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Football Positional Analysis: How to Be a Great Defensive Wall

A passionate Football (Soccer) fan who is into the sport as both a player, a fan, and in the future, a coach.

Vincent Kompany, one of the greatest and hardest defenders in the world.

Vincent Kompany, one of the greatest and hardest defenders in the world.

What Are Defenders?

The name of the position tells a long story. Defenders are players who play the closest to the goalkeeper. Their sole priority is to make sure that the ball is as far away from the goal as possible.

However, this strategy has changed over the years. Defenders are playing a much bigger role these days. They now occasionally contribute to attacks. You now see right and left backs playing much higher up front as inverted full-backs. Center-backs now contribute to the attack through long clearances and set pieces, such as corners and free kicks.

Defensively, defenders play in a line, which is often called a wall. This line can contribute to many offside traps as the last person in defense defines the line. If a forward is behind that last defender, they're offside.

A defender's awareness in a defensive situation.

A defender's awareness in a defensive situation.

How to Be an Excellent Defender

While the striker's job is to score goals, a defender's job is to defend. But how do we define an excellent defender?

In the modern game, defenders move up the line together. The left and right backs now move up to support the counterattack. Let's start with the center-backs.

Excellent center-backs are rough and tough. While they're often big in stature, they must be fast as well. Center-backs must support the full-backs in case the opposing attacker gets passed them.

Excellent full-backs still have the priority to defend the ball. However, in the modern game, they now move upfront more to support counterattacks. These players are often called inverted full-backs. They're fast and have experience playing as a winger.

Watford player defending the ball from an attacking player.

Watford player defending the ball from an attacking player.

What Is Expected From a Defender?

Defenders are expected to keep the ball away from their area of the field, which is the closest to the goalkeeper. While the goalkeeper is tasked with blocking shots, defenders are the ones who make sure the goalkeeper doesn't have to deal with shots on the goal.

An expectation from a defender is to keep clean sheets (making sure the opposing team does not score a goal). This is a stat now shared by defenders and goalkeepers. Tactically speaking, defenders are not just merely defending the ball, they contribute to attacks as well.

Defenders are often the first line of play in a counterattack. High balls do not work anymore as they're too unpredictable. Defenders are now required to pass around their area so that the opposing attackers press for the ball, which tires them out.

Heading drills.

Heading drills.

Techniques for Training

Defenders need to train on heading, clearances, agility, strength and interceptions to succeed in their role. Here are the skills a defender needs.

Strength

It's an added advantage to be stronger than your opposing attackers. That attacker may be fast, but your strength helps to slow the player down. Don't worry about committing fouls. It's better to slow their pace than to let them run towards the goal.

Agility

While strength is important, training your agility helps you during a tussle with the attacker. It's important for a defender to look strong. A perfect balance helps to intimidate the attacker.

Interceptions

Interceptions are all about timing. Attacking players is not always the best strategy; they may push the ball too far. In that situation, it's better to intercept the ball and start a counterattack. It's important to focus on getting the ball first so you can intercept without committing a foul.

Heading

This is a very underrated technique. A defender's strength is shown in their interceptions for the first-ball (heading the ball). A good header can make a difference to the direction of the ball. It is important to use your head to redirect the ball to your own player.

Clearances

When stuck in a sticky situation, with no teammates to pass to while the attacker is pressing, a defender needs to clear the ball away from their area. Clearances don't need to be far. It could be as simple as kicking the ball out of play for a throw in.

Defensive positions.

Defensive positions.

Defensive IQ

A defender's awareness is key to winning a match. Here are some defensive IQ plays.

Switch Backs

For center-backs, always look at your full-back (left or right back), especially while the opposing team is playing from the wing. If your left or right back gets beaten, it's your job to enter their position for an interception or clearance. This is what we call switch-back.

Similarly, the full-back must enter the central defensive position to cover the area in case the center-back gets beaten as well.

First Ball Winning

A crucial way to getting an advantage over the opponent is to win headers from goal kicks. Although most teams play from the back these days, a goalkeeper's clearance is still the best way to redirect the ball to your own player. The goal of this play is to make sure the ball is under your team's possession. That way, you can control the game.

Ferdinand (Top) and Vidic (bottom).

Ferdinand (Top) and Vidic (bottom).

Who Are the Defensive Greats in World Football?

Here are some of the best defenders in the sport.

Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk or VVD, is currently the best defender in the world. His best qualities include his strength and stature. His ability to win interceptions and push opponents away is key. Even Erling Haaland (the best striker in the world) is intimidated by the big man.

Ronald Koeman

Before being a manager for Barcelona, Ronald Koeman was known as the right-back with a strong foot. While being a defender, Koeman scored many goals throughout his career. This was way before inverted full-backs were a thing. Koeman had the speed to chase down attackers despite being far away from them.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic

The Manchester United duo, who were a threat to Premier League strikers, were excellent thanks to Rio's defensive IQ and Vidic's strength. The duo complimented each other very well. Rio was good in switch-backs with his right backs and Vidic was hard on strikers; he always won interceptions.

Defender intercepting the ball.

Defender intercepting the ball.

Scoring goals makes you a star. Defending goals can make you an even bigger star. While strikers often get the spotlight, it's the defenders who make sure their team wins, regardless of how many goals are scored. Clean sheet stats are now given to defenders as well. This is something for them to take home after a day's work of not letting in goals.

© 2022 Nigel Koay Talks Football