If you play soccer, you know that teams win some games from the defense rather than the offense. However, when you’re playing defense, you’re bound to come up against players who are much quicker than you.
It’s common practice for attackers to be some of the fastest players on a team, while defenders (be it central defenders or full backs) are usually slower. As a defender, this can put you at a significant disadvantage, but that doesn’t hinder you completely. There are ways to defend against fast players.
To defend against fast players in soccer, a defender must focus on the areas of the game that they can control. If the defender excels in these areas, they will naturally increase how effective they are at defending against faster players.
Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at what you need to know to defend against fast players. I’ll also offer you some tips on how you can prepare better for an oncoming attack led by quick attackers.
Let’s get started!
Tip #1 – Learn to Read the Game
Per Mertesacker was, during his professional career, widely regarded as the slowest world-class defender in soccer. Despite being excellent at what he did, he was unbearably slow.
He was very tall, almost 2 meters actually, but his legs were very long and skinny. He could never achieve much speed and people always wondered how quick attackers didn’t leave him behind?
The key to Per’s outstanding defending was reading the game.
Even though he wasn’t blessed with speed, he was blessed with intelligence – which he applied to soccer.
He was always aware of how many men he had at his side and how many men were charging at them. He would also think of all possible plays they could try in his head, and he was always ready for them when it came to that.
He was simply incredible at reading body language.
He could easily intercept passes with his long legs – he always knew where the passes were going. He was so good at this that it sometimes seemed like he could simply look at the player with the ball and know where he was going to send the ball.
This also helped with dribbling, as he would read the player’s attempt before the player even knew what he was going to do.
This is something you should also try to implement in your game. Always try to read the game and read the player in front of you.
Sometimes, you can clearly see whether the player has the guts to try and dribble past you or if they’re just going to pass the ball or run back with it. The beauty of soccer is in its objective: get to the goal (and score) by outsmarting and outplaying your opponent.
Unlike football, for instance, soccer isn’t based on brute strength and pace – it’s much more beautiful, and it takes a lot of skill and finesse to become good at it. (And that is also why I’ve suggested that soccer is harder than football).
This also makes soccer players more challenging to read – one thing you can count on is that they’re not just going to try and run through you.
Something you should always be aware of when you’re in a 1v1 situation is the fact that the attacker has just two options: dribbling past you or passing the ball.
Try to read their movements and predict what they are going to do before they actually make them.
This is the first key to defending against a fast player. Even if you are slow, you can stop any player from getting past you if you learn to read the game well.
Tip #2 – Be Aware of What’s Happening Around You
When a fast attacking player is coming towards you, it’s crucial to know where the other attacking players are and what’s the angle of the attack.
This means that you have to pick your head up, don’t just stare at the ball. Look around you and take notice of what’s happening elsewhere on the field or pitch.
There should be several questions running through your head at all times as a defender.
Does the fast player coming towards me have anyone to pass to? If the answer is no, then it’s more likely that they’ll try to dribble or turn around and pass the ball back and wait for their teammates.
If the player has anyone to pass to, is that player far or close?
Can the player make that pass?
Can I intercept it?
How many of them are there? Are we outnumbered? If we are, then how do I cover two players at once?
These are all fundamental questions, questions that you definitely need to know the answers to when you’re coming under attack.
As a defender, you always need to be thinking about what will happen next.
Your soccer coach is a great resource to help you with this. Make the most of their skills, knowledge, and experience, and ask them for advice answering these questions.
Tip #3 – Focus on Your Positioning
Positioning, be it in attack or defense, is usually the make or break moment for most attacks. If the attackers are correctly positioned, and the defenders aren’t, it’s likely that a dangerous attacking opportunity will arise.
This is why it’s crucial that you position yourself correctly.
For example, if you’re playing as a fullback, it’s absolutely crucial that you point the attacking player towards the touchline or edge of the field.
You need to stand between the player and the goalkeeper, leaving the pitch’s outer line as their only option.
What you should never do is stand between the player and the ball.
In soccer, if you stand in front of a player with possession, the referee will penalize you as that is considered to be a foul for obstructing the other player. (Check out the full rules for soccer here)
It’s your goal to take the ball away from that player, but if they’ve pushed it forward, you can’t just step between the player and the ball (they’ll smack into you) as that’s a foul.
However, if you can take possession of the ball, then you can do whatever you want.
If you want to increase your ability at tackling, have a look at one or both of these previous articles I’ve written: Slide tackling in soccer and Tackling from behind.
When you’re in a duel, and you’re battling it out with another player for the ball, the rules permit you to get between the player and the ball. You just need to avoid this when the other player is on the run.
If you’re a central defender, your job is to usher the fast player away from the goal.
Unlike the full-backs, who will press the player to the outer line, a central defender just forces the player back towards the center of the field.
All of this is made easier when you have made it your goal to be in the best position to fulfill your role in the team.
A fast player will find it increasingly difficult to get past you if you are positioned correctly.
Take the time between games to figure out where you are best positioned during a game. This will involve discussions with the players on either side of you as well as with your coach.
It’s also vital that you position yourself properly when a player is taking a shot. You should be prepared to put your body on the line and protect the goal with it.
To do that, you’re going to need to be in the best position to start with.
Tip #4 – Learn How to Slow Down the Attack
It may seem obvious to say, but improving your ability at slowing down an attack from the other team is key to defending against fast players.
Professional defenders spend their entire careers training and working on their skills and abilities. (Have a look at this article to see exactly how they train to stay so fit).
One aspect that they are continually working on is improving how effective they are at slowing down an attack.
