Reducing goals against: a 12 step program

I’ve cut and paste this from a coaching seminar I ran last season. I had linked to a PowerPoint version of it about three months ago but this one is easier to read…

Reducing Goals Against
Simple but effective tactics to keep opponents from scoring in divisional soccer games based on shape, technique, smarts and determination.

Each point falls into one of four categories: Shape,Technique, Smarts and Determination

Shape: Back four push up with the ball

When the ball leaves your defensive third, the quicker you can push up and leave attackers behind in an offside position the better. It also allows mids to pressure the ball and not have a big gap between them and the defenders (see Point 3) and forces attackers to move away from your keeper (or else they’ll be offside) so he/she has more time and space to deal with dropped ball or rebounds.
THE CONCERN: If everyone pushes up except for one player it not only defeats the purpose it creates a great opportunity for your opponent. It must be a concerted effort to push up.

Technique: Proper clearances that don’t create second chances

This is huge. The number of preventable goals scored on second chances from an attempted clearance is huge in youth soccer. When given the chance to step in and clear a ball during an opponent’s attack, it needs to be done well. Ideally the ball is cleared at least 20 yards away in the air so it cannot be intercepted or accidentally bounce off of someone. Poor clearances, like the ball knocked back out along the ground to an on-rushing attacker at the top of the box are obviously counter-productive and lead to goals against.
THE CONCERN: “But we want to look like Brazil and play out from the back!” There’s a time and place for that and if your primary concern as a coach is reducing goals against, this is neither.
Shape: No big gaps between defenders and mids

The area between the midfielders and the defenders is prime operating territory for attackers. If given more space than they should be it allows them more time to bring balls down and attack defenders. If this space is kept tight then it becomes more difficult for opponents to find teammates in this space and it will require a good first touch or else the attackers proximity to defenders will result in a lot of 50-50 balls. Obviously, this is related to Point #1 but it’s also incumbent on midfielders to not get caught up field and to get back and defend when they don’t have the ball.
THE CONERN: These gaps are primarily evident as the game progresses and players get tired. Mids don’t track back and defenders are slow to push up. Consequently, this is the time that most goals are generally scored.

Technique: Dealing with balls played over the top

You will find that the most common attacking method at all levels and almost all ages in youth soccer is still to dump the ball in behind your back four and chase it. Your defenders ability to play facing their own goal, with pressure on their back, is crucial. They have to make a quick decision to either play back to their keeper, shield while waiting for support, try to turn with the ball and play out of it or kick the ball out of bounds.
THE CONCERN: Over-complicating under pressure; first option should be to play it out, hard, towards the sidelines if they are under any sort of pressure and have no teammates in support.

Shape: Keeper’s starting position

If you’re going to ask your defenders to stay pushed up then you’re going to leave some space between them and your goalie that your opponents will try to use. Instruct your keeper to play right at the top of his/her box when play is in the other end. If there’s a turnover and a quick ball launched in behind your back four, they will be better placed to come out and clear it if need be. Especially on artificial turf where the ball tends to roll much more.

THE CONCERN: Keepers aren’t always the most nimble or skilled players on your team. They need to be able to react quickly and strike the ball well if they are going to come out and clear balls played over the top.

Shape and Determination: Back four only retreat to within shooting distance of their goal when opponents are running at them

While it’s proper technique to back pedal when forwards (and mids) are running at your defenders rather than jump into tackles standing still when the ball carrier is running at you, at some point defenders need to stop retreating and prepare to tackle or block a shot. The willingness to block shots and tackle are very important.
THE CONCERN: Finding the balance between committing too high up the field and collapsing down too close to goal

Smarts: Avoid giving up corners and free kicks around the box

Especially once you get to U13/U14 and up and players can reach mid-goal on corner kicks and score on free kicks outside the box, coach players to not concede corner kicks unless necessary and to be careful when they tackle and jostle for the ball in dangerous areas just outside your box.
THE CONCERN: Being overly concerned about this leads to stepping away from the ball and allowing opponents a chance to gain possession in dangerous areas. Sometimes you need to concede corners or tackle for the ball in a way that may be a foul but prevents a likely goal.

Smarts: If the opposing team is offside, get your defenders to help the ref make the call

There’s nothing more frustrating than coaching your team to push up, not collapse, defend well in general and for someone who is offside to score and not have it called back. If it’s offside, tell your defenders to quickly raise their arm and yell, “Offside”. It helps. It works.

THE CONCERN: Experienced refs may tell them to quit it and leave the calls to them. A chance worth taking though.

Shape: Proper use of pressure (delay) and depth (covering second defender)

The most common shout on sidelines is pressure but on its own it’s not terribly effective. Pressure, or delay, is designed to stop the other team from advancing quickly. Around your goal it stops them getting shots away. While it’s important to do this, a second covering defender should follow up behind the defender applying pressure and provide instructions on what to do and be in a position to help if the attacker gets past the pressure.
THE CONCERN: over committing players around the ball leaves you open to play being quickly switched to where you have no resources.

Smarts and Determination: Don’t ball watch

Players can’t get transfixed by the ball when they are not the player defending the opponent with the ball. They must be aware of their own positioning, tracking the player they are marking and reacting quickly when a shot is taken so they get to rebounds before their mark and clear them from danger
THE CONCERN: None. They need to learn game awareness and constantly being checking what is happening off the ball.

Determination: The importance of a good holding midfielder

A defensive midfielder who wins more than their share of 50-50 balls and 1v1 battles is worth their weight in gold. Zinedine Zidane went out of his way to stress how important Claude Makelele was to his Real Madrid team full of Galacticos and it’s true. A solid defensive mid allows your centre backs to hold their shape and worry about strikers rather than surging centre mids and creates a lot of turnovers that turn into attacking chances for you.
THE CONCERN: They see themselves as a centre back and sit too deep rather than occupying the space 10-15 yards in front of the defenders and destroying everything the opposing team does in this space.

Determination: Pay attention to transition

More than two thirds of goals are scored in transition (ie. You lose the ball and the other team scores in three passes or less). There’s a natural tendency for players to ‘turn off’ when their team loses the ball. They get frustrated and instead of immediately pressuring the ball or moving towards the nearest opponent and tracking their run, they get lazy and do nothing for a few seconds. That allows opponents to get behind them, create overloads (ie. 4v3’s or 3v2’s) and get chances at goal.
THE CONCERN: None. Teach them to react quickly to losses of possession.

Bonus point! #13
Smarts: Be aware of physical mismatches

If you’re in the habit of hiding your weakest player at right back because few teams have an imposing player playing wide on their left and you come up against a team with a lightning fast, highly skilled left footed player playing out there, make an adjustment. Don’t be afraid to counteract another team’s technical or physical strength if you feel that overall you will be on the back foot most of the game.
THE CONCERN: It’s not chess or football. You can’t send in scripted plays for every scenario because of the fluidity in soccer. Don’t get caught up trying to re-adjust constantly.

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2 Responses to Reducing goals against: a 12 step program

  1. Jeff Watchorn says:

    Gregor…awesome write up…thanks…I’m going to build my practice around it tonight and use it to try and defeat Pt. Grey and Kerrisdale…seriously though, its super helpful, great job!

  2. Gregor says:

    No problem Jeff. As for beating that PG U11 gold team….good luck! Ran a practice for them last night that culminated in a 30 minute scrimmage against my undefeated U16 girls Gold 1 team (who were arriving for their practice) and they tied 1-1. Very good team. Haven’t lost yet.

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