Soccer Drills That Teach How to Defend 2v1?

Defending in soccer is tough at the best of times. Defending outnumbered can be really tricky. Drills that teach players how to defend 2v1 can be really helpful practices to use. In this article, I will provide 3 practices that teach the concept of defending outnumbered.

How to defend 2v1 in soccer?

Delaying the opponent is key when teaching players how to defend 2v1 in soccer. The ball, players, and space need to be controlled.

If a defender successfully manages these three areas they may have a chance of winning back the ball. If winning the ball back is not possible then slowing down an attack is the next best thing. The longer a defender can delay the attack the more likely a recovery run will be made to even up the numbers.

Delaying the Opponent

The delay element of defending outnumbered should be an area of focus for coaches. The ball, players, and space are three concepts that can be affected by the defender. The defenders need to choose which one to prioritize.

The choice the defender makes is theirs but coaches with good observation skills will be able to support the player to select the best method of delay. Repetition in a variety of 2v1 situations will help players to experiment and learn. They will see what the consequences of their decisions are and they can amend their choices with each 2v1 attack.

Deny the Ball

This deny is about winning the ball back. If the defender is sure they can win back the ball then they should go for it. This could be through pressure, a tackle, or interception. In these moments the defender must be sure because failure to win back the ball will lead to a certain attack at goal.

The coach should be mindful of this and observe if the defender is overcommitting and diving into challenges. Signals that this is the case would be the defender going to the ground too early, being beaten by the attacker’s first touch, or not being close enough to compete for the ball.

Deny the Player

Denying the player is about marking. If the defender cannot win the ball cleanly or safely then denying options to the ball carrier is a useful way to delay an attack. The defender can do this by being touch-tight, blocking the player’s runs or they can screen the pass into them.

The coach can help by providing triggers that would tell the defender they need to get tighter to the player. Triggers could be how close to a goal an attacker is. The attacker has limited options and has run out of space or the ball carrier is too far away from the action and needs to find a pass.

Deny the Space

Slowing down attacks until a player can make a recovery run is an important way to delay. Space should be denied when the attack is centrally or close to the goal. Being outnumbered centrally in these moments often leads to a player being picked off by the attackers as soon as they make their move.

The coach can help defenders recognize when they have lots of space behind. They can teach players that going to win the ball or mark players is the wrong decision at this moment. Failure to make the right choice could lead to a goal.

By dropping off quickly to a pre-determined point the defenders give teammates a chance to recover. It can make the attack more predictable and force the hand of the attackers. The point where the defender should think about engaging is when the ball gets to the edge of the box. They should pressure the ball carrier or force a pass wide.

Drills that teach how to defend 2v1

2v1 Drill 1


The playing area is set up as shown with 2 small goals at each end and a scoring zone in front of each goal. There is a striker and defender in each half of the field. Practice starts near the halfway line (1) on the diagram. 

The black attacker starts in a wide area and plays the ball to the striker. The two players combine to try and get into the scoring zone and score the mini-goals. Coaches can place a time limit on the attackers. This encourages the defenders to delay.

The lone red defender tries to win the ball. If they are successful they play into the other half and join the attack to finish into the opposite goal in the scoring zone. The ball is in play until a goal is scored or the time limits are up.

After the first ball is completed the reds attack from the area (2) on the diagram and the practice continues in this way. As a progression, you could allow a spare red or black defender to recover and even up the numbers to make a 2v2.

2v1 Drill 2


The playing area is set up as shown in a 20 by 10 rectangle shown above. There is a single goal at one end and a red escape zone at the other end of the field. There is a small middle zone that acts as a start point for the first defender and a no go zone once it’s been broken with a pass or dribble. This zone also acts as a trigger for the second defender to join the practice.

The reds position one player in the furthest zone and a ball carrier in the ball near zone with a ball. The reds must combine to escape through each zone. They must break the central zone first then play beyond the end line (between 2 cones) then score in the mini-goal.

The blacks position one player in the central zone and one player on the side of the practice. The central zone player can press as soon as the red takes a touch into the area. The second black defender must run around a cone and into the practice. The second defender can only enter once the ball is beyond the central zone.

If the blacks win possession of the ball the game becomes free. The blacks score by escaping over the red line and passing into the next red. Players then rotate positions. The reds move up one place or off the field and the blacks move down one position or off the field.

How to Defend 2v1 Drill 3


Set up a diamond field with each line in the shape of approximately 15yards (adjust to suit age group). Place two mini goals facing into the practice. Position the players as shown. Two reds enter the field, one with a ball, and two reds are waiting to come on for the next round. The blacks send one player into the practice and leave two players on the sidelines of the practice.

The reds look to combine with a one-two pass. Once this is achieved they can score in any mini goal as long as they break the dashed lines in front of the mini-goals. The blacks have one player defending against the two reds.

If the black wins the ball they can combine with the two reds on the sideline to score in the mini-goals. The black defender can score from anywhere at any time. This makes the reds react quickly to turnovers in possession. All players rotate when a goal is scored or the ball leaves the playing area.

To progress this practice coach can allow a second black to equal up the numbers in the middle of the practice if a goal is not scored by the attacker within a set time period. Alternatively, a second ball can be served into the blacks to make a 3v2 situation into a goal if the reds take too long to use their overload.

In Summary

To help players learn how to defend 2v1 coaches should teach the defenders to delay the attack. There are three distinct areas of delay, the ball the players, and the space. Players must recognize quickly which option is best and then apply it to the game moment or practice they are in.

Delay ball via tackles and interceptions. If the defender thinks they can win the ball back then they should go for it. Reading triggers such as poor touches, slow passes, and limited space can help the defender judge whether to make a tackle or not.

Defenders can delay players by blocking runs, using upper body strength to prevent the opponent from going past them or marking closely. This makes it tough for the attackers to combine and can force them into errors.

If a defender wants to cover a dangerous space then dropping off to a set point could delay an attack until help arrives. The dropping can help the defender to protect the space behind them. The defender needs to hold their position and engage the attackers.

Use the practices to help your defenders delay attacks in a way that works for them. Each practice provides an opportunity for the defender to equal up to or overload the numbers if the speed of the attack is not correct.

Related Content

Find below some links to similar articles found on this site. Each article will open in a new window and will cover the content of similar topics.

Frequent Questions

How do you defend against overlapping?

To defend the overlap and diagonal run, defenders need to deny space by dropping to protect the space behind. At the same time, other units in the defense need to slide across the field together to close any spaces between them. If a defender is close enough, stepping into the run of the overlapping player can deny the ball to the attacker.

How do you defend a goal in soccer?

As a defender, your job is to not allow goals scored against your team. You can do this by applying pressure on the ball throughout the game. Effective defenders will protect the box. Defenders should be closely marking opponents and forcing the ball wide to allow the GK the best chance of making a save. In 1v1 moments they should not dive in or give away silly fouls in the box. If a player is the last defender they should delay the attack and get in between the ball and the goal.

How do you defend in soccer without fouling?

Defenders must learn to use their arms to keep the opponents away from the ball. Defender needs to create distance between themselves and the opponent. Holding a player off by pushing one of your arms into the body or chest can keep your rival from getting to the ball first. Stepping into the run of the opponent as they touch the ball out of their feet is another useful way to win back the ball.

Recommended Reading