Having a team coming towards you at speed is one of the most challenging types of attacks to defend against.
The momentum the attacking team has in these moments leaves the defenders with very little time to organize themselves or respond to the attack.
Anything a defender can do to slow down the attack in these moments will increase their team’s chances of preventing a goal from being scored.
When a fast opposition player has the ball, a defender can slow down the attack in several ways:
- They can intercept the ball as it’s passed to another player or tackle the player with the ball
- They can stand in the way of the player to stop them from moving forward as quickly
- With their body position, they can direct the player away from the goal and towards the edge of the soccer field.
Because you must work together as a team, you should take the time to go through multiple defensive drills with the other players on your team.
Tip #5 – Be Aggressive
Aggression doesn’t mean picking fights or in any way putting other players in danger – it means doing everything you can to make sure you are first on the ball.
I can not stress just how important this is.
Waiting for the other player to claim the ball and take it into their possession before you will not help you or your team.
So, for example, if the ball is going through the air, you have to be the first to head it.
Some players don’t like doing this because they’re actually afraid of hitting the ball with their heads. If you use the correct technique, as I laid out in this article, you’ll find that soccer balls don’t hurt, and there’s no reason to fear them.
Aggression is vital when up against a fast attacker.
It’s essential to run and get to the ball as quickly as possible and make the tackle.
(Check out my article – How to Run Faster in Soccer: Drills, Tips, and Techniques – for a guide on how to improve your speed.)
It often happens that a defender has the option of tackling the ball and taking it away from an attacker, but they keep on pressing without tackling because they want to wait for a better opportunity.
This isn’t always the best approach – another attacker could come by three seconds later, and the player you’re pressing could send the ball to them. That way, you achieved very little, and you didn’t manage to take the ball – not to mention that they might actually score because of that.
Although there are times to “hold up” an attacking player and slow down their run, it is often better to attempt a tackle.
Tip #6 – Tackle Effectively
Following on from the previous tip, let’s look at tackling.
Tackling effectively is the best way to stop a fast soccer player.
When you’re tackling, you can either do it standing or sliding. Both of these variations are needed for specific scenarios.
If you’re inside the 18-yard box, avoid slide tackling another player unless it’s absolutely necessary. The chances are you will give away a penalty kick.
If you’re in a 1v1 situation in the box, stay on your feet and try to pressure the player in a position that’s angling him away from the goal.
Don’t let them pass the ball, and try to take the ball away from them, but don’t give the player an incentive to drop to the floor.
Despite VAR, players love to dive in an attempt to get a penalty kick – don’t allow for this to happen by being rash.
It’s cheating, and it’s wrong – yes. But referees aren’t all-seeing and all-knowing creatures, and they can’t possibly see if you’ve made that ever so slight contact with the other player’s knee to determine whether you’ve actually committed a penalty!
Sliding tackles are used in situations where you know you can get the ball, but you need that extra leg length to reach it.
For example, you and another player are sprinting towards the ball from different directions. To get to it on time, you’ll need to slide into it.
Another situation where you’ll need to slide tackle is if an attacking player is running with the ball and you’re right next to them, but you can’t get to the ball unless you slide under an angle. Aside from those situations, sliding for the ball is risky business.
However, when you’re up against a fast player, it may be your last line of defense before they get away from you.
Tip #7 – Maintain a High Level of Fitness
What happens on the soccer field is highly dependent on what happens off the field before a game.
You know the saying: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. This is as true in soccer as it is in any other area of life.
No great soccer player steps onto the soccer field without first having spent countless hours on the training field preparing for every situation.
One of the critical areas that every soccer player should focus on is their fitness.
A great soccer player is a fit soccer player.
If you are to stand any chance of defending effectively against a fast attacker, then you need to be physically fit to be able to keep pace with them.
If you are even slightly below your peak level of fitness, then you are putting yourself at a disadvantage compared to the other players around you.
By improving your fitness, you have the opportunity to be better than you already are right now.
Now, there are several ways to do this, but the professionals all use similar fitness methods because they know what works and what is best for a soccer player.
To help you out with this, I’ve created a Soccer Fitness Guide that not only explains everything you need to know to dramatically increase your fitness, and therefore your ability but also provides you with a specific soccer-focused 30-day fitness program that you can follow and see precisely how effective this can be for you.
Check it out here if you’re interested in being a better and fitter soccer player.
Tip #8 – Maintain Your Composure
The final tip that I want to share with you today is to maintain your composure in the face of a fast player.
When another player runs at you at speed, it can be easy to become flustered and panic. You may be unsure about what you should do or how you should be reacting.
This is an understandable reaction, but it’s also not very helpful.
When a fast attacker runs towards you with the ball at their feet, you must stay calm.
The first thing to do in this situation is to recognize what is happening and choose not to panic. You are capable of stopping that player, and you just need to put your skills into practice.
Next, remember what you have learned and what your coach has taught you on the training ground. You have likely gone through this scenario multiple times. What did you learn then? What did your coach show you to do? Put that into practice.
Lastly, adapt to the situation.
If your first attempt to stop or tackle the fast player doesn’t work, reassess and try again.
Whatever happens, stay calm and composed, and you will likely have more success than if you begin to panic.
As I mentioned above, to really take your game to the next level, I highly recommend you check out my Soccer Fitness Guide here. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can improve when you follow a fitness program specifically designed for the physical demands placed on a soccer player.
To also improve your game, check out my article on the 21 Qualities of a Soccer Defender. Take what you learn there and apply it to your own performance.