Defensive Objectives

A team's defensive objectives are the tactical objectives that it has in the defensive phases.

The main defensive objectives that a team typically has are:

Winning Possession

Winning possession simply refers to the defending team entering the attacking phases (and, therefore, becoming the attacking team) by gaining control of the ball. It prevents the (initial) attacking team from keeping possession and, therefore, from attempting to create a goal-scoring chance and enables the (initial) defending team to attempt to create a goal-scoring chance instead.

The defending team can attempt to win possession by making it more difficult for the attacking team to keep possession. To do this the defending team must restrict space, although protecting space is also important as it helps the defending team to restrict space effectively.

For the defending team to win possession the attacking team must concede a set piece or the defending team must intercept the ball.

Intercepting the ball involves a defending team player moving or stopping the ball and either the same player or a teammate gaining control of the ball as a result.

Preventing a Goal-Scoring Chance

Generally, in order to prevent the opposition team scoring a goal the defending team must prevent a goal-scoring chance.

Preventing a goal-scoring chance essentially refers to the defending team reducing the amount and quality of the attacking team's goal-scoring chances so as to stop the attacking team from creating a goal-scoring chance that is of high enough quality to result in a goal.

The defending team can attempt to prevent a goal-scoring chance by making it more difficult for the attacking team to create space and penetrate space effectively. To do this the defending team must restrict space and protect space.

Restricting Space

Restricting space involves the defending team reducing the available space that attacking team players can use. It can therefore make it more difficult for the attacking team to keep possession, create space and penetrate space.

The defending team can make it more difficult for the attacking team to penetrate space in particular by restricting space to a greater extent in areas where there is a higher quality penetrative opportunity. This reduces the quality of the attacking team's penetrative opportunities and so helps the defending team to prevent a goal-scoring chance. To do this effectively the defending team must protect space.

The defending team can restrict space around the ball, restrict space around players and restrict onside space.

Restricting Space Around the Ball and Around Players

Restricting space around the ball involves defending team players reducing available space around the ball by occuping space near to the ball. If a particular attacking team player has control of the ball then this also involves restricting space around a player (the player on the ball).

Restricting space around players involves defending team players reducing available space around attacking team players by occupying space near to those attacking team players.

Restricting space around the ball enables a defending team player to attempt to win possession by intercepting the ball, since a defending team player must reduce available space in the immediate vicinity of the ball for the ball to be intercepted.

Restricting space around the player on the ball helps a defending team player to attempt to block any attempt by the player on the ball to move the ball. This helps the defending team to win possession by intercepting the ball, while even if the ball is not intercepted it still helps the defending team to prevent a goal-scoring chance by making it more difficult for the attacking team to create space and penetrate space effectively.

Restricting space around a player off the ball helps a defending team player to restrict space around the ball more easily if the ball is moved towards that player, either before or after the ball reaches the player.

A defending team player who is restricting space in the immediate vicinity of a player, who is either on or off the ball, can use physical power against that player.

Using physical power against an attacking team player refers to a defending team player using his physical strength to make it more difficult for an attacking team player to move himself or the ball into a particular area.

Restricting Onside Space

Restricting onside space involves the defending team moving the offside line into a more advanced position in order to reduce the available space that attacking team players can use while being in an onside position.

The offside line is a hypothetical horizontal line that is level with the deeper of:

The offside rule dictates that an attacking team player is in an onside position if he is positioned between the offside line and the attacking team's goal or level with the offside line, and in an offside position if he is positioned between the offside line and the defending team's goal, and that if the attacking team moves the ball to a player who is in an offside position at the point when it initiates such movement of the ball then the defending team is awarded a free kick.

The offside rule makes it more difficult for the attacking team to keep possession when moving the ball into the area between the offside line and the defending team's goal, and therefore makes it more difficult for the attacking team to penetrate space, since an attacking team player can only move into this area to gain control of the ball after the movement of the ball has been initiated.

The defending team can move the offside line into a more advanced position and, therefore, increase the area between the offside line and the defending team's goal, by moving its penultimate deepest player into a more advanced position, as long as he remains deeper than the half-way line and the ball.

