I believe that you all watched the champion’s league game between Bayer Leverkusen and FC Barcelona. What was obvious from the beginning is the will of the German team to concede the possession to Messi and his teammates (almost 80% of ball possession at one point). Well, let’s face it, against Barcelona it is not really a choice you make. What was problematic, however, was the overall position of the defensive line which was extremely low, from the very beginning. You saw the outcome of this at the end of the first half. Leverkusen didn’t exist and they were down by one goal.
With a low defensive line, you are at a disadvantage if:
- You don’t put pressure on the player who has the ball on your half: you can’t be passive when defending low. You must have an organisation that allows your players to come out to the opponent who has possession because you can’t allow them time and freedom to think about their next move. While the ball is traveling from one player to the other, one of your players must come out and pressure him so his only solution will be a simple backwards pass.
When the moment is right (bad control of the ball near the sideline), group pressuring will give you a chance to recover the ball.
- You maintain it low for a long period of time: leaving the possession to your opponent and allowing him to approach your goal over 5-10 minutes is very risky because you bring the danger near your goal. The odds that something will happen is very high. Your team can’t play 90 minutes without making mistakes. It is not recommended that all of these mistakes happen within 40 meters of your goal. Your team must be able to release the pressure from time to time and play on the opponent’s half for a little while. It is then better if you do not start the game is this way. Use this tactic towards the end, especially if you are ahead on the scoring board.
- You can’t bring danger to your opponent’s goal: when you use a low defense tactic, you need to be sure that you are able to develop fast and good counterattacks that will give you scoring opportunities. If you are not, and you lose the ball as soon as you recover it, you will be under constant pressure and running after the ball. If you are not dangerous, you will give confidence to the opponents and allow them to include more players in the offensive build-up (especially the sidebacks). On the other hand, if you create scoring opportunities every time you gain possession, there is no problem in playing low defense because then the opponent will need to keep some players back to secure their system. Be sure you have the players to play that way of attacking (fast movement, low number of passes, strong target man in front with great ball protection)
- Your defensive block is not perfect in terms of defensive skills, positioning, communication and physical condition: here I have in mind the game the Inter Milan played against Barcelona in 2010. One man down, but an incredible defensive organisation, ”killing” almost every attack of the Catalans. Keep in mind one thing: only a very experienced team, with great covering, 100% focus and strong defensive impact can manage to play low defensively. In addition, having low ball possession means a lot of running when the opponent makes the ball travel fast from one side to the other. So, great physical shape is essential. Not only you need to be able to defend well (which may not be so tiring if the block is compact), but you need to come out with the ball when you win it to transport danger towards the opposite goal.
Let’s summarize everything and see some key points when playing with a low defense: