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FIFA 21 tips: 10 defending tips to help you win - by using ideas from real players and managers

Trent Alexander-Arnold
(Image credit: EA)

Once upon a time, FIFA was nothing like real life at all - just a simple computer game more akin to Tetris than the Premier League.

These days, there is plenty to be learned from watching actual football that can help you dominate Ultimate Team, Seasons and Career Mode. 

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1. A high press isn't always best

Jurgen Norbert Klopp. He sold us a dream. 

Gegenpressing looks super-impressive but it’s important to remember why a press works - especially against human players. You’re more likely to lose the ball in the first few seconds of receiving it. The same is true for FIFA. That’s why it’s called a press - you’re literally putting your opponent under the pressure of possession. 

But that doesn’t mean you should use your controlled player to go charging off towards the opponent with the ball. Hang back and cover the passing lane while the AI press does the work (press Left to view the team options). In pressuring your opponent with another player, he’s going to be more lapse in possession - and you’re waiting back for him to slip up. 

Actually, Jurgen defends way more like this than the stereotypical bull-in-a-china-shop-press. 

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2. Work on your counter-press

The quicker you can win the ball back, the higher up the field you can win it. The higher up the field you win it, the closer you are to the goal you’re trying to score in. Yep, this is all basic stuff. But it’s worth reminding yourself of. 

Don’t trigger runs from your CDM - you need him back to win the ball for you. Make sure that if you have a defender running towards an opponent who’s just about to receive the ball, you press X/A to get in ahead of him and play the ball quickly to a teammate. Master the art of the press and get control back before your opponent has time to work out how to exploit spaces in your backline. 

Pressuring your opponent can be as good as tackling. It was Paolo Maldini that famously/allegedly said that if he has to tackle, he’s made a mistake. This is a good technique for learning to intercept that real managers work on.

3. Don't commit full-backs in one-on-ones

(Image credit: PA Images)

This is an important one. You know how we just said for your defender to commit to balls that are just about to arrive to your opponents’ attackers? It’s important not to do this if it leaves you short at the back. 

Often, your opponent will win the ball in your final third and play out to their winger. The temptation is for your full-back to rush out and tackle quickly. But these are the players who can burn you and unlike central defenders, if your full-back doesn’t win the ball, there isn’t another full-back on that side to be the back-up. You’ll have to ask a centre-back to come and help. That leaves you vulnerable in the middle. 

When a ball gets played to an opposing winger, switch control to your full-back and read the situation. Jockey him (L2/LT) and make sure that you track his run, rather than leaping into a tackle and taking yourself out of the game for 10 seconds. Don’t watch the player, think of the space that he can run into. That's simple Kloppian philosophy. 

4. "The touchline is your greatest defender"

OK, we can’t take the credit for that quote - it was Pep Guardiola who said it first. But he’s right - and not just because Nicolas Otamendi cannot be trusted.

It’s tempting to always play it out from the back but lumping the ball out to the touchline with Square/X can buy time. Time for your defenders to get back. Time for your side to regain shape. And your opponent will have to rebuild the attack from all the way out wide again. Don’t be afraid to go all Tony Adams on that fool. 

5. Never tactically foul

Fernandinho

(Image credit: PA)

Another of Pep’s best ideas in the Premier League was to use the dark arts of Fernandinho whenever his side lost the ball. He could pen in teams with De Bruyne, Silva and three attackers in the final third. If Manchester City lost possession though? Fernandinho could just foul someone on the counter-attack to slow play down.

This doesn’t work in FIFA. Well, you can foul all you like. But it'll cost you.

Not only will the referee play on as much as he possibly can - the spoilsport - it’s really easy to pick up a booking for a cynical foul in the centre circle. You can’t cheekily pull a shirt like the City CDM - you either have to hack someone down or tackle them. Sorry Pep - you’ve not innovated FIFA just yet.

6. Bring midfielders back to help out

FIFA has changed in the last couple of years. It used to work fine for you to use the AI players to track attackers and tackle for you - it’s less of a tactic these days. But it’s still sometimes worth controlling other players in your team when you’re on the back foot.

Use R3/RSB to flick to a defensive midfielder in your team if you’re in transition. Sprint back with him to add numbers to your defence and you might find that you can do with the extra help back there when it comes to making a tackle. Think of it in the same way that some teams - like Arsenal - can bulk up to a back five out of possession. 

7. Call for defensive help wisely

(Image credit: PA Images)

The R1/RB button is really useful for bringing a second player in to help you tackle a tricky wideman. It can be really helpful if you’re busy covering passing lanes or marking the player that’s obviously going to receive the ball in a minute. 

But calling players out of position can be a risky game when you’re camped outside your box. You don’t want Harry Magiore to leave the box and come and help tackle Neymar - Neymar’s obviously just going to pass it past the onrushing Slabhead for Icardi to run onto. How often have you seen teams try and stick two men on an attacker that he just shakes off easily with one simple ball?

It’s a good habit to never use the ‘teammate control’ once your opponent enters the final third. Try and defend the space as much as you can, rather than ball-watching.

8. Bring the goalkeeper out early for one-on-ones

The idea of defending is to make the pitch as small as you possibly can when you’re out of possession. Nothing gets past a compact Dycheian defence. The same goes for a goalkeeper who makes himself as big as possible when there’s an attacker through on goal.

Bringing the goalkeeper out - hold Triangle/Y - pressures the attacker into making a decision quickly. If he’s just running onto the ball and doesn’t have full control of it yet, then it’s a masterstroke. Even if he does have control, you’re asking him to test his chipping ability, and essentially asking the opposition to play a slower, trickier kind of shot.

When it goes wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong. It can be like watching a partially-sighted line dancer out of step with his troupe. But playing sweeper-keeper certainly has its benefits when it works - just look at Manuel Neuer. Practice makes perfect.

9. Claim crosses where you can

Chris Wilder

(Image credit: PA)

Just as rushing towards the feet of your attacker has its merits, so does rushing out to meet headers.

Claiming crosses, either from corners or open play is tricky to judge but if the ball is played close enough to your man between the sticks, then a quick catch can set up another attack before you know it. Learn when to claim and when not to and you can really demoralise even the most whip-happy wingers. 

There’s no fun pummelling the ball onto the foreheads of tall defenders in a deep block - think about how teams have evolved to defend against Sheffield United.

10. Keep possession better

What’s the best way not to concede a goal? Well… not give your opposition the ball. 

If it sounds basic than that’s because it is. Unai Emery was a big example of this at Arsenal - you’re more likely to lose a game 2-1 if you surrender 75% of the ball after going a goal up. Take a leaf out of Mikel Arteta’s book and actually keep the thing when you have it. 

If you’re not very good at defending, practice. But also practice putting the ball in the back of the net because if the other team are going to score four goals against you, you’re gonna need to get five. That’s just how football - and FIFA - works, unfortunately. 

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