What's the Best Way to Defend?

Most of the time, defenders are big and well built. But they can be very slow or at least slower than the strikers and midfielders.

As a defender with the typical defender's build, what's the best way to stop a small, quick, explosive, dribbling striker? And how do you do it without resorting to dirty tactics like the notorious throat/neck tackle?

1. Watch Your Opponent

As a defender, your basic task is to find out the striker's main strengths: speed, explosivity, etc.

Observation is essential. You need to work out which foot they shoot with, where they're most uncomfortable, when they're on their weak foot, etc.

two teams playing football

2. Get Your Feet Positioned Nicely

The entire challenge of a defensive situation is about positioning your feet to prevent the striker playing off their stronger foot.

How do you do this? Stand side on so you can dictate to the striker where you want them to go, and not the other way round. This is the key to effective defending.

Standing side on allows you to anticipate the striker's next run if they end up getting past you. Your positioning means you'll be ready to accelerate backwards without losing time.

Never, ever defend on your heels standing face on. That's the easiest way for the opposing striker to beat you.

playing football

3. Stop the Striker Ending Up in Front of Goal

A good defender will have a sense of self-sacrifice. Whether you're a central defender, full-back or defensive midfielder, you'll often be the team's last line of defence. At this moment you become the team's last hope (not forgetting the goalkeeper, of course) for preventing a goal.

It's essential to position yourself correctly, close your stance and show the striker the channel. Your aim is to make life easier for yourself and the goalkeeper by closing off as many angles as possible. You need to do everything to force the striker wide and stop them getting in front of goal. Their only option will then be a solo attempt on goal.

kids playing football

4. Your Killer Weapon, The Tackle

The tackle is a difficult technical move that not everyone can master.

To execute a good tackle, again you need to show the striker where you want him, and when they go to shoot or dribble you need to get a touch on the ball by sliding to the side – either to block their shot or win the ball back.

Useful tip: tackling should be a defender's last resort, because once a defender is on the ground they're beaten and out of the game. The aim of a good defender? To defend standing up!

5. Learn to Head the Ball Well

Defenders are often locked in aerial battles with strikers. The secret to heading the ball well is to keep your eyes open and avoid backing down. Timing is more important than the header itself, so you need to jump up at the right moment.

You then need to remember to protect yourself. Leave a safe distance between you and your opponent by keeping your arms up. This will also put them off balance.

6. Place Your Passes

A defender isn't just a brainless oaf who hurls himself into tackles and headers. They need to be able to execute long and short passes, ideally with both feet.

Defenders will use the long pass – often known as the diagonal pass – to switch the game from left to right or vice versa, because straight passes are tricky for the strikers to bring under control.

It's often said that the first striker is the first defender, since a good forward pass can help break through the opponent's lines and take some of their players out of the game.

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