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Imagine you're facing an attack. Your team have pressed high and pushed the opposition out wide, but a player wriggles past and advances on your box. It looks like they’re about to make a cross...  

How do you handle this situation? Who marks who? What happens if the ball is whipped into the penalty area? 

These are questions for every team, especially England. Just like the example above, our national teams stay compact and encourage the ball wide, which means they face a lot of crosses.  

However, depending on the age group you coach, crossing may not be a big part of your game. Yet. 

As your team gets older, prepare for that to change. Your players will need some key skills to confidently walk out onto their Wembley every week. 

To handle crosses like England, your players must be able to: 

  • successfully defend 1v1 within any area of the pitch 
  • cope with moments of transition
  • effectively defend the space both in behind and out wide.

And that’s not all. They must also understand their roles and responsibilities. It’s essential to know who does what, and when.  

To see the skills your players are aiming for, watch the England Women's senior team in action: 

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England: defending crosses

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

 


The priority for the closest England player is to press the ball to attempt to stop the cross.
The priority for the closest England player is to press the ball to attempt to stop the cross.

Remember how we said that England's style of play tends to give the opposition more space in wide areas? This makes crosses more likely, demanding that our players deal with them effectively. 

That's exactly the scenario we see here. After initially dealing with the corner, the opposition is forced back out wide.  

The England player closest to the ball must prioritise pressing the opponent. There’s a key decision to make. Can the cross be stopped? Or do we need to affect its quality instead? 

Stop the cross at source and England won't have to defend a potentially dangerous ball into the penalty area.  

But if that's not possible, closing the gap to the opponent will still limit their options on the ball. It blocks off potentially dangerous cutbacks and forces the opposition to deliver deeper into the penalty area. 

 

Why does England encourage the ball into wide areas? 

England forces the ball into wide areas to delay the speed of the opposition attack.
England forces the ball into wide areas to delay the speed of the opposition attack.

Can you see how the Lionesses maintain a compact shape to deny space centrally? This forces the opposition player to pass the ball into a wide area – and blocks entry into the box. 
 
The result? England has more time to get into position to defend the potential cross. The team is better placed to assess the flight of the ball. And they’re ready to act if it comes into the penalty area. 
 
This strategy lets the Lionesses pick up on important cues from the opposition in the process. They can predict the type of run their opponents might make and decide what space England’s defenders need to prioritise. 
 

How does England defend the cross in the penalty area? 

England was unable to stop the cross, so must now defend the ball when it comes into the penalty area.
England was unable to stop the cross, so must now defend the ball when it comes into the penalty area.

Even with the best defensive tactics, the opposition will sometimes get crosses into the box. And these must be defended.  

Here, England is facing too much of a gap to make up between the defender and the opponent on the ball. The Lionesses shift their focus to 1v1 defending excellence. This involves marking, covering and defending the goal. 

In this situation, the defenders need to win the first contact. That means assessing the flight of the ball and the potential danger posed by the movement of the opposition players. 

When making clearances within their penalty area, our England teams focus on three objectives: 

  • Height: can I clear the ball over the opposition players? 
  • Width: can I clear the ball away from central areas?
  • Distance: can I clear the ball as far away from my goal as possible? 

Meeting these objectives gets the ball away from the goal. That gives England time to step up the pitch and press the opposition. 

What this means for you

Defending is an art. That’s the core message behind this series on the England teams’ defensive tactics. It takes time for any team to master the skills they need. 

As a coach, it’s your job to help your players refine their talents in realistic sessions that replicate the demands of the game. The ability to make calculated decisions like our Women's senior team won’t happen overnight. But, with help, your players could get there eventually. 

Here are some simple ways to help your team defend crosses: 

  • Think about the types of practice you put on for your players. To master dealing with crosses, players need to repeat realistic actions in and around the box. The more experience they get, the better they’ll become at finding the right solution within a game.
  • Communicate simple, clear and consistent messages to your players. Why not start with ‘the rule of three’? When players have to clear the ball, for instance, remind them to consider height, width and distance. Or, when they’re dealing with an attack in the penalty area, ask them to mark, cover and defend the goal.
  • Let your players organise their defensive structure themselves. You could start by tasking your goalkeeper with communicating with their teammates to defend crosses effectively. By promoting individual, unit and team-based challenges, you encourage your players to take ownership of the situation. 

 

Want to find out more? 

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