Are you finding that your team is being pulled apart by the opposition’s quick passing? Or maybe your team are struggling to work as a unit in order to quash opposition attacks. If that sounds familiar, read on.

With tactics having an impact on modern football being played at an ever-increasing faster tempo, the necessity for teams to be compact in defence and defend as a unit is becoming more and more essential. One small gap left in a defensive line is punished and could be the difference between winning and losing. Whether it’s the Premier League or the Bundesliga, every team in world football utilises compactness when defending, albeit to differing levels. Firstly, what is compactness? Oxford dictionary defines compactness as ‘the fact of using or filling only a small amount of space’. In this tactical analysis, we will look at the coaching session to aid in your quest to improve the defensive solidity of your team

Tactical analysis

So how does this translate to football? Compactness in football is often defined as the distance between team-mates, and a team’s compactness as the total horizontal and vertical distance from the two players that are furthest away. See below for a brief explanation.

Coaching: How to improve defensive compactness tactical analysis tactics

As we can see above, the red team are spread out across most of the pitch, and the space between team-mates is large. If we add a football in to show how this may affect the red team’s shape, the red team are out of possession in the below example but I have left out the opposition for now, so it is a little more clear.

Coaching: How to improve defensive compactness tactical analysis tactics

The football, circled in red, is on the red team’s left-hand side and a consequence of this, the red team have shifted across to the left as a unit, with the aim being to maintain a strong defensive base whilst creating numerical superiority around the ball. Whilst the horizontal and vertical compactness hasn’t changed a great deal, the shifting of the red team creates compactness on the left-hand side of the pitch.

Let’s add in an opposition team and discuss some of the challenges it presents.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

Here we see the ball with the blue centre-back (circled in red). The blue team are making the pitch as wide as possible, spreading it both horizontally and vertically and the red team are stretched and although the red team are man-marking the blue players, there is space in dangerous areas between the lines (white areas) which the blue team could exploit.

So as a defending team, how can the reds organise themselves defensively in order to make it harder for the blue team to break them down? Let’s have a look at three different scenarios.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

Example one. The ball remains with the centre-back and rather than being spread out, the red team have pushed up higher and pulled in narrower. What effect does this have on the blue team? Firstly, those passes in between the lines are now much more difficult. The only passes that are on for the blue team are long balls to one of the players circled in white. All other passing lanes are either blocked or risky as the pass would come under immediate pressure. What is key here is that the red team must apply pressure to the ball, as if there is no pressure, the blue player will have time to assess his options and possibly spot a team-mate run in behind as the red team are playing a higher line in order to remain compact.

If the player on the ball does make one of the passes to a player in white, as the ball is travelling a good distance, it gives the red team a chance to shift to be in an ideal defensive situation. For our next example, let’s imagine the ball has been successfully passed to the passer circled in white, labelled ‘1’.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

Example two. As previously mentioned, the ball is now with the blue right-winger (circled in red). The red team have adjusted from their previous position and have now shifted towards the ball whilst have maintained their defensive shape and compactness, once again the blue team have very few simple passes available, due to the intensity of the red’s defensive pressing and compactness.

Our last example will demonstrate the compactness needed when the red team are pressing high up the pitch.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

Example three. The ball is now with blue left-back (circled red). The red team are playing with an extremely high line and are in a very compact shape with all but one outfield player in the same quarter of the pitch as the ball. The blue team, once again, have no simple forward passes.

Compactness in football is all about condensing the space the opposition has space to play within, by being compact and moving as a unit towards the area of the pitch the ball is located, a team becomes harder to break down and therefore harder to beat.

Coaching session

Using our coaching sessions we can improve defensive compactness as a team. There are several practices that we can use. From rondo exercises to small-sided games with conditions.

6v6 (+2) rondo

A rondo is an idea mainly attributed to Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City boss has spoken in high regard of the importance of a rondo for training purposes. Whilst a rondo is essentially what children would call a ‘piggy in the middle’, we as coaches can add various conditions to the practice in order to achieve our aims from the practice, as we will see in our analysis.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

Here we see the playing area split into four (flat markers are best to use). The yellow team have six players around the outside of the area and two neutral players inside. The yellow team’s aim is to pass the ball through the area and to a different side to score a point, the ball must be played through the area in order to score a point. It can go around the sides in order to pull the defence out of position but must go through the centre at some point. The red team have all six players inside the area. The aim of the red team is to win the ball back by being compact and putting pressure on the area that the ball is located.

Coaching points for the red team.

