Men's World Cup 2022 : Assists and how to defend against key passes

Men's World Cup  2022 : Assists and how to defend against key passes

172 goals were scored at the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2022, just under 3 per game.  But how many of these goals featured an assist?  And what did these assists look like?  Within this blog, we will delve deeper into the insight from the tournament, which will allow us to unpick some key considerations for defending and demonstrate how you might do this with your players.

86% of all open play goals at the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2022 featured an assist, either through a pass or a cross, and if it wasn’t for the defensive organisation and prominence of effective low block defending this figure might have been even higher.

As the graphic above shows 52% of assists featured a cross and 48% a pass leading directly to a goal.  Having the ability to stay compact and reduce the opportunity for the opposition to play key passes is critical to defensive success. 

Morocco were a great example of this, spending 26% of their time without the ball set up in a low block and staying defensively solid to concede just one goal on their journey to the World Cup Semi Finals.  Teams who performed best in the tournament were able to disrupt their opposition’s defensive structure by recognising how and when to penetrate with off the ball movements and passes to play through, around or over the opposition.  However, in Morocco’s case their compact shape limited the space for their opposition to play penetrative passes in central areas and provided less opportunity to play through balls and score in this way.

Defending through balls

 When working with your players to defend against through balls it is important to set up your practice in an area that replicates the demands of the game and can be seen in graphic above 70% of through passes that led to a goal at the World Cup were played from central areas.  Do you look to set up your practices in similar areas to this?

Considerations for defending against through balls

To stay compact and limit the space available for your opposition to play through balls a number of factors need to be taken into consideration.  Here, FA Youth Coach Developer Chris Sulley provides an example practice for you to try with your players, along with some of the observational tools to support the challenges your players will face when defending.

In the video below Chris demonstrates this lead in practice and progresses to incorporate small sided games.  The key concept is helping the players understand how and when to press and cover to put pressure on the ball and prevent passing lanes being exploited.  This is a physically demanding practice and like a lot of defending it requires a selfless attitude. 

Using the six capabilities as a framework for observation

Scanning – What are you looking for? What triggers and cues will cause you to act?

Positioning – In this practice the defending players have 2 key positioning roles of press, and cover. The position of the pressing player can start to dictate where the attacker can play, and the angle and distance of support can also affect the attacker’s options.

Movement – the speed, angles and technique of the changing roles i.e. press into cover and vice versa.

Timing – the timing of the movements is also key to prevent the ball being played forward. This will also help if the receiver has a poor touch, or the angle of the pass allows for an interception.

Deception – the defenders can try to deceive the attackers with changes of pace, angles, or body language.

Technique(s) – Eyes on the ball when pressing. Head steady, depending on the context, shoulders, hips, feet, side on or square on. Arms behind your back (being mindful of handball in the box rules), use for balance and co-ordination for efficiency.