TACTICAL THEORY: HEIGHT OF THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Updated: Aug 5
High, mid, and low defensive blocks are the most common defensive tactics. Teams can adapt and switch between different heights of the defensive lines, depending on the opponent and/or certain game situation. Arrigo Sacchi had a rule: against weaker opponents he would defend in a high block, against equally strong opponents he would defend in a mid-block and against superior opponents he would defend in a low block.
High block, more commonly referred to as the high press or high line, is where a team will put immense pressure on the opposing ball carrier, making the field compact. This tactic is typically seen in teams that are on the front foot and use the advantages of this system to launch their attacks in transition quickly.
A key feature of the high block is coordinated movement (this claim is true for all successful defences, but the high press requires more movement than other systems). This requires players to be very disciplined and fit. It is “high risk, high reward” tactical system.
The advantages of a high line lie in the distances between the defending side and the opposing team in possession. Little space creates a compact playing area, making it easier to close down the opposition. When they win the ball, they are in a position to quickly recycle the ball to the forward line. Again, there is less space to cover.
However, if the defending team has a lapse in their defensive line, they can find themselves exposed. Because the line is high, opposing forwards can get in behind the defenders.
Furthermore, the high block requires a lot of energy. If the team employing high block does not implement high pressure, they are wasting valuable field position. That is why you may not see high block being employed throughout the match, only in certain situations and periods of the game.
The defensive unit is in a more standard area, with forwards hovering just above the halfway line, and defenders keeping a comfortable distance between them and the goal.
Advantages of the mid-block are that it is a compact and balanced defensive tactic. The team is not too far forward or back, which leads to a good balance that will allow the team to seamlessly work attacking transitions. It can be easier to keep in shape because this system does not require as much energy as a team that presses high. Furthermore, when transitioning to an attacking phase, it is easier to keep possession of the ball because of the numerical advantage in the midfield area.
Disadvantages of this system can be lack of pressure on the ball carrier of the opposing team. In most instances, a team that employs this tactic will be inviting the opposing team to take them on and try to break down the unit (which could be an advantage too). However, the major disadvantage to this system is that if one player loses the shape, it will affect the whole unit. While this is true for any defensive system, the standard block has less pressure on the ball and still does allow some space in behind. Therefore, it is crucial to stay compact.
Typically, teams with less quality will use the low block. However, there are moments in every match, where even teams with high quality will set up in a low block.
This tactical system occurs when defending team is pushed back against their own goal. Each player is in their own half and the opposing team has the ball well inside the half they are attacking. This creates an onslaught of attacking sequences and a difficult time managing the match for the defending team. Even if they win back possession of the ball, they do not have much space to escape the low block they established. Teams who are closer to their own goal are more likely to concede. This is a simple concept: as the attacking team gets closer to the goal, they are more likely to score.
When in the low block, it can make it difficult for the opposing team to break you down. If attackers are lacking creativity and struggle with limited space. Another advantage is the moment where the defending team can launch a counter-attack. Attacking team will sometimes push so many resources forward that they get caught out trying to score.
Despite some advantages, disadvantages outweigh them. Low block is associated with last ditch defending, which can lead to immense pressure on own goal. Without an outstanding keeper performance, defending teams’ tactics may go to waste.
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