Author: Rúben Rodrigues Pinheiro

Graduated in Sports Coaching, with specialization in Football, at The Sport Sciences School of Rio Maior
Under-19s Assistant Coach and Sporting CP Women’s B Team


The following technical article aims to further study the articulation of the last defensive line. In addition to its relevance, a team that systematizes this type of behaviour in detail is much more closer to defensive efficiency. Organizing the principles in a collective, sectoral and individual way, for a later application in training, through exercises carried out in spaces identical to the playing field will facilitate the acquisition of the desired behaviours.

The need to systematize the game, using the game model, becomes extremely important, as this is the model that guides the rest of the process and allows to achieve the intentionality proposed in the game model. As such, the game model is the maximum reference that guides the entire training process, guiding the way of training and only achieved by that same way of training (Morais, 2018).

Realizing the unbreakable completeness of the football game becomes definitive, that is, taking into consideration the systemic perspective, the notion of “whole” is something fundamental, and as such, all the moments are highly connected, as well as the nature of their relationships prevent their separation, the authors suggest a transversal fractality to all moments of the game, and that the correct links between them, allows the success in the moment that is being experienced, but also a correct preparation of the subsequent moment. (Campos, 2008; Frade, 2019; Maciel, 2011; Moreno, 2010; Tamarit, 2007; Tobar 2018).

Having in mind what was suggested by the authors above, it is important to emphasize that all the articulation dynamics of the last defensive line contains in itself a complexity and a need for extremely vigorous detail. The introduction of the zone pressing, led the teams to defend the space and not the opponent directly (Giacobbe, 2018).

For this effective control of spaces, not only the depth is important but also the width becomes essential to control, and the defensive line has a key role in this type of movements (Fidalgo, 2017). For this same author, the reaction of only one sector to a given movement of the ball does not aim at an effective control of the depth, since in this way spaces will be created between sectors that will be easily leveraged by the opponent. Fidalgo (2017), reinforces the importance of a training that embraces a collective dynamic, and not only sectoral, as he supports that depth control is not only performed by the last defensive line and the goalkeeper, but also the mid and advanced line are particularly important at that moment.

Looking at the articulation of the last defensive line at the sectoral level, the reactions of the members to the triggers provided by the game must be similar. Clarifying the concept of bare ball and covered ball is essential.

According to the concept of bare ball, the last defensive line must remove depth, understood as sinking, however it is necessary to realize what effects this might have when the opponent does not intend to seek depth. According to Fidalgo (2019), the concept of bare ball is important, but it is not enough. For the author, the body reading of the opponent, showing or not the intention to launch to depth, must be the “common” trigger that the defensive sector must take in order to react to an eventual attempt to explore depth.

Figure 1 – Bare ball without trigger to sink. – Bein Sports Images

As we can see in the image above, even if the ball carrier is not pressured, in other words, without an opponent player close enough to affect the action of the defender, the defensive sector indicated, does not feel the need to sink and thus create a space between the medium sector and the defensive sector that could possibly be used by the opposing team.

In addition to the observation above, the following image shows an evident attempt by the ball carrier to launch into the depth. Upon receipt, the visualization of the motor behaviour of the player who has possession of the ball, shows an evident attempt at a long pass.

Figure 2 – Trigger for the defensive sector to sink. – Bein Sports Images

Covered ball means game situations, where the ball is under pressure or game situations, where the opponent and the ball carrier is not suited to go for the goal to be defended. With the existence of this type of triggers, the defensive sector must choose movements to approach the midfield line, which are understood as shorten, let us see a clear example in the following image:

Figure 3 – Ball under pressure – trigger to shorten. – Sport Premium Images

Giacobbe (2018), also reinforces the idea that the shortening movements serve not only to take the opponent further and further back, but also to decrease the useful game space to the opponent. To these two moments of ball under pressure, it is possible to add two more, which also aim at a shortening of the defensive sector, they are moments where there is a delayed pass and moments where the ball carrier leads the ball towards his goal.

Figure 4 – Pass backwards, trigger to shorten. – Bein Sports Images

As it is possible to observe, after passing backwards, the indicated defensive sector seeks to shorten the space and reduce the useful game space of the opponent. In the same line of thought, Almeida (2014), states that the team (as a whole) must react to clearly identified triggers (delayed pass, ball under pressure, or opponent with their backs turned to the goal that they want to defend).

Figure 5 – Delayed pass, trigger to shorten. – Image taken from Rui Almeida’s master thesis, referring to the team he was part of as Prof. Jesualdo Ferreira’s assistant coach (2014).

When the ball is within the reach of the players who are part of the defensive sector, spatial references take on special importance (Carvalhal, 2014). As the author refers, positional rigor is extremely important for a correct rationalization of the playing space and an efficient defense of that same space. However, the existence of spatial references for positioning the width and depth of the defensive sector is equally important, even when the ball is not within its immediate reach.

For the defensive sector to be able to perform a ball dispute that gives guarantees of success, it is important to have positional coordination, which is automated by a common trigger, and in this specific case, the trigger to define which player should “leave” the defensive sector to dispute the ball is the place where it is.

