Defending in small groups

Whether your defenders are working individually or as a unit, they should always understand how to defend against a counterattack in small numbers. Here are 4 tips to help defending in small groups.

Defending in threes

England’s Lewis Cook, John Stones and Harry Maguire during training


If you want to win games, the importance of defending cannot be stressed enough. The trouble is young players just don’t think defending can be fun. To them it is hard work and not very enjoyable, but they are always vulnerable to a bit of reverse psychology. Try telling them that without the ball they are not going to have the chance to score, so they need to think about how they are going to get it back first – and that means good defensive play.


Knowing what to do when under attack is the first part of building a defensive strategy. Often it will be a counterattack and your players will be in small groups protecting the route to goal. Within this attacking threat players must understand both their individual responsibilities and their team responsibilities or the opposition will break through and take advantage of slow or poor technique.


With youth players it is easy to make the sessions too difficult, so the sessions must be simple enough to help youngsters understand the fundamental defending principles much easier. Simple sessions can be quickly repeated over and over again, making it much easier to understand the principles behind them and allowing players to achieve success with them.
At the world cup there were many instances of defences flooding back and individuals making great tackles or blocks to prevent shots reaching goal. It is vital that players can work together and know what to do in moments of adversity.


The two sessions in this Core Skills section will help coaches educate their players how to defend against breakaway moves individually when the overload is in their favour and how to defend in a team when outnumbered with players both attacking on the wings and down the centre.

SESSION ONE Defending as a back three – individual

In the first session players learn all about what to do when under attack: where to go and how to control the situation. With an overload in the defenders favour, players can easily experience success in covering and winning the ball in the defending situation. Repetition helps to keep it in a player’s mind so that in a match they can do it without thinking.

SESSION TWO Defending as a back three – team

In the second session the players have to defend with the addition of two wide attackers, giving the overload to the attacking team if they can get the ball to the wide men. In this session it is vital that the defenders work as a team to cover all areas of the pitch – they need to work out whether they should go to block the pass to the wide players or cover the centre where the cross will come in!
Get your players using these simple games to learn all about defending in small groups.


Make sure your players follow these defending tips to stop the opposition attackers from over running your defence…

    > The nearest player to the ball should press.
    > The second player must add support.
    > The third player gives cover.
    > In an overload situation, players should look to close down quickly
    > Defenders should position themselves to block passes out wide
    > Players should cover quickly when the wide player has the ball
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