Gareth Southgate’s 7 tips for turning defence into attack

England’s successful World Cup run has been built on the ability of the team’s defenders to turn defence into attack. Walker, Stones and Maguire have shown they have the skill and confidence to pass their way out of tight spots and then move the ball through the thirds. While Trippier and Young have proved equally assured at turning a defensive position to an attacking threat on the flanks.

This has long been the bedrock of England manager Gareth Southgate’s coaching philosophy. Recently he shared with Soccer Coach Weekly the seven top tips that he felt would help grassroots soccer coaches turn defence into attack and give their teams the upper hand on match days.


1 Improve Ball Control

For defenders to be used effectively to start an attacking movement, they need to be as confident and comfortable on the ball as any other outfield player. Passing drills are an important practice, as is training defenders to run with the ball at their feet.

2 Train Fullbacks To Attack

The role of both fullbacks and centre backs has certainly evolved and fullbacks especially are being used as a first line of attack. Speed, strength and crossing ability are all important attributes for modern fullbacks, so plenty of gym work, sprinting and endurance running are all vital in training, as well as practising crosses.

3 Replicate Match Pressure

To combat teams attacking from the back, your opponents will pressure your back line to test how comfortable they are in possession of the ball. As a coach, you could work with your defenders on passing the ball amongst each other in a small area, while you get other players to press them to replicate the pressure they will face in a match.

4 Try Three At The Back

Playing in a back three, as I did at stages of my career, seems to be more conducive to a team starting attacking moves from the back. It allows one of the centre backs to step forward and it also encourages your fullbacks to operate higher up the field. The player that goes forward always has the security of two defenders behind.

5 Play A High Line

Playing a high line will help teams attack from the back more quickly and effectively. The obvious downside to this is that it can leave your defence exposed if an attack breaks down. To play a high line, clearly you need defenders with good pace both to make attacks work and also to chase back if the attack breaks down.

6 Move The Ball Quickly

Attacking from the back isn’t only about defenders coming forward with the ball. Being able to move the ball quickly and accurately is really important too and if you have defenders that can pick out a team-mate in an advanced position in space, this will instantly help to start an attacking move. One-touch passing exercises are good training for this.

7 Make Defending A Priority

Many coaches, especially at grassroots level, focus on simply getting their defenders to defend well in matches, which is the greatest priority. If you feel using your defenders to attack will compromise your solidity at the back, then it’s best to work on your defence operating more conventionally.

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