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Defending as a Unit

By Sean Pearson

Area Size: 1/3 of a field

Teams: 20 mins

Players: 4 v 4 + GK


  • To work together as a unit to deny penetration by the attacking team
  • To move up the field together when the ball is passed forwards


1/3 of the field is needed. There are 3 teams that alternate being the defending team. The players at the back are neutrals. Set up 4 areas for each defender to force them to stay in position. Off side is in effect.



The aim is for the 4 defenders to work as a unit. By that they should be organized and know who should press and who should cover depending on where the ball is and who has the control of it. Whether it be in front, to the side or behind.

Whichever section the ball is in, the defender in that section pressures and the players either side cover them, this is to deny any space to penetrate through the unit. Communication is needed for the group to slide left or right, press & cover. Body shape is taken from the pressuring defender.


Defenders look to anticipate passes across the area and intercept them. Then pass the ball up to the neutral players to continue game realism.


When a player passes up to the neutrals all the players must act like the ball is going forward to the midfielders when playing a game. Thus sprint up to first line and reach it together so players can’t be onside if the ball gets played over or through from the midfielders losing possession.


Then have the 4 defenders face the 4 attackers using width. Place two players wide of the 18-yard line. Whenever the ball begins to travel that’s when players should start to sprint to pressure them to stop any potential cross.


Eventually, when each team reacts quickly to passing forwards and moving up together the next progression is to have a neutral, immediately as the defenders get to the first line, pass a ball behind them. The pass can be in many directions and in the air or on the ground. The defending team now has to run back to recover their defensive position.


Finally, add a neutral to be a striker so the defenders have another player to think about. This now requires the defenders to communicate more and puts them under more duress with being in an underload situation.




  • Allow attacking players to move areas
  • Players can shoot if there is no pressure

By Sean Pearson.  Sean is also the author Coaching Team Shape in the 3-3-1, Coaching Team Shape in the 4-2-3-1  and Coaching Team Shape in the 4-3-3