How to defend like England: overloads

All Ages

In a series of articles, we look at how our England national teams defend and explore how you can use this approach to prepare your players for the modern game. Here, we look at defending when overloaded.
Your press gets broken, leaving the opposition with space out wide. They pour forward in numbers. As they rampage down the wing, an opponent makes an overlapping run past the player on the ball – they now outnumber your wide defender, two to one. This is an example of an overload. Put simply, it’s when the opposition have more players than you in an area of the pitch.

And because pressing is an integral part of England’s philosophy, our national teams are open to overloads when their press is broken.

These don’t just take place near your box though; they can happen all over the pitch. For instance, you could be outnumbered in the opponent’s half as you try to press their defence. Or, as mentioned at the start of this article, your wide defender could be facing a winger and an overlapping player.

When teams, like England, opt to stay compact and encourage the ball wide, the latter scenario often takes place. This is because the opposition will look to win the battle on the wings. They know their players will enjoy more time and space out there compared to trying to play through the middle.

Previously in this series, we’ve highlighted the need for players to be able to successfully defend 1v1, cope with moments of transition and defend the space in behind. All of these ring true in this situation too.

But facing an overload adds another layer of difficulty. Who do you press? Where do you show them? How do you stop them creating something?

Players need time to adapt their skillset to deal with two players on their own. Provide them with the opportunity to practice in game-related activities. They can then use this time to work out how their body positioning can delay the attack, for example.

Getting time on the pitch will help them develop the skills to deal with these challenging situations – just like our men’s senior team do here.

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England: defending overloads

Let's pick apart that clip to really highlight the situations England are faced with when defending overloads.

How do Belgium create overloads as they build their attack?

A graphic showing Belgium having a 2v1 overload on both sides of the pitch at Wembley when they have the ball at the back.
Both of England’s wide defenders are overloaded by the opposition as they have two players to try and deal with.

As Belgium look to build their attack from the back, they push forward and out to the wings – causing England’s wide defenders to be overloaded with two players each. This strategic plan allows Belgium the opportunity to play down the side closest to the ball. They’re also able to switch the point of their attack and put England under pressure by spreading the players out.

How do Belgium create overloads within central areas?

A graphic showing Belgium having a 4v3 overload over England at Wembley, around the halfway line.
England are outnumbered by opposition players four to three within central areas.

In this situation, Belgium are able to work the ball into their centre forward and outnumber the England players four to three within central areas. England respond by defending the space in behind their backline (as the opposition could have time and space to play forward into those areas).

How do Belgium create overloads within wide areas?

A graphic showing Belgium having a 2 on 1 overload, in their favour, out wide as they progress down the left-hand side of the pitch towards England's box.
England’s wide defender has two opposition players to try and stop within wide areas.

As Belgium progress the ball onto the wing, England’s wide defender has two players to try and deal with. In this moment, the focus turns to attempting to delay the speed of the attack and forcing the opposition into areas of least threat – away from the goal.

In this situation, England’s wide defender opts to force the ball inside, into Belgium’s centre forward (who is well marshalled by the central defender), rather than be exposed two against one down the outside.

What this means for you So that’s how our England teams do it, but how could this help your team?

Overloads within your context might not look exactly the same and could occur at different frequencies. But they will happen. Here are three ways to help your team cope when they do:

  • Put players in different positions as the overloads they experience will change depending on where they’re placed on the pitch. Giving players a rounded education of what the game looks like will help them to develop the skills they need to succeed.
  • Help your players recognise the relevant clues, cues and triggers when they experience the game. In overloaded situations, you could ask them to think about what will happen if the player on the ball isn’t closed down. If they need to work on positioning, maybe ask them how they could keep both players in their eye-line. Over time, thought-provoking questions will allow your players to develop their perception skills, as well as their ability to predict and adapt to game scenarios.
  • Consider how closely your practices replicate the ‘real’ game. Think about how many times you put your defenders under real stress. Are their decision-making skills being tested? Are you exposing your players to bigger areas where they’re overloaded? These are both key components of the modern game, so they will need plenty of repetition.

Remember, your players will only improve if you give them appropriate opportunities to practice the valuable skills which they need throughout their footballing journey.

For more defending content like this, take a look at how to defend like England: space in wide areas.


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