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2 england players wearing white playing against a player from Wales wearing red. The player in red is going to kick the ball with his back faced to the camera.

 

You’re on the halfway line, ball at your feet, patiently probing for space. Suddenly, your winger makes a run. You commit to the pass – but it’s intercepted. The opposition wins the ball and runs towards you at speed.  

What do you do?  

This is a moment of transition in football – and it’s becoming more and more common. 

Many teams, including England’s, are starting to favour a possession-based approach. This means that opponents are more prepared to counter-attack quickly.  

The game is fluid, and players can find themselves out of possession in a matter of seconds. 

When transition happens, teams are vulnerable. The opposition will exploit whatever space is available. Your players must be comfortable defending in central and wide areas to successfully delay and deny their attacks.  

 

Watch the video to see how quickly transition happens, and how the England Men's senior team respond: 

JUMP TO:

England: defending in transition

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

 


How does England prepare for transition?

In this example, England's central defenders are pushed up high. This helps them support the attack by retaining the ball – a key part of the team’s in possession strategy.  

They're also in a great position to counter-press in moments of transition when they lose possession. 

England's central defenders sprint back to their own half to deny the space in behind.

 

England’s out of possession strategy involves staying compact in the centre of the pitch and forcing the opposition out wide. 

Can you see how the team does this? The three England central defenders deny the space behind them by turning and sprinting back to their own half.  

This defensive tactic forces the Iceland goalkeeper to throw the ball wide – just where England wants it to be. Plus, it buys time for the rest of the team to make recovery runs. 

What’s England's role and responsibility during transition? 

The defenders now sprint into their box and stay compact to mark, cover and defend the goal.

 

England's recovery runs deny the space in behind and encourage the opposition to play shorter passes. The result? It takes the opposition longer to build towards the goal.  

Taking advantage of this delay, the England team recover their defensive shape. 

England's central defenders then pick up positions within the width of the goal. The team stays compact and doesn’t get dragged out wide. This lets the recovering midfielder intercept the ball and start a counter attack of their own. 

 

What this means for you

Now, we’re not asking you to start using England’s strategy with your U10s. But you can take inspiration from our national teams’ defensive tactics.  

Use them as ideas to help your players develop the skills they need for transition in football.  

Three ways to get started:  

  • Vary the area size to create game-realistic scenarios. Smaller areas lead to more transitions and opportunities to counter-press. Larger areas let players experience tracking back over bigger distances and getting into shape as they change from attack to defence.  
  • Focus on the ‘what ifs’. When a team is in possession, what about the players who aren’t immediately involved? Get them preparing for what could happen next – and adjusting their positions to match. 
  • Encourage your players to make immediate recovery runs when they lose possession. These sprints are a great way to deny space, recover to a compact shape and defend the goal. 
     

Want to find out more? 

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