applies the press. This is a common tactic that requires the nearest player to sprint towards the ball to put the opposition under pressure.  

This mentality inspires others to provide support behind the press. 

England’s wide defender presses the ball while three surrounding players provide cover.

As the ball moves across the pitch, there’s another opportunity for England to press.  

This time, the wide defender is closest to the ball and applies pressure. Do you notice how the surrounding players provide cover and prevent the team from being played through?  

This defensive tactic helps England maintain a compact shape and forces the opposition to keep it wide. 


How does England provide balance away from the ball? 

England has its closest player pressing the ball, three supporting players covering, and three players away from the ball providing balance.

As the opposition plays the ball inside, England sees another opportunity to apply pressure. 

The team’s closest central midfielder presses the ball. This forces the opposition player to take his touch back towards an area of the pitch covered by other England players. 
Showing quick decision-making, England’s wide defender changes from pressing to providing cover for his teammate.  

The three players away from the ball provide balance. This helps stop the opposition from switching play to the other side of the pitch. 
The outcome of this well-rehearsed press? The opposition is forced into making a mistake, and England regains possession. 

When it comes to defensive tactics, the England teams work hard to make sure everyone knows exactly who does what, and when. 

And while the ins and outs of their approach might be too advanced for your players, you can use it as inspiration. 

To help your team understand their responsibilities and make better decisions, start here:  

  • Work on your players’ verbal and non-verbal communication. A cohesive group will need these skills to help their teammates. For instance, when the player nearest the ball goes to press, encourage the covering player to talk to their teammate. They can suggest which direction to show the opposition, whether that’s forcing them towards the touchline or into the area where you have more players. 

  • Help your players recognise relevant clues, cues and triggers within the game. In pressing situations, get players to ask themselves some questions. When do I press, cover and balance? When might these roles change? This helps 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 challenge your defenders’ decision-making skills? Are your attacking players making creative and unpredictable runs? If not, encourage them to do so, to give your defenders practice dealing with the threat.  

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