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England women defend

Picture the scene. You’re in the opponent’s half when you lose possession. They start a counterattack. As the opposition races forward, one of your defenders decides to press them.  

You know this might delay the attack. But it will also leave space behind your defender. Plenty of room for the opposition to exploit. 

What do you do? 

This situation isn’t uncommon. Closing down opponents with urgency is on the rise, as more teams (including the England teams) adopt an aggressive pressing style. 

But here’s the problem – when pressing, space is created ‘in behind’ the defence. That’s space that the opposition can use to their advantage.

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As space in behind opens up, more is needed physically from the defending players. They might have to push up to press, before turning and sprinting back. Then it’s time to mark, cover and defend their goal. 

To handle this, players must be comfortable defending within central and wide areas. They also need outstanding 1v1 defensive skills and the ability to deal with large spaces in behind their defensive line. 
Now that’s a lot to ask – and it won’t happen overnight. As a coach, it's best to take it one step at a time. Let’s start by looking at how our England teams deal with this situation. 

How our national teams defend the space in behind

What’s England’s strategy here? Let’s examine the clip to find out. 


How does England try to delay the attack?

England’s defensive tactics involve moving in relation to the ball as it travels across the pitch. The result? A compact shape and extra pressure on the player in possession.  

The opposition is forced to play around England, delaying the speed of their attack. 


How do players decide whether to step up or drop?

England’s defenders judge whether the opposition player on the ball has time or is under pressure. And that’s not all. They think about the striker’s movement and what space they’re trying to exploit too. 
Imagine that the opposing player has time on the ball and their striker makes a run in behind. In response, England might drop to defend the space. But if the opposition player is under pressure and the striker is coming short, they might step up the pitch instead.


How does England respond to the ball in behind? 

How does England respond to the ball in behind

As the ball goes in behind the defence, do you see how the England players sprint back to mark, cover and defend their goal? The team works as one, recovering their shape, which limits the opposition's progression.  

In this state, England can be more strategic with its press. The team now has more chance of launching their own counter attack. 


So, how can the England teams’ defensive tactics help your players? 

Well, it’s no surprise that their exact strategy might not be the best option for a young group. But you can use it as inspiration to help develop their skills when it comes to pressing and defending the space in behind. 

As a starting point, try these techniques: 

  • Encourage players to stay positive when they lose possession. Get them to channel their disappointment into tracking back and helping their teammates. They’ll soon have the ball at their feet again. Remember, transition happens often in match play, so a games-based approach will provide lots of practice. 

  • Expose players to bigger areas that recreate the demands of the game. And experiment with different pitch sizes, such as long and thin. This provides experience tracking back over bigger distances, and practice getting back into shape while quickly changing from attack to defence. 

  • Give players lots of opportunities to decide when to press, cover and balance. Working on these skills builds a bank of problem-solving experiences across a range of scenarios. 


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