As the emphasis on being defensively compact grows day after day, and with how we criticize teams for not actively understanding their defensive responsibilities, we look at some of the key decisions for a team to analyze when looking at defensive organisation.
The first decision to consider is should the team go for a man-marking oriented system or a zonal one or a mix of both. It was noted during the world cup that the average distance between the three lines was 26 m, which for its obvious reasons cannot be panned out through a man-marking system. So, what we often see is either a zonal setup or a mixture of man and zone.
When looking at the defensive organisation of a team in a zonal block, we need to look at two important aspects when a team gets into a deep block. The team that has currently taken the beauty of the deep block to its highest stature is Atletico Madrid. Let’s look at the two structures notably used by them while operating with a deep block against Barcelona
Look at the image below where the midfield line shapes into a diagonal format. Barcelona’s play involves getting between the lines of the opposition to find space, so when Atletico deploy a layered structure, it’s done to provide cover to the backline if and when the ball is played between the lines. Now in the image below, if one of the players does drop deeper to receive the ball, the distance between the defender in the defensive block and his midfield partner is considerably less, thus giving cover from the front and the back.
Non Layered Structure
Now looking at the non-layered structure, let’s imagine Suarez does receive the ball between the lines. We see the distance between the first defender approaching and the defensive cover from the closest midfielder is considerably more when we compared to the layered structure. This may be just by a meter but at the elite level where meters and seconds are closely linked to the theory of marginal gains, that’s enough to make a difference.
As the great Johan Cruyff once said, “Defending is a matter of how much space I should defend. Everything is a matter of meters, that’s all”.
From the below image, we can tell that there is a considerable distance between the line of the midfield and the defensive line. That distance being anything but compact is also a decision taken with clarity. So, for a team that is usually compact like Atletico, the question to ask is why is there such a distance between the two lines?
That’s because, as the play develops, we can see that the Barcelona front 3 does not participate in the build-up phase. It would cause problems for Atletico, should the whole team participate in the pressing phase, as it could leave them exposed at the back.
What Atletico do here, is that they split the defensive responsibilities into two parts. The forwards and the midfield take care of the pressing and the back four stay back in what’s termed as a rest defense setup, to nullify the tactical problem caused by the Barca front three. In this case, we see a 4v3 scenario which can be easily dealt with, as seen below.
As teams and coaches try new methodologies to break down organized defenses, there will always be someone on the opposite side trying to make sure their defensive unit is as most coaches love to say, COMPACT!
Analysis by our Football Analyst and Coach – Ashwin Nellappana