According to Lage (2017), when there is a ball in the air to dispute in the defensive sector, the player who is on the same vertical line as the ball, must be the player who disputes it, while the remaining members of the defensive sector must retreat, taking a cover position that allows an efficient control of the depth and width, and mainly a rationalization of the playing space, in order to prevent a possible loss in the aerial dispute by the player who is disputing the ball.

In the set of images below it is possible to compare both the situations, one where coverage is given to the player in dispute and another where it is no longer the case.

Figure 6 – Sectoral behavior of the defensive sector, when disputing a ball in the air. – BTV Images
Figure 7 – Aerial dispute, without guarantee of coverage, preceding a goal conceded. – Sport Premier Images

When the ball is in the side corridor, the defensive line’s articulation dynamics must also be careful in its execution, in order to guarantee defensive coverage to the player who is in contention (Lage, 2017). For the same author, with the ball in the side-corridor, and with the fullback on that side in contention, the remaining defensive line must take the following position:

Figure 8. Articulation dynamics of the last defensive line, with the ball in the side corridor. – GOLTV Images

Supporting what was shown above, Almeida (2014), refers that the game model used by Prof. Jesualdo Ferreira contemplates a spatial division of the team in defensive organization, where the protection of the central corridor takes on particular importance and as such, the spatial references given to the defensive line, converge in the same direction as the indications given by Lage (2017).

Coming to the individual chapter, the importance that the positioning of the players in the last defensive line and the way they perform their movements become a key aspect for an efficient depth control.

According to (Almeida, 2014; Fidalgo 2017, 2019; Giacobbe, 2018), and taking Prof. Jesualdo Ferreira as a reference at the time, the players in the defensive line must adopt a lateral position, lateral supports, and should never adopt a position where the supports are fixed from the front. The same author supports this statement saying that in this way the players are better prepared to move to the depth, both towards the goal they defend and towards the opposite goal.

Figure 9 – Support directionality – Bein Sports Images

In addition to the supports being directed in lateral ways (oriented supports), the orientation of the player’s visual field is extremely important, and this must be directed at the ball at any time since this way it’s visualization is facilitated thus as a possible anticipation of its subsequent trajectory. When the support of the players in the defensive sector are directed at the opposing player, seconds are lost in body rotations that can prevent an interception of the ball’s trajectory.

Clearly and even resulting in a goal conceded, the sequence of images below reinforces the importance of orienting the supports to the ball.

Figure 10 – Even with the possible indication of an external ball, maintaining the supports for the ball is essential. Sport TV Images

Practical applications

In order to develop the skills of a team in this chapter, it is extremely important that the coach in a first instance systematizes the behaviors he intends to observe in his team and especially in the way his defensive line should articulate. For this, a strict spatial reference for each player of the last defensive line must always be taken into consideration and according to the position of the ball.

The creation of a common parlance between the technical staff and the players allows not only an identical language but also facilitates a correction intervention in training and playing situations, in other words, for any type of movement, the coach must have keywords that simplify his intervention. This type of communication must also be carried out between players, being the goalkeeper and a possible element that constitutes the defensive line important parts in intra and inter sector communication.

Complementary exercises exclusively with the last defensive line and marked by many corrections might be beneficial for the acquisition of the intended behaviours. These exercises should also be performed in spaces similar to the playing field, oriented according to the goal. The marks of the field are also important for the definition of spatial references.


7 Almeida, R. (2014). Da conceptualização dos métodos de treino à operacionalização prática no quadro do modelo de jogo adotado. Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologias Faculdade de Educação Física e Desporto , 39-43.

2 Campos, C. (2008). A justificação da Periodização Tática como uma fenomenotécnica. Moreno y Conde.

8 Carvalhal, C. (2014). Entre Linhas. Prime Books.

4 Fidalgo, B. (18 de Abril de 2017). A armadilha do fora de jogo – O exemplo do Rio Ave. Obtido de Lateral Esquerdo:

5 Fidalgo, B. (6 de Maio de 2017). Comportamentos intersetoriais – Controlo da profundidade. Obtido de Lateral Esquerdo:

6 Fidalgo, B. (14 de Junho de 2019). O controlo da profundidade na “Era da Estratégia”. Obtido de Lateral Esquerdo:

2 Frade, V. (2019). Curar o Jogar. Periodização Tática by Vítor Frade.

3 Giacobbe, A. (9 de Fevereiro de 2018). Come difende il Napoli di Sarri. Obtido de L’ Ultimo Uomo:

9 Lage, B. (2017). Formação – Da Iniciação à Equipa B. Prime Books.

2 Maciel, J. (2011). Não o deixes matar. O bom futebol e quem o joga. Chiado Editora.

2 Morais, R. (2018). Relatório Final de Estágio no SCP Sub-19 Feminino, Época 2017/2018. Lisboa: Universidade Lusófona de Humanidades e Tecnologia, Faculdade de Educação Física e Desporto.

2 Moreno, O. C. (2009). El Modelo del Juego del FCBarcelona. Moreno y Conde.

2 Tamarit, X. (2007). Qué es la “Periodization Tática” ? Moreno y Conde.

2 Tobar, J. B. (2018). Periodização Tática. Prime Books.