Out of Possession

Basic Principles

  • The team must be compact and work together

  • Understand the difference between defending and pressing:

    • Defending= guarding space and our goal with the intention of preventing goals​

    • Pressing= using coordinated pressure and passing traps to force mistakes and turnovers with the intent of regaining possession

  • Look for triggers to initiate a press and have no half measures, all or nothing

  • Communicate clearly as a team and as individuals/pairs/groups verbally and non-verbally

  • Close all gaps and passing lanes unless setting a trap- in which case anticipate where the pressure on the ball might force the next pass

  • Cover and support, screen and make play predictable through angle of approach

  • Respond to transition immediately and cover the center of the field first

  • Generally, passing a man horizontally can be quick and effective, but ensure there is communication from the deepest defender before passing a man on vertically

  • If the press fails and the ball is switched, drop as you slide across to prevent a counter attack and wait for another trigger before pressing again

Defensive Vocabulary

  • Defending

    • The act of guarding space behind our back line and in front of our goal

  • Pressing

    • The act of using defensive pressure and passing traps to force turnovers

  • "Hold"

    • The defensive unit should stay exactly where it is

  • "Up"

    • The defensive unit moves up together in a controlled manner

    • ​Triggered by the ball moving away from goal​

  • "Drop"

    • The defensive unit moves back together​

    • Triggered by the ball moving toward goal or and anticipated long ball

  • "Slide"

    • The defensive unit moving side to side together​

    • Triggered by ball switching from one side to the other

  • "Out"

    • The whole team moves up together and quickly

    • Triggered by the ball moving a significant distance away from goal

The Back Four

  • Defensive Tracks

    • As the defense drops toward their own goal, they should get closer and closer together.  Likewise, when moving up the pitch, the back line should spread further and further apart

  • Leaving the Back Line

    • As a defender leaves the back line to pressure an opponent, the rest must adjust to make sure gaps in front of goal are closed down.  Priority is to defend the space in front of goal instead of man marking

The Midfield Screen and Cover

  • Screening

    • #6 and #8 should look to screen passes into the striker as they close down the opponents center midfielders​​​

  • Dealing with Strikers Movement

    • If a striker checks to receive the ball between the lines there are a couple options:

      • If possible #6 or #8 should work with #10 to soak up the pressure and force the ball back out, OR

      • If needed the CB could close him down while #6 or #8 could step in to cover, #10 works to balance out the midfield

  • Tracking Runs

    • If a run from the opponents CM is not tracked it can cause big problems​

    • Only pass on vertical runs if given a signal by a deeper defender who has a better view of the attack

  • Supporting Out Wide

    • When the ball is played out to a wide opponent, #6 or #8 must support the fullback pressuring the ball and still maintain a screen of the striker​

    • If the fullback is beaten, a CB must come across pressure and a CM must drop in to the back line

Team Defending

***Defending should not be confused with pressing.  Defending is only about preventing the opposition from scoring and involves creating a block or shell for the attackers to play around.  In our defending shape, we force play back and away from our goal.  Defending is more or less used to soak up pressure and prepare for pressing or used as a game management tool.  Pressing is the application of defensive pressure with the intent of winning the ball back and will be addressed in the next section

  • Neutral (Central) Positioning

    • 2 banks of 4 with offset 2 up top to guide the opponents to one side or the other

    • As the ball is shifted, the command of "Slide!" is made.  The whole team slides togehter to stay compact and close down space

  • Pressing on the Flank

    • As the ball goes wide to the opponents fullback, our winger should press the ball and attempt to send them back and away from our goal or any gaps

    • The midfield line should resemble a check mark, with the winger pressuring, the near CM supporting at ~45 degree angle, the far CM supporting his partner at another 45 degrees, and the far winger pinched in and level with the ball side CM

  • Forcing Play Back

    • As the ball is played back short, "Up!" is shouted and the team can move up the pitch together in a controlled manner keeping pressure on the ball

    • As the ball comes central, our shape becomes more neutral again

  • Prepare for Press

    • ​If adequate pressure is maintained and the opponent is forced all the way back, "Out!" should be called and the whole team moves out quickly leaving players offside behind them.  Here is where we get set for a press

Pressing Levels

*** It is incredibly important that we are coordinated as a team when we press.  Each level has its use but we will spend the majority of our time with levels 2 and 3, with 2 being our standard press and 3 being our reaction to a mistake by the opponents.  Remember that the intention here is to force a mistake or a errant pass which we can collect and use to quickly start an attack of our own.

  • Level 1

    • Used when priority is to prevent any space for clear shooting chances, while still giving a chance of snagging the ball away

    • The only difference between this and our defensive block is that the winger in the secondary press will force play inside where we have numbers

    • Very deep and compact defensive line, resembles a 4-4-1-1 or 4-5-1 team shape

    • One lightly pressures ball at a time (#7 and #11 on FBs, #9 and #10 on CBs)

    • Allow the opponents the ball in their own half to shut down space in ours

Primary Press
Slide to Press
Secondary Press
  • Level 2

    • Used to recover for next level 3 or 4 press.  Send opponent one way and limit space, while potentially stealing possession or triggering a higher level press

    • Mid-half defensive line, 4-4-2 team shape

    • Two players pressure ball to make play predictable (#9 & #10 when central, #9 & #7 or #10 & #11 when wide)

Primary Press
Slide to Secondary
Secondary Press
Anticipated Secondary Press
Secondary Press
  • Level 3

    • Aggressive press to use when there is a trigger like a poor touch or a backward pass/touch

    • High defensive line, resembles 4-2-3-1 when neutral and 4-3-3 when pressing 

    • Forwards angle themselves to invite a predictable pass, midfield must slide and screen

    • Three press ball in triangle shape (both forwards and one wide midfielder in primary, one forward, one wide midfielder, and one central midfielder in secondary press)

    • If press fails, whole team must drop and slide across to prevent a counter on the weak side

Trigger to Press
Primary Press
Secondary Press
  • Level 4

    • Very aggressive press to use when there is a clear trigger or major mistake by the opponent

    • Very high defensive line, 4-2-4 or 3-3-4 (if #6 or a FB steps into midfield) pressing shape

    • Front players must make play predictable

    • Four press ball in diamond shape (both forwards along with #7 or #11 and #6 or #8) midfield must slide and screen back line, may add a defender to create 3 man screen

    • If press fails, whole team must drop and slide to prevent a counter on the weak side

Trigger to Press
Primary Press
Secondary Press
  • Level 5

    • May never need it, but level 5 is used for short periods of time during a game that we are stronger man for man but need to take control of the game

    • Each player focuses on man marking all over the pitch instead of zonal but also attempts to screen passes in behind them

Set Pieces

  • ​Corner Kicks​​ Zones
    • 1) ​Challenge for any driven balls and drop onto near post if ball goes over
    • 2 & 3) Start near back of zone and attack ball if inside zone
    • 4) Guard far post
    • 5) Mark attacker, if none then support zone 3
    • 6, 7 & 8) Start near back and goal side of zone, attack ball within zone. Close down any balls at top of box


  • Wide Free Kicks

    • Line of six drop after ball is kicked​

    • #7 sits in front of line for knockdowns and is joined by #11 when ball goes over him

    • #10 prevents short lateral ball and then may pushes up in preparation for a counter