Coaching the Coaches: Rehan Mirza on 5 favourite defending positions

The following are practices designed by Mike Pejic, former regional director for the North East FA, UK. These are great drills to work on a variety of methods when coping with your first bank of defenders. The coach can certainly be creative and incorporate their own objectives of the session to meet the outcomes. Certainly, I would recommend coaches to attempt these drills for 14 year olds and upwards.

Practice 1: 1 v 1 situations

(wide and central areas in the defending third of the pitch)

Organisation: 4 defenders v 4 attackers + 4 servers and 1 Goalkeeper

Area: Edge of 18 yard area (coned off)

Channels marked by cones on angle to by line .In each channel, there is 1 Defender, 1 attacker, 1 Server – rotate servers, attackers and defenders.

• Server 1 passes into A

A attempts to beat D and go on to score past the goalkeeper

• must stay in zone area coned off – once beyond the defender can cut into the penalty area

• D (defender) must stop A from beating him – holding up the attacker until a challenge can be made

• Central areas, same scenario:

– Defender stopping attacker from making a shooting opportunity

– also working within zone area

Key points:

• switch on attitude – positive and intercept

• travel as ball travels

• speed/angle of approach

• decision – force play in one direction

• technique of pressure & patience – timing of challenge

• variety of service – attacker to stand in various positions to receive pass


Server to join in after pass – 1 v 2 situation.

Practice 2B – 2 v 1 in central areas with two central defenders and attacker


• Server to pass into attacker A

• Attacker – start position in a variety of places within central or wide/central areas coned off

• both defenders react/adjust positions accordingly to attacker receiving in wide area or attacker receiving in a central area.

Key points:

• Intercept

• Technique/pressure: stop turning in central areas

• Covering defender angle, distance/cover position

• Decision – direction, adjust accordingly

– communication

– inside/outside


• Introduce second attacker – 2 v 2

• variety of services into attackers – varied starting positions

• Server to join in supporting attackers – 2 v 3 situation

Practice 3: 3 v 2 (wide and central areas)

• 2 central defenders

• 1 wide full back

• 2 attackers

• server passes into either attacker

• variety of serves

• varied start positions – receiving across defenders; receiving behind defenders

• defenders to play offside

• working one full back with two central defenders – alternate (opposite full back observing)

• link in goalkeepers

Key points:

• Pressure technique (first defender)

• cover angle/distance (second defender)

• balanced position (third defender) adjusting positions according to amount of pressure on the ball; little or no pressure on the ball – sit off, invite to feet, mark space behind

• pressure on the ball – covering players push on to attackers tighter working “shoulders” of attackers to check attackers let attacker run into offside position

Practice 4: 4 v 3

• 2 central defenders

• 2 full backs

• 4 servers

• Goalkeeper

• 3 progress to 4 attackers; 4 servers

• server pass into any attacker

• vary service

• wide central areas

• to feet – space

• in front – behind

• defenders to play offside Within this practice

• defenders – handling 1 v 1 situations within a unit

• cover not necessarily important

• NOT particular on team shape, ie one to pressure the ball after three in unit working flat back line

• two full backs in advance of two central defenders – decisions on marking tight or space

• two central defenders – work as a pair (one to mark tight; one to sit tight or drop off)

• decisions – track runner or let him run (offsides); pass on; let him drop off; mark tight

• Goalkeeper to work space behind defenders.

Practice 5: 5 v 4 (5 v 5)


Key Points:

• Decision – awareness of space, players)

• Adjust position accordingly to ball, player, goal

• Decision – mark tight or space

• Responsibility- handling 1 v 1 situation

• Marking – away from the ball

• Compactness – deny space, clearance

• Goalkeeper to act as a sweeper – working space, positional sense, compactness, decision, communication, technique


• 4 v 4 – introduce fourth attacker

• 5 v 4 – one holding Midfield player in front of two Centre Backs

• 5 v 5 (one server to join in) 1 support behind – two touch

2 support in advance – free

Play varied systems against defensive unit, ie 2 wide players, 1 front player, 1 front player dropping off short.

For sure, in the above practices, the message is to defend your 1v1 situations within the boundaries of working in a unit. Therefore, it is quite common to adapt to different shapes rather than a flat line at the back.

I have used these practices and used my own coaching style to get the best out of the group I am coaching. When coaching the above to a younger age group, I will let them use autonomy and find their own ways of getting it right. For sure, I step in and give valuable input if it is required. You would expect an older group to get their techniques right, but there is always something to coach. I am pretty sure that these practices would help with most teams in Pakistan to start from the back and work out a strategy of regaining possession.