Let's pick apart that clip to really highlight the strategy England have when defending crosses.
What is the priority for England when defending crosses?
As mentioned, England's style of play often gives the opposition more space in wide areas. This increases the likelihood of crosses – and places a demand on our players to deal with them effectively.
This is exactly the scenario we see here. After initially dealing with the corner, Germany are forced back out wide. The priority for the closest player to the ball then becomes to press the opponent. Here, a key decision needs to be made: can the cross be stopped, or do we need to affect its quality instead?
Stopping the cross at source means England don’t have to defend a potentially dangerous ball into their penalty area.
But if that's not possible, closing the gap to the opponent limits their options on the ball. It blocks off potentially dangerous cutbacks and forces the opposition to deliver deeper into the penalty area.
Why would England encourage the ball into wide areas?
In this situation, the Lionesses deny space centrally by maintaining a compact shape – forcing the German player to pass the ball into a wide area – and block entry into the box.
By doing this, England have more time to get into position to defend the potential cross. They’re then better placed to assess the flight of the ball and take effective action if it comes into their penalty area.
The Lionesses can also pick up on important cues from the opposition – such as what type of run they might make and what space the defenders need to prioritise.
How do England defend the cross in the penalty area?
Even with the best intentions and strategy, the opposition will sometimes get crosses into the box that need to be defended. In this situation, there’s too much of a gap to make up between the defender and the opponent on the ball, so England shift their focus to 1v1 defending excellence. This involves marking, covering and defending the goal.
Here, the defenders need to win the first contact, so they have to assess the flight of the ball and the potential danger from the opposition players’ movement.
When making clearances within their penalty area, England focus on three objectives:
- Height: can I clear the ball over the opposition players?
- Width: can I clear the ball away from central areas?
- Distance: can I clear the ball as far away from my goal as possible?
Meeting these objectives gets the ball away from the goal and allows England time to step up the pitch and press their opponent.
What this means for you
Throughout this series, we’ve highlighted that defending is an art and that it takes time for teams to master the skills they need.
As a coach, it’s up to you to provide your players with the opportunities to refine their talents in realistic sessions that replicate the demands of the game. Eventually, they may be able to make the calculated decisions that our women’s senior team displayed earlier in this article.
Here are some simple ways you can start helping your team defend crosses – and make better decisions:
- Consider the types of practices you put on for your players. To master dealing with crosses, your players need repetition of realistic actions in and around the box. The more players experience these moments, the better they’ll get at finding the right solution within a game.
- Highlight simple, clear and consistent messages to your players. ‘The rule of three’ is a great way to do this. For example, when players have to clear the ball, remind them to consider ‘height, width and distance’. Or, when they need to deal with an attack in the penalty area, ask them to ‘mark, cover and defend the goal’.
- Allow your players to organise their defensive structure. A perfect starting place could be giving your goalkeeper the task of communicating with their teammates to defend crosses effectively. By promoting individual, unit and team-based challenges, your players will take ownership of the situation.
Remember, your players will only improve if you give them appropriate opportunities to practice the skills they need now – and in the future.
For more defending content like this, take a look at how to defend like England: roles and responsibilities.