  • Can we work together as a team to make it difficult for the yellow team to find an easy pass?
  • Communication is key! Not all players should press, the team should be balanced between pressing, marking and blocking passing lanes.
  • Can we get compact as quickly as possible (using three claps or whistles, one or two seconds apart is a good way to set expectations)?

The image above shows an ideal scenario for the red team. All players are compact and in the target area. All simple passes are blocked, the player in possession is being pressured and the neutral (blue) player is marked. Below is a poor example.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

In this image, we can see that the red team haven’t got compact quickly enough and the result is that passing lanes are open and a blue player isn’t being marked. Therefore, it allows the yellow team to play through and score a point.

Being compact in a game realistic environment

The next practice is especially useful, as it replicates a game scenario, whether you have numbers for 7v7, 9v9 or 11v11. For our example, we will use the 11v11 format.


Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

Using flat markers, divide the pitch into 16 equal-sized areas. The area of your pitch and areas will vary depending on how many players you have available, always consult your local football association for recommended pitch sizes or failing that, consult the IFAB (International Football Association Board) laws for recommended size pitches.

The practice

The practice is quite simple once the players understand the rules. The rules are the defending team must be within one horizontal and vertical zone (including diagonal) of the area which contains the ball. For example. As the ball is in the yellow’s team possession within the yellow shaded square, all the blue outfielders should be within the red shaded area. The second image shows how the blue team could be positioned.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tacticsCoaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

To start, allow the players to have a normal game of 11v11 for five minutes, make sure to take a mental note of how compact each team gets. The progression is to ask the players to focus on vertical compactness, the players must be within one vertical area of the area containing the ball.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

In the above example, we can see that the blue team are within one vertical area of the ball. If the yellow player were to pass to a team-mate as shown on the image. We would want our players to push up and be within one vertical area of the ball once again.

We can use three claps or whistled with one or two seconds in between to show the players how quickly they should be getting into their new position. If a defending player doesn’t get compact within three claps/whistles, the opposing team get a point. See below for an example.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

The blue player, circled in yellow, hasn’t got compact quickly enough and costs his team a point. We can see that because he hasn’t got compact enough and got into the same defensive line as his centre-back partner that he is playing an attacker onside.

Allow the vertical only compactness to run for 5-10 minutes, then swap to horizontal compactness only. An example of what we’re looking for is seen below. Notice how all the blue players are within one horizontal area of the ball.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

Once the players understand both aspects of horizontal and vertical compactness, combine both together. This should resemble our earlier example, shown again below.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

There are still several coaching points we can work on when the players are focusing on being compact. As we are leaving players unmarked in order to remain compact, we can position ourselves in such a way that prevents the opposition being able to play the ball to the free player and forcing them to play where we are compact and at our strongest. This is also considered as making play predictable, although we don’t have the ball, we are influencing where the ball is going and adjust accordingly.

The first coaching point we can make is to have constant pressure on the ball. As we are concentrating and being compact, it can leave us vulnerable to players running in behind and beating the offside trap. It’s imperative that we get this message across to the players. The player nearest the ball must apply pressure to the player in possession of the ball.

In the first image below we can see that the yellow team get nice and compact to the ball but they don’t put enough pressure on the ball which leaves the player in possession, time to pick out a switch pass and therefore negating the compactness by the yellows. This may happen at some point during the session and is a perfect opportunity to intervene and highlight your coaching point regarding pressure on the ball.

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

Coaching – Help your team be more compact in defence tactical analysis tactics

In the image above, we can see that the entire yellow team are compact within one area both vertically and horizontal, as well as the nearest yellow player pressing the ball forcing the player in possession to make a quick decision and prevents him from identifying a pass that breaks the press.


Being compact, when done correctly and efficiently, can be extremely beneficial to improve a team’s defensive solidity, making them harder to break down and harder to beat. Players need to have a good standard of fitness due to the sheer amount of running and sprints needed to change position efficiently on a full 11v11 sized pitch.

The coaching interventions need to be short and sharp. The players will gain more from being able to play and work on their compactness with few stops, partly to maintain the flow of the session and to keep it game realistic. Equally, if the players are getting it right, ensure that you ‘catch them being good’ and praise the positive and correct actions.

Coaching compactness doesn’t happen in one session or even in a few sessions. It is an ongoing process that even the most elite teams are constantly adapting and tweaking to gain the smallest of advantages. By simply, incorporating the basics into your philosophy and your team’s style of play, it will improve the performance of your team and along with that improved results.

Connor Hindley
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