How to Defend in Soccer 1v1 and Win the Duel

Knowing how to defend in soccer 1v1 effectively is something every coach should want to improve in their players. The English FA has identified 1v1 defending as a skills gap among current players. 1v1 defending is a key part of the modern game and requires some focus among coaches.

How to defend in soccer 1v1? The player must close down, slow down, and stay down to get the correct body shape. Then dominate the showdown.

The general process that a coach can use to teach defensive objectives is to deny the ball to the receiver, delay the attacker, dictate the direction of play, and dominate the duel using their assets. Coaches can use objective checklists to coach players and help them to understand.

The coach should educate the players on the different ways to win back the ball. Exposing defenders to a variety of 1v1 game-like defending moments will improve their anticipation skills. Each player is a different type of defender so coaches must identify the physical capabilities of a player and match them to methods of winning back the ball.

Why is 1v1 defending important?

In simple terms, it’s a vital aspect of the game and can help your teams to reduce the number of goals they concede or goalscoring opportunities they allow the opposition. Using a variety of 1v1 drills can be a great way to prepare players for different 1v1 game-related moments.

Learning how to defend in soccer 1v1 can give players a number of key skills such as tackling, marking, blocking, and intercepting. Each of these skills will be useful to any player progressing through the ranks of professional soccer.

Talented players can often spend most of their youth development playing in attacking positions as opposed to working in defensive ones. Players are moved back into defensive positions later in their development. Practicing in a number of 1v1 defending situations can make it easier for players to adapt to a new playing position.

The four D’s of defending

The 4D’s represent the objectives for any player learning how to defend in soccer 1v1. This checklist of things can help any player or coach to develop a simple understanding and logical order to coaching defensive moments.

Find below a summary of each of the 4D’s of defending:

Deny: The best possible scenario for a defender is to deny the ball to the attacker. If they can do this then they do not have to challenge or make a tackle. If the defender is unable to deny the ball they could focus on denying time and space to the attacker. This can force errors and limit choices.

Delay: The purpose of slowing attackers is to allow the defender’s teammates the opportunity to get into cover and support positions. By delaying the attacker the defender’s teammates has time to position themselves correctly to limit the options of the attacking player.

Dictate: The defender needs to dictate the duel by forcing play where they want the attacker to go. Ideally forcing the attacker backward and away from the goal. If this is not possible forcing play into defensive support players or towards the sideline helps to dictate the direction of play.

Dominate: You want your defender to dominate the duel using the assets they have to overcome the attacker’s threats. Not every player is capable of pushing players off the ball. Smaller less powerful players must be able to find effective ways to win back the ball. These methods can include winning foot races, intercepting, marking, and blocking none of which require physical contact.

The four A’s of defending

The four A’s of defending can provide players with a thought process to work through when involved in defensive moments. Individuals, units of a team, or the whole group can use the 4 A’s to help them learn. The point is to provide a logical thinking process to help the defenders determine the best course of action.

The four A’s of defending are summarised below:

Anticipate: Thinking ahead and reading the game is vital to any player. The act of anticipation helps the defender to prepare for a number of different outcomes. The defender can win back the ball through anticipation. If the defender is outnumbered, beat by the attacker, or loses the ball they must anticipate how they can react. It can help the defender to position themselves in favorable positions.

Act: The defender needs to make a choice after they have observed and anticipated the situation. The defender might choose to close down the space at the correct angle, feint to tackle, apply tighter marking or try to intercept a pass. The key is that they have acted.

Winning back the ball

Aggression: Defending usually requires aggression and determination to win the ball. A player could be aggressive in their pressing to close down an opponent. A defender can be aggressive in the tackle to win the ball fairly or just foul someone. Aggression is demonstrated by defenders in a variety of different ways. A coach needs to help the defender to discover which forms of aggression work best for them.

Awareness: A defender should have a pre-planned idea for when the ball is won back. They must have anticipated that the ball needs to be moved to a less defended area. This action should happen quickly. Coaching players to think ahead and be aware of what-if situations help them to speed up their choices and make better decisions.

The four Down’s of individual 1v1 defending

The four D’s can be used to coach the individual about what to do when they are in a defensive moment. It provides coaches and players with a structure of actions to follow in the moments leading up to a 1v1 situation.

The four downs have been summarised below:

Closedown: This is about a defender’s movement to deny space and get close to the attacker. It is about limiting the time that the attacker has to make a decision. The defender needs to arrive at the correct time. Mistimed actions usually prevent the defender from being in a position to tackle.

Slowdown: Defenders need to develop the balance and coordination to use their upper body to make contact with the opponent and their lower body to make a tackle. The footwork of the defender must allow them access to the ball and to arrive in the attacker’s space without being caught out with a clever touch or change of pace by the attacker.

Stay down: The body positioning of the defender makes them tough to beat. They need to have staggered feet to allow them to accelerate in a variety of directions. They need to have a low center of gravity using bend knees, hips, and chest facing the attacker and the front foot blocking the main space they want to protect.

Showdown: This is the final element of 1v1 defending with the ultimate aim of winning back the ball cleanly. Timing is everything at this moment. Jump in too soon and the attacker escapes. Arrive too late and the attacker is already in a more promising position to win the duel. To win the ball cleanly the defender must make contact with the attacker at the right time.

Four types of defenders

Every player has different strengths and abilities. Your job as the coach is to help the player to develop those strengths so they become super. The strengths of players are based on physical attributes. I have summarized some of these below and linked them to effective ways to win back the ball.

