Breaking Down a Compact Defence


Opponents may choose to set up in a defensive structure where they stay compact in central areas of the pitch or even in a low defensive block right outside their 18-yard box; This makes it difficult for the attacking team to find penetrating options!!

Does your team have the ability to maintain possession? Do your players recognize situations where they can penetrate? Do they understand how they can move the opponent to create opportunities to attack?

The following session encourages patience win possession while constantly probing and looking for opportunities to play vertical (forward). One of the key concepts is to ‘move the opponent’ – patiently circulate the ball in areas of the pitch so that the opponent adjusts their position; when the opponent has moved this can create opportunities to attack spaces/gaps that have been left. Quick switches of play, attacking at pace & recognizing overload situations are all included within the session.

Each activity allows the players to face game-like scenarios where they must make quick decisions under the pressure of opponents.

Breaking down a compact defense can prove frustrating for players and coaches alike; give this session a try and let us know how you get on!

Breaking Down a Compact Defence!



An 11v10 is organised as shown. Playing area utilised to replicate RED team defending in a mid to low Block. Buildup (Black) team circulates the ball while RED adjusts / defends.

Breaking Down a Compact Defence |
Diagram A


Play starts with Coach (C) each time with a pass to GK (A): Goalkeeper (A) must initiate the buildup with a pass to either Central Defender. Emphasis on the Buildup team – circulate the ball with 2-touch play to force the defensive team to shift.

Defensive team (Red) must stay organised and compact to attempt to deny penetration. Coaching stoppages to highlight passing / penetration options. Time 6-8min

Phase 2: Move to a Midfield defensive block. 1×6-8min.

TOTAL = 2×6-8min

Coaching Points:

  • RED team
    • stay compact and shift
    • Look for vertical passes – this forces the Defensive team to squeeze the space = more compact.
    • Change the point of attack quickly
    • Rotate positions to disturb Defensive team and pull players out of position
    • Positioning between lines of opponent – find the gaps.
    • *Gradually build the rhythm and intensity as warmup progresses



An 11v10 is organised as shown.  RED defending in a mid to low Block.  Buildup (Black) team circulates the ball starting with a pass from their GK (A).

Breaking Down a Compact Defence |
Diagram B


Ball starts with GK (A) inside 18-yeard box. Central Defenders have dropped to receive the ball; this invites the RED team to defend from the midfield area. Black team must circulate the ball with 2-touch play while the RED team shifts; emphasis is on moving the RED team in order t open up opportunities / space to attack on opposite side of the pitch.

Defensive team (Red) must stay organised and compact to deny penetration. Strikers must now co-ordinate to press / steer the opponent.

Coaching stoppages to correct positioning.

Time 6-8min

Phase 2: In Diagram – Midfield defensive block.  1×6-8min.

TOTAL = 2×6-8min

Coaching Points:

  • Buildup Team:
    • Circulate the ball quickly with max 2-touch
    • Look to penetrate / probe with vertical passes – this forces Defending team to tightly close
    • passing lanes = more compact
    • Recognise if/when the Defensive team has shifted to allow a quick switch to the opposite side.
    • Rotations of players in positions to disturb Defending team and draw them out of position
    • Goalkeepers continually communicating.
    • **Gradually increase rhythm / intensity as players warmup



A 5v5 in each segment of the pitch + 1 ‘Neutral’ player; Neutral Player is a Central Midfield player (#6) who supports the defensive team. Pitch is divided in two (coned line).

Breaking Down a Compact Defence |
Diagram C


Coach starts play with a pass to the Black team on either side of the pitch. Neutral (#6) plays for the DEFENDING team.

Emphasis on BLACK team maintaining possession and scoring by penetrating the endline to score in mini-goal; if they switch the ball to the opposite side they have a 5v5 situation before the Neutral player can offer Defensive support.

Defensive team must stay compact and use numerical advantage (6v5) to prevent any successful scoring chances.


On switch to opposite grid – allow one of the Black team to travel across the grids = 6v6.  Defensive Team (Red) score by winning possession and scoring in counter mini-goal.  2 x 6min : Rest 2-3min – Change Roles after 6min – allow RED to Buildup in Opponents half.  Change #6 Player each block to avoid fatigue of transitioning across.

Coaching Points:

    • Stay compact; prevent penetration.
  • Patient in possession – maintain ball on one side to look for penetration
  • If/when opportunity to switch arises – go at speed; look for vertical passes / penetrating runs



RED defensive team = Back-4 + 3 Central Mids + GK vs 8 Attackers (Black). Target (T) for Defensive team.

Breaking Down a Compact Defence |
Diagram D


Play starts with a pass from the Coach to any of the Attacking players (Black). Emphasis is on the Attacking team penetrating through central areas. Black team must circulate the ball quickly to force the RED team to adjust – the 2 Central Mids for RED can be moved to create space to the sides. Only one player – either winger or Fullback may be in the outside channel


Add R + L mids for RED / C.Defenders for BLACK

Coaching Points:

  • Defensive Compactness – Deny central areas
  • Attacking Team:
    • Circulate the ball quickly
    • Look for spaces between the lines / at sides of 2 Central Mids
    • Try to penetrate centrally – probe / pass – this draws the defensive team more central + compact which can open up opportunity to attack wide area.