The High Defensive Line : Football Tactics

The world of football is blessed with so many different styles and tactics which have evolved over a long period of time. One of them, the high defensive line tactic looks so illogical to the very nature of the game at first glance.

Defenders moving up the pitch to leave the goalkeeper alone hardly makes sense at times… But since the introduction of the offside rule, the game has become more interesting, as a team can create and manipulate space during a match. By playing this high line, the effective playing area is shirked to half the playing field and makes the players closer.

The high defensive line is a high risk style of play that see’s a team push up in order to shut down the amount of time an opposition has to play, however it requires high levels of skill and cohesion as the team stepping up leaves spaces to run into.



Playing with a high line compresses the pitch and makes it difficult for the opposition to move the ball with as much space and time. Essentially, the high line will often go hand in hand with a pressing style of defensive play that begins from the front as it requires all players to step up and make the pitch smaller for the opponent. It essentially promotes the idea of counter-pressing, whereby teams aim to get the ball back in 6–7 seconds, to the positions that naturally get taken up by the players on the pitch.

With defenders positioned roughly around the half way line when in possession it is also easier to recycle the ball and go through different patters of play at a faster rate. Whilst this does require defenders also be useful technically, it can be important in maintaining pressure on the opposition.

How to Counter It

The high defensive line works at it’s best when defenders have enough pace to retreat back when a striker is able to run past the defensive line. So, best way to counter is to have long balls delivered to a striker who can run hard and break past the defensive line to get a potential 1v1 with the keeper at the earliest.


The practice always starts with the white team in possession who build up play from the back under high pressure from the red team. The objective is to keep possession under pressure and breakdown this pressure with passes in behind the defensive line. The red team are not allowed in the safe zone and they can only enter the attacking zone once the ball has been played in there.

Playing with a high defensive line will leave a large amount of space behind the defense meaning there is plenty of room for a striker to run into when making movements in behind. It is quite susceptible and often comes unstuck when you see opposition allowing a striker to stay on the shoulder of the last and and try make runs in behind. By sliding balls in behind the opposition can quite easily get the defenders facing their own goal, which as a defender is not where you want to be positioned. And whilst we have seen many teams use this system with great effect, this style of play will result in the occasional hiccup where goals that are conceded look remarkably simple .




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