Tactical Analysis Series - The centre-backs

So far we have looked at a tactical analysis of the Andre Villas-Boas version of the 4-3-3 system, seen a video that looks at the basic systems moving parts, listed the roles of the players within it, the attacking roles, the team formula he uses and looked at the full-backs in more detail. Today we will move on and look at the central defenders in more detail.

Looking at attacking first, their job is a simple one. Split penalty area width when the keeper has the ball to give him a pass then feed the defensive midfield for them to begin an attack.

Below is a graphic from the 2010 Wrold Cup Final and shows Hollands basic starting shape with the ball in the keepers hands, our is basically the same. The red dots indicate the defenders, yellow the defensive midfielder and link midfielder, green the wingers and attacking midfielder and blue the striker.

4-3-3 system starting positions

You can see the left central defender has more options so the ball goes to him, he can pass to the full-back, the defensive midfielder (DM) or a player running into the space behind the DM when he has pulled the man out of position. He could also step out with the ball himself. His other option but not advisable in this grahic is to pass to the other centre-back.

Within our system is the option to switch the point of attack quickly also by playing a long ball to the taller winger (Dawson to Chadli). The ball has to be drilled rather than floated slowly so accuracy is required. You will note we don't play long balls to the right wing very often. The centre-backs then make themselves available to a pass to switch play through central midfield or across the back to the advanced full-back.

To defend when playing in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system players drop backwards towards their own goal until someone can pressurise the ball. Then the defending begins. Players stop going backwards, look to exert pressure on the opponents by stepping forward to compress the space. A high line reduces the space between the midfield preventing room to play.

The aim is to cut down options and for the attacker to watch the ball rather than what is going on around. Passing then becomes more difficult and the passes become predictable and safe. You are pressurising to have your defensive midfield prevent defence splitting pass. The idea is to get numbers around the ball.

When the full-backs are up field and losing possession results in a counter attack it is their job along with the defensive midfielder to hold up play until they and others arrive by dropping deeper as slowly as they can as mentioned until the team can start pressure defending.

The back four defends in a zonal system, the defender defends a space rather than a player. This allows the defence to keep it's shape and is not as demanding as man marking, you also run less risk of being pulled out of position.

The two central defenders nearly always stagger themselves depending upon which side the ball is. If the ball is on the right the left centre-back is deeper and the opposite on the other flank. Their positioning depends upon the pressure being applied by teammates on the ball.

The less chance of a ball being played behind the defence the flatter they can play as one dropping deeper the other to cover the danger is not required. You see this constantly during a game, the Arsenal goal was an example. Forgetting whether it would have been offside or not what Dawson was doing was basically how you defend that potential danger, although it does depend upon the situation as often the centre-back that side can cover the ball behind the full-back.

Inside the penalty area the system switches to man marking.

The priorities of defending are:
  • Protect the space behind the back line. Whilst there is the threat of a cross the central defenders drop to ensure they can win the header. When the threat is eliminated and pressure is starting to be applied they can move forward.
  • Intercept ball to feet or prevent the attacker from turning. The defensive midfield also tries to prevent the ball being played to feet. Positioning is crucial to prevent ball played in behind them.
  • Communication. You must talk to each other so you know when responsibility for an attacker is being handed over as he moves from one zone to another.
Central defenders should also try not to cross over in front of each other (stay zonal), each centre-back deals with his side of the pitch. If one has to step forward the other three defenders move closer together in a line behind and your defensive midfielder must be able to drop centrally if required.

In a 4-3-3 you defend as a team and when looking at individual positions there are cross overs with others, in the next article in the series we will look at the midfield unit.

Previous Articles:
Tottenham: A Tactical Analysis
Video: The 4-3-3 Explained
Player Roles Within A 4-3-3 
Players Attacking Roles Within A 4-3-3 System
AVB Formula For Success
Walker - Understanding The Maligned Full-Back Role

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