Playing against long ball teams

Defending against the long ball, or ball over the top, is a topic I have tackled throughout my coaching career – it can be a frustrating experience. Every team uses the long ball sometimes because it can be a very effective weapon.

At grassroots level it is quite a common tactic that teams must defend against – where coaches have little time to drill their back four it can be a real thorn. It takes discipline, organisation and concentration to counter the threat of the long ball – but with your back line well coached the tactic rapidly loses its effect.

The solution to countering the long ball begins with your own attackers – most long balls are launched from deep, bypassing the midfield completely, and your forward line must be reminded they have a defensive role, too.

Your forwards need to close down those missiles and stop them at source. This means engaging high up the pitch, getting on top of opponents before they can size up a target, and then force them to lay the ball off, charge it down, or best of all, dispossess the player.

Dropping off deep only encourages those balls to be aimed with more precision from closer to your six-yard box. There, one touch, or even a deflection, can result in a goal.

Your defenders must concentrate hard and read the game, playing on the half-turn and not losing sight of runners off their shoulder.

A disciplined defence will also work hard to keep a tight line and play the offside trap. Arsenal have been targeted with long balls many times, but Arsene Wenger maintains “the long pass is predictable, you have to be mentally strong enough and technically coordinated to play them offside”.

If opponents are still able to launch the ball into your penalty area, your players need to drop a little deeper and work as a unit. One player, the best aerial defender, needs to challenge the striker, with the rest ready to pounce on the second ball if it drops in a danger zone.


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