Defensive Pressure

By restricting space the defending team can apply defensive pressure to the attacking team.

Defensive pressure refers to how the defending team restricting space causes attacking team players to make quicker decisions so that they can penetrate space, create space and keep possession effectively. Making quicker decisions increases the likelihood that an attacking team player will make an attacking mistake that makes it more difficult for the attacking team to achieve its attacking objectives, as explained in the Player Behaviour guide, and so makes it easier for the defending team to win possession and prevent a goal-scoring chance.

Defensive pressure is most effective when the defending team restricts space around the player on the ball and around players off the ball simultaneously. This makes the player on the ball even more likely to make an attacking mistake and more likely to move the ball into restricted space inefficiently.

Protecting Space

Protecting space involves defending team players occupying space behind attacking team players (between attacking team players and the defending team's goal). It helps the defending team to continue to restrict space as the attacking team moves the ball and its players towards the defending team's goal and, therefore, it helps the defending team to effectively restrict space in areas where there is a higher quality penetrative opportunity in particular.

An important aspect of protecting space is providing cover.

Providing cover in the defensive phases involves a defending team player occupying space behind a teammate in order for the defending team to protect space more effectively. Movement of a defending team player in front of an attacking team player, to restrict space around the ball or around a player for example, may require a teammate to move into the vacated area in order to provide cover for him.

Where a defending team player is providing cover for a teammate who is restricting space around the ball or around a player, that player may be able to subsequently restrict space if his teammate fails to do so effectively; for example if an attacking team player moves away from the defending team player. A defending team player can therefore more easily afford to move in order to restrict space around the ball or around a player if he has a teammate nearby who can provide cover. Furthermore, a player who is providing cover for a teammate who is restricting space around the player on the ball may benefit from the defensive pressure applied by that teammate should he need to subsequently restrict space himself.

Retaining Compactness

Retaining compactness is both a defensive objective and an attacking objective. Retaining compactness in the defensive phases enables quicker attacking transition when possession is won as it helps a team to retain compactness in the attacking phases.

Retaining compactness in the defensive phases involves defending team players maintaining short distances between each other and between themselves and the different areas of available space. It is a particularly important defensive objective as it helps the defending team to restrict space and protect space effectively.

Movement of a defending team player, to restrict space around the ball or around a player for example, may require a teammate to move into the vacated area in order for the defending team to retain compactness.

The two main aspects of retaining compactness are retaining player compactness and retaining spatial compactness.

Retaining player compactness in the defensive phases involves defending team players maintaining short distances between each other. It helps the defending team to protect space more easily, since it makes it easier for players to move in order to provide cover when necessary. Furthermore, providing defensive support, which is a particular aspect of retaining player compactness, helps the defending team to restrict space more effectively.

Retaining player compactness essentially keeps the size of each defending team player's defensive zone manageably small, making it easier for each player to restrict space and protect space in his defensive zone, and also easier for players to restrict space and protect space in each other's defensive zones when necessary. Defensive zones are explained in the Tactical Dynamics guide.

Two further aspects of retaining player compactness are retaining horizontal compactness and retaining vertical compactness.

Retaining horizontal compactness in the defensive phases involves defending team players maintaining short distances between each other in horizontal space. Retaining vertical compactness in the defensive phases involves defending team players maintaining short distances between each other in vertical space.

However, in order for the defending team to restrict space and protect space effectively in all areas of the pitch defending team players also need to spread out to some extent. This is done by retaining spatial compactness.

Retaining spatial compactness in the defensive phases involves defending team players maintaining short distances between themselves and the areas of available space that an attacking team player could move into.

Providing Defensive Support

Providing defensive support involves one or more defending team players occupying space close to a teammate who is restricting space. It helps the defending team to restrict space more effectively because players providing defensive support can provide cover for a teammate who is restricting space and can also restrict space in the same area when necessary.

In addition, providing defensive support can help the defending team to prevent the attacking team from creating overloads.

A player providing defensive support to a teammate who is restricting space around the ball can also provide attacking support should his teammate win possession.