The Science of Soccer Team Defending: Zonal Defending, Zonal Pressing and Pressing



Team Defending Principles & Strategies


Before coaching team defensive drills it is important to have a fundamental understanding of the principles and strategies of team defending.  These principles and strategies should be taught and reinforced in team defending training sessions and drills.  The coach’s ability to communicate these principles effectively with the players is critical to playing effective team defense.


Key Principles:


Line of Confrontation: A defined line that is the reference point indicating where to start applying defensive pressure. 

Line of Restraint: A line that is a reference point that indicates where the defending unit (the backline) would be pushed up to.  The line of confrontation and line of restraint together help the team keep proper shape and compactness. 


I use four basic lines of confrontation when teaching team defense.  The line of restraint will naturally push up or back with the line of confrontation.  The four lines of confrontation will be full, three quarters, half and one quarter. Choosing where to set the line of confrontation involves many factors.  Things to consider are the speed of the other teams attacking players, the ability of the opponent to possess the ball, the fitness level of your team, the weather conditions, the score, up or down a man, the ability of your team to counter and the speed of oppositions back four.   Below are the diagrams of each of the lines of confrontation and restraint.  The lines of confrontation are in red while the lines of restraint are in blue (#1 line of confrontation matches with #1 line of restraint and 2-4 as well). 

When holding a line of confrontation the coach can have players hold a very strict line or allow groups of 1-3 players to extend pressure over the line.  There can be a number of reasons to extend pressure, especially if your team is using a high line of confrontation.  If the oppositions back four is allowed to collect the ball comfortably right behind the line of confrontation they can easily serve penetrating balls over the top.  I do not recommend letting teams feel comfortable on the ball and allowing them to hit unpressured long passes.  I let my players extend pressure especially when the ball is being passed to a defender with his head down.  At that point 1-3 players will break the line of confrontation and try to create turnover leading to a counter-attack. 


Compactness:  This is a basic principle in team defense.  When a team is not in possession their objective is to make the field as small as possible for the attacking team.  Creating a numerical advantage in the area of the ball is the goal of defensive compactness.  The goal of the attacking team is open the field up making the defense spread out.  Spreading the field will open up gaps for the attacking team to penetrate through.  In order to circulate the ball effectively the team in possession must try and open up the field.  The defensive team will be trying to do the exact opposite.  When the ball is lost is this starts transition.  Transition is one of the most important times in a soccer game.  The team that was spread out will be trying to become compact and the team who was compact will be trying to spread out.  That is a simple explanation but it is an important aspect of the game to understand.  How a team manages transition from attacking to defending and defending to attacking can determine the outcome of the game.

In the illustration below the red team is showing good defensive compactness while sitting back in a low defensive block.


The above exert is from my book “The Science of Soccer Team Defending: Zonal Pressing, Zonal Defending and Pressing.  You can purchase at