Countering a team that defends deep

Keep the ball, remain patient and mix up your game, advises Sunderland manager Gus Poyet

“When a side is playing really deep against you – usually when they’re trying to sit on a lead or play for a draw – the key is patience.

I need to make sure my players play their normal game, and have the belief that they’re good enough to break the opposition down.

More after the break

There is no point panicking. You have to keep your shape and stick to what you’ve been working on in training, otherwise you’re not going to achieve anything. So stay calm and be persistent.

The next key thing is to keep the ball. At Brighton, we train very hard on maintaining possession and it’s crucial in a situation such as this. Keep probing and looking for space, because a chance will inevitably come.

Maintain your shape - I don’t believe in suddenly sticking everyone up top. Next, it’s important to mix up your game. If what you do all the time hasn’t been working, a deep defence can get comfortable. So change it around.

We’re a team that likes to pass, but the option of going more direct can cause defenders problems and surprise them. Play the odd ball earlier than usual. We’ve done well varying our football this year.

Finally, if you want to see an absolute masterclass on defending deep, Jose Mourinho gave it with Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona last season.

It was a gift to us managers – a lesson that should cost thousands of pounds, given away for free on the television.

But I don’t know how you can overcome a side defending as well as that. Even Barça couldn’t manage it!”


Attacking a side that's playing a high line? Avoid the temptation to hit it long, says Gus

Keep your forwards moving
“Movement is the most important thing for strikers facing a high line. Forwards need to make it confusing for the opposition.  Make a variety of different runs, swap positions, come deep and get away from the defenders, and constantly look for pockets of space.”

Don’t go direct
“If you hit it long against a high line, you’ll find the ball going through to the keeper a lot – especially in England when the ball is often wet and moving fast. We like to play on the floor against a high line, because if you slip a man through with one or two touches, they’ll be onto the keeper. If you’re precise, it’s easier to play against a high line than a deep defence. Watch how Spain do it!”

Know your strengths
“Intelligent players and good passes are important here, but for a coach it’s about knowing your team’s capabilities. You can only work within your resources, so don’t try to achieve things that are impossible. Keep your men doing a function they can do well, and you will succeed.”

Also see:
Time your run into the box
Gus Poyet: Mental preparation
Gus Poyet: Score from midfield

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