Are you bad at defending long balls?
Do you wanna minimize the chances of conceding a goal from a flick on and an easy finish on your back?
Well, in this article, we are gonna go over ALL the small details no one is talking about when defending long balls and help you become a better defender.
You see, success lies in the details, and when it comes to defending long balls every step and millisecond counts.
The aim of this article is to help you engrain some foundational defensive principles inside your mind so you can automate the defensive process and switch on on a dime when it’s time to prevent/react to these plays.
So without further ado let’s jump right into the three-step process we like to adopt whenever we analyze such game scenarios with our players in the analysis service.
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STEP #1 PREVENTION BEFORE REACTION
The first step has to do with prevention. Your first and most important job as a defender is to block and prevent attacking threats.
Teams usually like to use long balls to penetrate your defensive line either because they have players that are great in the air or because your defensive line has a weak link that is easy to beat in the air.
Your job as a LEADER is to do two things;
#1 Adopt a high-block as a defensive unit to push the whole team higher up the pitch and quote on quote force a high pressing tactic that won’t give the opposition much space and time to execute a long ball and
#2 Communicate with your attackers, plan ahead of the game, and let them know that the team NEEDS them to minimize the number of long balls the opposition performs so it would be better if they stayed a bit tighter to the opposing defenders.
Understand that as a defender you need to become a great leader and communicator.
Unfortunately, not many defenders value those skills. And that might lead to a myriad of defensive issues.
WHAT IF YOU COULDN’T PREVENT THE LONG BALL?
Now, let’s say the attackers couldn’t prevent the long ball; how do you react as a defensive unit?
In this case, each defender has a different role.
If you wanna be as effective as possible and adjust to the constantly changing gameplay, you simply need to know ALL of those 3 roles.
The Aerial Duel
Every time, there’s going to be 1 player for the aerial duel. It is really important to only have 1 player involved in the battle so we can increase the number of defenders covering a possible flick-on behind the defensive line that might lead to an attack.
This is usually the player that is the closest to the duel or the defender that is really good in the air. No matter who this is, communicate as early and as fast as possible and adjust your positioning.
If you are the player going up for the duel, there are certain key points to keep in mind in order to beat that attacker that supposedly is good at heading the ball.
Follow the trajectory of the ball and use your BODY and ELBOWS to put your opponent out of balance. I am not telling you to commit a foul by pushing away your opponent with your hands, I am just telling you that you need to use your elbows and body to misposition the opponent, or else, he or she is going to win the battle.
This point is CRUCIAL if you wanna win more defensive headers. It’s not about how strong, powerful, or tall you are. Yes, I know, these might be some characteristics that are definitely going to help you, but the intelligence of your actions as well as your mentality are the things that can win you the battle, even if you’re not the most physically gifted guy or girl on the pitch.
Now, if you’re not the player that goes up for the header, you’re most probably somewhere nearby the duel.
No matter if you’re behind or in front of the duel, there is one leading defensive principle that you simply NEED to MASTER and engrain in your subconscious.
And that is the principle of diagonal cover.
Now, diagonal cover is a defensive automation that is really useful in ANY defensive play.
In the case of long balls, the millisecond you expect a long ball is the millisecond you need to start backpedaling or running back and create a triangle with the other defenders that are going to be ready to defend a flick-on.
If you want a more detailed approach to this defensive automation, you and the other defender that is not in the duel, need to be watching your teammate’s back and be positioned anywhere between 3 to 5m behind his back at approximately a 45° angle.
Even if your teammate loses the aerial battle, you and the other defender are going to be there ready to defend and win the ball back. This added layer of protection is proven to be an effective defensive automation you need to master and use when defending long balls.
Be aware of those other attackers though and avoid getting into physical battles with them as your defensive shape lacks balance and structure. If you are getting pressed, either pass the ball back to the GK or clear the danger away.
In case the CDM goes up for the duel, the same mechanism should be applied in order to protect the back and minimize the goalscoring chances.
The Second Ball
And now, let’s analyze another important role defenders have when defending long balls and that is winning the 2nd ball.
No matter who wins the duel, the ball might not end up going towards the back of the defense. In that case, the CDMs or generally speaking the players that are close to the duel need to be ready to win the second ball.
The second ball is that ball that goes from one duel to the other.
Positioning yourself in front of your opponent and being ready to react to the trajectory of the ball are key things to consider.
Your job is equally important to the job of all the other defenders of the team.
Your goal is to win back possession and restart the play either with a fast attack or by building up the play again.
FRIENDLY REMINDERS FOR A HIGHER SUCCESS RATE
So, guys, there are two things I want you to take away from this article to bulletproof your goal and become better at defending long balls.
#1 start using diagonal cover to create triangle formations in the backline and become resilient against flick-ons and #2 use your arms, elbows, and your overall power to win duels in the air, whether that’s the first or the second ball.
Since you’ll be facing big strikers that are capable of winning the ball in the air you need to be a little bit cheeky and smart with how you use your strengths. A simple push with your shoulder can make a huge difference in their base of support. Be smart about it.
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