Enforcers: These players rely on strength and power to win back the ball. They dominate players with their bodies to push players off the ball, make strong tackles and intimidate the opponent using acts of aggression.

Speedsters: This type of defender is quick and agile. They are suited to winning back the ball using mobility to force errors through pressure or by winning foot races to get to the ball first. They are very good at delaying the opponent because they are hard to beat due to the pace they possess.

Two more types of defenders

Readers: These players are usually not that aggressive but they are very clever. They see the game ahead of time. This buys them the advantage of being able to get there first. Their main method of winning back the ball is through interceptions or filling space to block options or forward passes. They are good at making teams go the long way around which delays the attack.

Stayers: These are usually very fit players who outrun and outlast the opponent. Their main method of defending is by canceling out their immediate opponent by marking them closely. They do not need to rely on tackling because they deny the attacker the chance to get on the ball through their close-touch tight marking. They frustrate the attacker by limiting their chances to get on the ball.

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Four drills that teach how to defend in soccer 1v1

1v1 Marking Staying Close

HOW IT WORKS: 1 black and 1 red player work inside of the square. 2 reds and 2 blacks work outside of the square. The blacks are attackers and the reds are defenders. The blacks must take a minimum of 5-10 touches then they can pass the ball out of the square to another teammate who brings the ball into the square. This represents a goal for the attackers (hit a minimum amount of touches and pass the ball out).

The reds are the defenders. The red inside the square must mark closely and try to get a touch on the ball. Each time the red defender gets a touch on the ball or wins the ball they swap with a teammate on the outside (goal for defenders). The swapping of the defenders changes the angle of pressure and creates lots of different 1v1 situations. If a red wins the ball they pass to a black who brings the ball onto the field and the practice continues.

To increase the intensity of the practice the coach can put 2 pairs of players inside the square and have one black and 1 red on the outside of the square. The same rules as explained above would apply.

1v1 Defending Facing the Opponent

HOW IT WORKS: A simple 1v1 drill where the red defender passes the ball across the square to the black attacker. The black aims to run the ball through the black gates on either side of them to score. The red defender must close down the attacker steal the ball and escape through the red gates. There is a time limit of 10 seconds on each 1v1.

This game can easily be progressed into a 2v2 game. This will add different combinations for the attackers and the pressure and support concept for the defenders.

1v1 Defending Pressure from Behind

HOW IT WORKS: Using the same field set up as the previous practice the type of pressure the attacker is under changes. 1 red (attacker) starts in one corner with the ball at their feet. 1 black (defender) starts behind the red. The red must pass the ball to a coach in the opposite corner of the playing area and then receive it back before escaping through the black gates for a goal.

The black must steal the ball back and escape through the red gates. Each pair of players have 10 seconds in the practice before being replaced by a new pair. This game can easily become a 2v2 practice. The side goals may need to become larger for 2v2 in order to allow players to escape easier.

1v1 Defending Pressure from the Sides

HOW IT WORKS: The final 1v1 practice is a transitional practice where the pressure occurs from the sides of the ball carrier. The black starts the practice by dribbling unopposed through the black gate opposite them. Once through the gate, the black put their foot on the ball and recovers quickly to close down the red at the front of the line.

The red attacker now has to escape through the red gate opposite them. The attacker must run the ball through the gate before recovering to defend against the next black attacker. The practice is continuous 1v1. If the defender wins the ball they can either escape through their own gate or they can pass to the player at the front of the line. For the practice tempo, a 10-second limit can be placed on each pair of players.

In Summary

The content of this article includes detailed information about how to defend in soccer 1v1. It starts with teaching players why it is important to defend 1v1 situations well. A good way to teach this is by using the four D’s of defending. This provides the players with a framework of objectives when defending in any situation.

The four A’s of defending provide the coach with a thought process for players to work through in order to demonstrate the right intent defend. The sequence is useful for coaches to use when teaching players how to defend correctly. It provides a logical order that is easy to make sense of as a player and coach.

Defending with the correct 1v1 technique requires four specific key points. The four downs of defending provide a simple checklist of key points to successfully defend a 1v1 situation. The coach can use each one to support learning and understanding.

There are differences in the ways players can be effective 1v1 defenders. Four different types of defenders have been summarised. The main concept is for coaches to identify what types of defenders they have and coach the players in practice to become highly skilled in their methods of winning back the ball.

Related Articles/Content

Find below some useful links to a variety of articles on this site. Each article contains information about defending. Each article will open in a new window.

The video below contains information about the technical skills that players need to play in the low block.

Frequent Questions

How do you defend a 1v1? Encourage players to use the 4 downs of defending. Closedown the attacker at speed to get pressure on the ball. Slow down on the approach to the attacker so one touch does not take the defender out of the game. Stay down low with a staggered foot position to react quickly to the attacker’s movements. Showdown, the defender needs to find a way to win the duel, it could be a tackle, block, or interception.

Can a defender score? Yes, there are no rules that stop defenders from scoring in soccer, goals can be scored by any playing position on the field. It is an entirely legal action that can occur within a game. Set pieces usually offer the best chance for defenders to score. This might be from attacking corners or from a freekick that has been floated into the box.

How can I improve my marking in soccer? Repetitive practices will improve defenders marking skills. The defender must anticipate that the player they are marking will get the ball. The defender must be touch tight to their marker. They should block passes and remain goalside. They must be positioned to see the ball and the opponent. The defender should be patient and only commit to winning the ball when they are sure.