INDIVIDUAL - CLOSE DOWN
At most times the ball must be put under some kind of pressure. Low pressure is where the defender is a short but definitive distance from the ball. In low pressure situations, the defender and the defensive system wants to guide the ball into preferred areas or the defense just wants to prevent penetration by the attack. Low pressure defenses only want to give up low percentage chances to the attack, putting many players around the ball and staying compact in the central defensive end.
With high pressure defenses, the ball is closed down quickly and tightly. This requires a high work rate by the defender, but the pressure is likely to cause mistakes and loss of possession by the attack.
In either case, the first defender or the one most responsible for the man with the ball must know how to close down on the ball. The close down is a method that brings the defender to proper distance from the attacker, be it 5 yards or one foot.
The close down starts when a ball is passed to an attacker. When the ball is in flight, the defender uses this time to sprint towards the receiving attacker. This is the critical time in a close down as it is the best time to gobble up ground between the defender and the attacker. All too often, the defender does not react soon enough and gives the attacker great space to receive and decide what the next play will be.
Just before the receiver is to touch the ball, the defender must stop the sprint and go into a balanced state, being ready to react in any direction. The closer to the attacker, the more critical being on balance becomes. It is when the defender is in motion that the attacker can use the defender's momentum to beat him. The defender must first stop, then change directions. Often in a directional change, the player is again off balance and can be beat again. An on balanced player can react quickly the first time in such a manner that he is still on balance for the next reaction.
To go on balance requires the player to suspend movement, with feet a comfortable distance apart. The body may be turned slightly facing the ball and the direction the player wants the attacker to go.
After the touch is made, the defender uses the time before the next touch to close down more space. If the touch stays close to the attacker, the defender should go into a sideways-on (or side-on) stance and take short steps or hops to get closer to the attacker. The defender should stay as balanced as possible with any leanings away from attacker back towards the defended goal. The defender must not allow the attacker to get past or behind him, and that is why the defender should be ready to react quickly going backwards as he shuffles forward towards the ball. The reason he needs to be side-on is to be in a better position to go back.
1v1 exercises are best for teaching close down. Either the defender serves the ball to an attacker and closes down or a third player serves the ball. It is critical that the ball is served from different angles and from different distances to train the defender properly. The defender should start from different distances from the attacker as well.
Defenders that are beat by the attacker on the first or second touch are not on balance. Defenders that are not tight enough initially may not be working hard enough on the initial pass. Defenders that stay wel off the attacker after reception are not closing down properly.
INDIVIDUAL - SUPPORT
One of the first mandates of a coach to his players in a flat back defense
( any defense really ) is to " get behind the ball."
Defensive support has three main functions:
* support the first defender on ball
* mark or be able to close down the support attacker(s)
* stop the through ball behind the defense
The supporting position on the ball should be the first priority. The defender must be positioned to take over as the first defender if the attacker gets past the initial defender. This positioning should not be too close, as the attacker will probably be moving at speed if he beat the first defender. On the otherhand, the support defender should not be too far from the ball and give the attacker too much space and time before he comes under pressure again. The closer the ball is to the goal, the closer the defender should be in support; however, the more angled the ball is to the goal (i.e., wide of the goal, but close to the goalline), the more distance (vertical) and the flatter (horizontal) the supporting defender can be in relation to the ball.
3-7 yards can be used as a base vertical distance (also called depth). If the skill and speed of attacking players is considered greater than that of the defenders, the more depth a supporting defender may need. The depth could be extended to as much as 10 yards, the closer the ball is to the halfway. If the ball is being marked and supported by the midfielders, the backs may want to be 10-15 yards in support of the supporting defenders. This is another element in support defense that we will skip over for the time being.
A good starting point rule of thumb on support angle and depth for the closest support defender may be to draw a line from the far post to the ball. The support defender should be somewhere along this line. This line puts the defender in good position to deter or prevent through balls. The problem with this method is when the ball is in the center of the field. The horizontal support angle of the far post line may be a little too vertical for a supporting defender.
The support position is next dictated by the support attacker. The wider the attacker, the further away laterally, the support defender may want to play. The further away from the ball the attacker is, the further away from the support attacker the supporting defender can play (if the attacker is outside of the penalty area). The more dangerous position an attacker is in (such as a run on goal), the support defender must provide more attention, both visually and physically.
A distance halfway between the two attackers is a good starting point if the attackers are square. If the second attacker is forward, the defender must give him attention and play tighter. Here the through ball between the defenders is a real concern as the defender will not have a distance advantage on the attacker if there is a run on goal.