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Football defence: the best form of attack


Posted by Karl Quinney of Karl Quinney under Football (Soccer) on 9 November 2012 at 12:00 AM

Karl Quinney is a lover of all things football! As well as working as a manager in the past, he has written loads of useful guides on Tribesports to help you improve your game. Here, he outlines the importance of a strong defense along with some essential simple tips on how you can become a better defender.

Karl QuinneyIn any level of football - whether it is at grassroots level on a Sunday morning through to the professional game - the cornerstone of any successful side is a sound, solid defence. The old adage of defence being the best form of attack is certainly true, and many great sides over the years in the professional game have been built on a solid back line (and goalkeeper behind them) who give little to nothing away. After all, isn’t conceding little-to-nothing at one end, and putting the ball away at the other the very essence of what football is all about?

So what makes a successful defensive unit?

4, 4, 2 football formationIn times past, most teams had a rigid formation; four at the back, four in the middle (two being wingers) and two up front.  As part of that – particularly in the 1960s, 70s and to a certain extent in the 1980s, the defence would have an old policy of two proverbial ‘thugs’ at the back  who were essentially there to clean everything up: win the ball, clear it, and clean up the opposing strikers with it. Either side, a right back and left back would look to compliment the hard men in the middle by being equally as ruthless with defending the flanks, stopping crosses from coming into the penalty area and dealing with tricky, flying wingers. 

Times have changed and the impact of the European game being influenced into the English game from managers, coaches and players alike has not only seen formations change (4-3-3, 3-5-2, pyramid systems etc) but also how those players in those formations actually play and adopt those roles; particularly where defenders are concerned. 

Whichever playing formation or defensive system your team adopts, when it comes to defending, some elements are mandatory (or at least should be) to make for a solid defensive unit. 

1) Know your job and role. 

Stick to it, don’t deviate from it. Admittedly there are times and opportunities in game situations for defenders to go forward i.e free-kick set pieces, corners etc, but in essence as a defender you are there to defend. First and foremost, do your job. 

2) Understanding. 

Each player across the defensive back line not only needs to know their role, but also know what those alongside them should be doing. 

Bravery in defence

3) Teamwork.  

Working as a team within a team is paramount for the defensive unit. Attackers work in pairs or threes when going forward or closing the opposition down. The same applies for midfielders in orchestrating the play going forward and winning it back when your side hasn’t got the ball.  To keep the opposition at bay from scoring, defenders more than anyone need to work together closer than any other unit across the pitch to protect the goal and goalkeeper, as well as covering for each other when their teammates get drawn out of position. 

4) Be brave. 

As the last line of defence, defenders can be called upon and need to be able to put their body on the line when it matters. 

5) Good communication. 

It makes life so much easier, whether it is communicating with fellow defenders alongside you, with your goalkeeper behind you, or the midfield in front of you. Bad communication inevitably leads to disorganisation and will result in everything falling down around you, with disastrous results. 

One only has to look at the international scene at the moment to see how those key attributes to a defensive reap dividends.

German defensive wallFor example, the Germans have been renowned for a steely defence, one that is well-drilled, well-organised and sets the platform for the rest of the team to do their jobs. The same could be said for the Italians, their added flair and confidence on the ball making a defensive unit deceptively stronger than what it appears, not too dissimilar to the French. Then there is the current World and European champions, Spain.  Neat, intricate, seemingly effortless in possession but dogged in defence especially when trying to retrieve the ball off their opponents. For my mind, one can draw parallels with the current crop of Spaniards and the great Argentinian and Brazilians sides of the 70’s and 80s.

In stark contrast, defences in the English domestic and international game differ considerably. How often as a supporter have you seen an English (or Scottish) central defender have the ball at their feet, only to essentially run out of ideas as to what to do with it, and then go with the only and easy option they know: proceed to launch anything from a 20 to 60 yard pass into the air, thus giving a higher probability of giving possession away. For a purest like myself – and a football manager in times gone by, giving possession needlessly is nothing short of a criminal offence in football. European and international defenders would dwell on the ball, keep it and wait for an opportunity to keep possession.

In regards to the Premiership, top teams can be undone or made by their defence:

Manchester United’s seemingly ever-changing defence from game to game shows no sign of developing any consistent stability which will again impact their chances, but the most  noticeable difference where defences are concerned is at The Emirates with Arsenal. The fact the Gunners have looked a more solid unit at the back is largely down to the promotion of their former defensive stalwart Steve Bould to the first team coaching ranks. Leaking goals at crucial points of the season has been Arsene Wenger’s side’s downfall for the lack of success in recent seasons; great going forward, but conceding too often and in the game’s which mattered. Bould’s elevation from his successful coaching tenure in the Arsenal youth system seemed to be showing signs of fruition (well, up until the last fortnight or so at least), with the difference in the Gunners’ efficiency, cohesion and general stability at the back noticeably different to that of the last few seasons.

Changes to any team’s defensive system - whether it is in formation or personnel, does not work wonders overnight. It takes time. But by having and adopting the very basics of defence – both individually and collectively, you are ultimately going to be scoring more goals than conceding them and be more successful as a result.

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Great post Karl. Tactical communication can never be understated in football, I'll be playing this weekend in goal and will try and make sure communication is good. I'm just hoping Arsenal now sort of their attack and start actually scoring some goals.


    Thanks Adrian. It all starts from the very back and as you know as a keeper you get a better perspective of everything and everyone in front of you; keep that back line in check and on their toes and on the ball (so to speak)


    Communication is so important in defence - a lot of that has to come from the keeper, if your keeper doesn't have a decent set of lungs to bellow direction then it can be disastrous!


    And commanding your 6-yard box and penalty area. I'm sure Adrian is one of the more vocal goalkeepers about and lets everyone know who's in charge. It'll be interested to hear his side's result from the weekend now :-)


    Celtic 2 v Barca 1 ( 7/11/2012) A great defensive display were everyone knew their job and stuck to it. Fraser Forster in goal...immense.

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    Good luck Adrian, a fine line between hero and villain lol and remember if you concede just blame the defence :-)))


    No pressure Adrian! No better feeling than finishing a tough game with a clean sheet!


    So, Adrian, how did you get on?


    0-0 up till half time (I was kept quite busy and had to make quite a few saves) although we missed 4 one on ones would you believe it, defended very solidly as a team despite a back four with only one regular starter. Good communication, closing down well, holding the line well. In the second half we went 1-0 down, and we were asking for it, the workrate from midfield just wasn't there and we were left exposed and outnumbered at the back, eventually the other team broke through. We rallied and came back to 2-1, before succumbing to two goals late in the second half, the second goal coming from an individual defensive slip and a great finish, for the third their striker dribbled past 3 of our defenders before scoring from just inside the box. Overall, a great game but our finishing and concentration / fitness let us down, because we were the better team and should have won this match.

    James M encouraged this.


    Hard lines mate, better luck next game

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