Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Changing the defence line

As promised, I trialled a new sweeper last Sunday. It was fairly obvious that I had a lot more faith in her ability than she did, especially once she realized that I was serious. Although I had told her on the Tuesday at training what I was going to do, it didn’t sink in until I wrote her name on my team line-up picture in the middle of defence.

While we lost 4-0, I wasn’t all that fussed with #11’s performance. I think she needs to be more assertive. She also needs to gain awareness of where our players are (particularly the flanks of the defence) while knowing where the ball is. Too often the flanks would be left behind when #11 pushed up the field. Her positioning also needed some work…

I have been playing with a five man* defense – generally positioned as follows:

A and B are more or less attacking defenders, they are the last line in the midfield and the first line of defence. If there’s an attacking midfielder in the opposing team, either A or B will be shadowing for most of the match, leaving a four man defence. It depends on what the other team does. With the back line (C, D & E) more or less the same each week. A left-back, a right-back, and the centre-back who takes on the sweeper role when required. I try to get the centre-back to sit one or two steps behind the two flanking defenders:

The extra couple of steps are so that the ‘sweeper’ can come into the game and have a bit of a head start on any breakaway player that has come from the middle of the park, or for any random long ball where the opposition player who chases that ball comes from the middle of the park.

I limit the space to only a couple of steps so that the central defender can quickly get into line with the other two defenders should the opposition forwards be applying pressure onto the defence line and a long ball looks like it may be played for one of the forwards to run onto. A sort-of offside trap.

So, when there’s no pressure from the opposition:

And when there is:

So, back to my new centre-back… she’s been playing for three or four years now. This may be the first season she’s played in defence, where I put her in to cover right-back when I lost a player through injury (precautionary) during a friendly. She lived there for a few weeks, and now in ‘sweeper’. I have more or less thrown her into the deep end.

My original centre-back (#6) was available again on Sunday. While #6 has the experience of the position, and doesn’t hesitate with her calls, #11 feels completely out of her depth. However, I will persevere with #11 because she connects better with the ball. She simply has superior timing with the ball, and timing is a difficult ability to gain when you don’t have it. Whereas reading and learning the game can be taught.

I initially planned to play #6 as one of the flanking defenders, and to lead and look after the defence from there. But I changed my mind the night before. I am now playing with a four-man defence: the two flanks with both #6 and #11 in the middle. #6 has instructions to look after the defence, and lead it – ensuring players stay in line when required and that #11 doesn’t sit too far back when the time is appropriate. #11 is to always stay free.

By playing alongside #6, #11 can begin to learn how to manage the defence. It’s difficult at training, the “attackers” are simply not competitive enough to gain anything from them. So it’s pretty much on-the-job-training, and I can’t yell out from the sidelines all the time. Hopefully I can revert to my three person defence with 2 attacking defenders before the end of the season. :)

*I also use “man on” and “man up”, build a bridge and get over it.

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