It is a problem players and coaches of all levels face and often struggle with – speed. In soccer, as in many sports, teams have a very difficult time arranging a strategy to deal with pace. The saying “speed kills” is more often true than not.
When a soccer team is put together, the fastest player is usually put in the forward position. This does not always hold true, but is a tactic many coaches use. A quick forward does not necessarily have to be skilled to be effective. Because there is so much room in an outdoor soccer field, quick forwards have endless opportunities to put their speed to use. When a forward has speed, his teammates will send him on runs to out-run the defender and score breakaway goals.
Like anything, however, there is a repellant – or remedy – for speed. Setting up your defense in a certain way will allow you to hold the forward at bay and take away his biggest weapon: speed. To watch a Eufa training video on dealing with pace click here.
As a coach and as a player, you have to understand that each game cannot be played the same. Every team has different strengths and different weaknesses. Doing minor scouting reports or simply watching the other team play against someone will allow you to understand what it is they do, and do not do, well.
Now imagine your upcoming game is against one of the best teams in your area. The biggest reason for their success is their forward who is the fastest player in the league and, as a result, has scored the most goals. Knowing this, you need to create a game plan. In a traditional 4-4-2 formation, that being a flat 4 formation of defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards, the defenders must adapt their game to the now dangerous forward. The two centre defenders will play the most crucial role. These two defenders will – as they always should – decide where the last line of defense is and where that line will always be held. Forget the offside trap. If you are a team that practices and incorporates the offside trap into your game, throw it out the window for this game (I would argue you forget about it entirely – but that is for another discussion). The offside trap is too risky and leaves acres of land behind your defense where the forward can run into and attack the net. The key to maintaining the forward will be always having him/her in front of you. Never, EVER, let the forward get behind you. As I mentioned earlier, fast forwards will look to make runs in behind the defense and get through balls from their midfielders and defenders. As the forward makes runs, the two middle defenders both need to drop back. When dropping back, the balls coming in will often be crosses trying to go over the defense; one of the two defenders needs to stay with the forward and attack the ball in the air, while the other drops even further back looking for any ball that gets past your first defender.
The fullbacks play very important roles here as well. The fullbacks will not push wide as is stressed in a traditional 4-4-2, rather, they will always tuck in close to the middle of the field. What this does is create a high area of traffic that makes it difficult for a ball and player to get through.
Mistakes defense always make is they drop too far back. They drop so far back that they lose the connection with their midfielders; the gap between the defense and midfield can cause problems and open up room for the other team to maneuver. Even worst, it weakens your ability to make a counter attack because there are few outlets.
Although you do not want to let the forward in behind you, you can still push the line of defense up while you see that nothing is developing for a ball coming to your forward. The second you can see or sense a play being created to set the forward free, retract immediately. As the defense shifts back, so does the entire team. The team is a unit that must move up and down together.
Shutting down a speedy forward is not easy, but if the defense can adapt, it can be done.