Defensive Transitions (9v9)

Compactness Defensive Transitions


Transitional moments are an aspect of the game that most coaches neglect to focus on as much as they should. Transitions both from attack to defense and from defense to attack, are essential and can be a source of both goals and goals conceded.

Defensive transitions can be defined as the moment of time between a loss of possession and the reshaping and restructuring of our team to get back and defend as we look to win the ball back. Integral elements to defensive transitions include pressure, cover, compactness, speed, scanning and communication. In this article, we will touch on all of these aspects, with a special emphasis taken on the 9v9 game and how defensive transitions look in the 3-2-3/3-4-1 formations.


Misplaced Pass leads to loss of possession.PNGDefensive Transitions Pressure  

In defensive transitions the first thing that we need to do is put pressure on the player with the ball. This can generally come from the player closest to the ball, but the player who lost it may also take onus on themselves to go and retrieve the ball if they are close enough. With our pressure, we should be looking to force them to the outside, delaying any potential attacks that the opposition may be able to quickly start. In the above example, our player has misplaced a pass, leading to immediate pressure from the player closest to the ball.


Pressure and Cover Defensive Transitions

Once we have pressure on the ball, we need support from the other nearby players, first covering potential passing options that the opposition may have. In order to cover, players may need to move backwards or retreat back into position. Rather than turning their back and running the other way, players should always be able to see the ball.


Compactness Defensive Transitions

Once we have covered the opposition’s passing options, we are also going to look to become more compact and eliminate space, particularly by closing the middle and becoming more narrow as a team. If the ball is on one side, the far-sided players need to shift in and close the middle. This should in turn force play either backwards or to the outside, and allow us more time to be able to restructure our shape through delaying their ability to quickly play forward.


Compactness Example.PNG

With quick and immediate action of the three steps, we have successfully transitioned into defense. The opposition has still been able to make a pass to their central midfielder, but we have shut down their options in the middle of the field, forcing them back to the outside or backwards. If they are able to somehow find the wingers, our defenders are ready to activate and shift with the play. Note that each of our players is in some form  covering at least one player through being both goal side and ball side.


Through the three steps mentioned above, we should be able to succeed in winning the ball back, if not at least preventing them an easy route to play forward. But we need to do all of these steps at speed. The wingers need to be mindful of potential situations where they need to come back and help (like when the fullback is outbumbered in a 2v1). Meanwhile, the central midfielders should already be set up to have one more defensive than the other, but if we have lost the ball high up the field, they need to use speed to recover in defense and close the potential gap that may be left in the middle of the field. The three steps listed above need to happen in quick succession and simultaneously, with pressure on the ball always the most important in delaying the opposition’s ability to go forward.


Whenever we have to transition into defense, we have to consider that we might be off-balance and that players might be dragged out of position in the opening seconds of the transition. This makes things more complicated, but in the end it is okay if the players on the field are diligent in the transition and are aware of their surroundings. Scanning of the field is so important to everything we do, but it is crucial in transitional moments and players need to be asking themselves the following questions:

  •  Am I closest to the ball?

Solution: Pressure the player on the ball immediately (step 1 – pressure).

  • What are the potential passing options for the player on the ball?

Solution: Close down potential passing options (step 2 – cover).

  •  Where is there space in our team for the opposition to exploit?

Solution: Eliminate space and get narrow (step 3 – compactness)


Crucial to our ability to fulfill these three defensive priorities, is communication. Players need to be communicating about who should pressure the ball, who needs to cover players and where, and how we as a team can eliminate space and close the middle. Communication needs to come from everyone, not just the one or two players who are not afraid to use their voice. It is so important to everything that we do and without it, the other team will be able to take advantage, particularly in transitional moments.


So there it is! All the necessary steps with defensive transitions at the 9v9 level and 3-2-3/3-4-1 formations. Even with the diagrams becoming more specific to the 9v9 level, the concepts and steps to shutting down the opposition’s attacks can be taken into any context and any game format. Hope you learned something and enjoyed this article. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

Be sure to check out more in this series….

Pressing From The Front (9v9)

Playing out from the Back (9v9)

Switching Play (9v9)


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