Phil Jones: Guide to defending

Manchester United and England defender Phil Jones barks out instructions for a host of match scenarios, from handling tricky opponents to sacrificing yourself for the team

Teams often play counter-attacking football against Manchester United. What do you do when you’ve been caught on the break and you’re the last man in a two-on-one situation?
I would follow the person with the ball and try to corner them, stopping them from passing it to the other player. This is crucial, because once he plays it to his team-mate that rules you out and he’s one-on-one with the goalkeeper. You’ve got to try and usher him into a one-on-one against you and not a two-on-one. Timing is key. As soon as you see a loose touch from the player in possession, that’s when you get into a position to show him away from goal and block off the pass. If you get this right, there’s no way he can play the ball around you or through you. Then hopefully you can beat him for pace and make a tackle... or a professional foul!

How do you deal with a front pairing who keep interchanging positions?
Talk. Talking is essential in football: if they’re switching, just tell your centre-back partner. Tell them ‘left shoulder’ or ‘right shoulder’ and make them aware of where the striker is coming from. Stay where you are: you’re a partnership so you don’t have to keep switching positions – just keep your eye on the play, the ball and the man. There’s only so far you can go with your man – don’t be afraid to pass him on to someone else if you have to.

More after the break

What problems can it create if you get sucked out of position?
It leaves gaps in your defence. For instance, if I start rushing out into the midfield to close someone down and they pop it around, there’s a massive gap in the centre of our defence. I’d hope that if I did that, the full-backs would see and tuck in to make the opposition play wide, and not through you.

You’re trying to get back to stop a striker from getting through on goal – what do you do?
It depends on the game situation. If we’re winning 2-1, I’ll quite happily make a foul and take the red card. We’ll probably win the game, so I think that’s a sacrifice worth taking. But if we’re 3-0 up and he’s one-on-one with the goalkeeper then I won’t take the risk. Even though I’d be disappointed to concede the goal, it’s not the end of the world.

Do you have to take into account where your goalkeeper is at the time?
If it’s a one-on-one situation directly down the middle then it’s easier for the attacker to go around the goalkeeper, because he can go either way. He’s just got to touch it past him and the keeper is in danger of committing a foul and getting sent off.

The opposition’s winger is charging in from the wing and you’re on your own against two of their strikers in the box. What do you do?
If there were two strikers in the box, I would mark the one closest to the ball, or try to read where the winger is shaping up to cross the ball. By closing down the near post you’re narrowing the angles, making the ball to the back post more difficult. If he takes a bad touch I’ll try to get out to him quickly and stop the cross. But if he keeps coming into the box, you can’t keep backing off and backing off; you’ll eventually have to close him down. If he pops it around you and they score, there’s not much you can do as a defender. In this situation you’re not looking to put the blame on someone else, but you’ve got to say we should have stopped the move at the source and not left the defender isolated.

How do you cope with a striker that keeps playing for fouls?
I’ll kick him harder [laughs]. I’d have a sensible word with the referee and say, “Listen, you’ve got to watch him. I’m not touching him.” I’d also be cute and if the striker keeps buying fouls, and I knew he was purposefully taking a little touch and going over, I would make sure I was standing a metre or two off him when he got the ball. This will make him think he can turn because he can’t feel anyone around him. Immediately, as he turned to attack me, I’d get in his face and take the ball off him. It’s also important to stay calm. As soon as he realises he’s getting to you then he knows he’s winning. If everyone in the team can win their individual battles, then nine times out of 10 you’ll win the game.

If you’re chasing a game in the last few minutes and you need a goal, do you join the attack or hang back?
I’d go up top and try to get the goal, because at the end of the day you’re losing, so it doesn’t matter whether they score another one – you’re still going to lose if you don’t score. Get up the pitch and make a nuisance of yourself. If you do get caught out all you can do is bust a gut to get back.

Phil Jones wears the Puma PowerCat 1.12. For more information visit

For more football tips see:
Rio Ferdinand's Ultimate Defender
Sylvain Distin: Dominate your opponent
Franco Baresi: How to defend like a master
Nemanja Vidic: Tackle any threat
Ashley Cole: How to handle every opponent

Promo sitewide