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two teams on football pitch playing against each other, one team wear blue and the other wear white. One player from the team in white and one player from the team in blue both run towards the ball.

 

You’re pressing the opposition. Suddenly, they find space to switch play to the other side of the pitch. They've got room to run. 

Do you remain compact at the back? This limits the space in behind your defence but gives them more freedom out wide. Or do you close them down? That risks you being open at the back.  

It’s a tough choice. 

Pressing, which is key to England’s philosophy, always includes a level of risk. No matter how you do it, when your team moves up the pitch, space will be created somewhere. If your response is to stay compact, these pockets often appear in wide areas. 

Don’t stay narrow and let the opposition do exactly what they want on the wings.  

Instead, in the moment they break, you want to force them wide to delay and deny them the chance to play through your defence. A recovering player can then apply some pressure out wide.  

That’s what the England teams do when out of possession. 

 

To make the most of this tactic, players need the skills to: 

  • defend central and wide areas 
  • defend 1v1
  • deal with large spaces in behind their defensive line.

As a coach, you can’t click your fingers and expect your players to know what to do. Whatever their age, they need lots of practice and experience in game-related activities. 

JUMP TO:

How our national teams defend the space in wide areas

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

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

 

England counter presses the opposition to force them to one side of the pitch.

As England loses possession of the ball on one side of the pitch, the nearest player immediately presses the opposition. This move is known as counter pressing.  

The tactic forces the ball to be played backward – delaying the speed of the attack and giving the Lionesses time to recover their shape. 

 

Why do England encourage the ball into wide areas? 

England regains a compact shape and tries to defend the space in wide areas.

The opposition works the ball out of tight areas and bypasses the immediate counter press. 

England’s focus changes. Now, the team must decide how to deal with the switch of play and defend the space in wide areas.  

There’s a lot to consider. Who will press the ball? Who will deny the space in behind? Who’s responsible for covering areas away from the ball? 

 

How do the players respond to the ball in wide areas? 

England’s defenders protect the space in behind their defensive line by denying the forward pass.

As the ball goes out wide, England’s left-back drops off to protect the space in behind their defensive line. She's helped by a recovering wide player tracking back. 

This forces the opposition to carry the ball down the wing, rather than threading it through the defence. 

The result? The attack’s slowed, the Lionesses recover their shape, and England forces the opposition to make a mistake. Then, they're able to launch a counter attack of their own. 

What this means for you 

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

Now, chances are, their exact strategy isn't the right fit. But you can use elements of it to get your players used to counter pressing and defending the space in wide areas. Try this: 

  • Reward your players for winning back the ball as quickly as possible when they lose possession. Transition is a natural part of the game that players must be ready to handle with a positive mindset to delay opposition attacks. 

  • Experiment with pitch shapes and sizes. Want to encourage switching play? Use a pitch that’s short and wide to give players more space to exploit. But don’t forget to make the pitch long enough for defenders to practise defending the space in behind too.

  • Create rewards that reinforce the behaviours you want to see. Try awarding a point when your team defend using a compact shape, push the opposition wide and then regain possession. 

 

Want to find out more? 

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