Zonal Defensive Structure P2: Chanelling

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Estructura Defensiva Zonal P2: Canalización

On our first post about the Zonal Defensive Structure, we described the initial positions and the roles for each player.

Now that we know the basics, we will go further, starting to establish how our structure will work when the ball starts moving, and what we have to do in order to get the ball where we want it: The established Recovery Zones.

The general idea of our Basic Zonal Defense

Please be sure you have seen the 1st post before going further! You can find it here.

In order to analyze the different actions, we will split the possible situations into two basic options:

  • Playing outside: The ball is moved outside our “house” (outside the red zone) and around our press
  • Playing Inside: The ball is played into the Boxes with Midfielders getting involved

This post will be about the “outside” part. The next one will study on depth how to press when the ball gets inside our press and into our Boxes.

Playing Outside

As we said in out initial press, ideally, we would be able to keep them to play outside our House, trying to make them play on the lines, taking the ball to our recovery zones.


The first thing we need to understand is that when the ball start moving, our team at some point should make a decision on which of the recovery zones are we trying to take the ball to (Left or right) since all our team must act all together to achieve this.

Who will make this decision? Usually our Center Forward. As he has two players for him, at some point he will put pressure on one of them, diagonally, inducing them to play to the line, cutting the pass back inside. At that moment, all our team should know which is the Recovery Zone chosen and we will all work for that.

In this example we can see how the CF presses sideways, cutting the pass back, making it clear the the RZ will be on our left.

When really get to the point, out Wing has a really important job. As we have said before, he is in charge of his defender, but he needs to understand that we want him to get the ball.

The wing needs to stay inside, ready to intercept a pass forward, a pass trying to get inside our press!

His defender should look really open and that’s how we “induce” them to where we want to go: We have to make them think they have an easy way out, while they are actually falling into our trap.

If the Wing is in a good position, the vertical pass should be closed and the outside defender should be an easy option for them.

The only thing we need to be sure when we do this is that the defender, with a fast pass and a good reception doesn’t eliminate our wing. He always needs to be able to put pressure on him when he gets the ball!


If we get to the point where they are passing the ball outside, with all our team ready, we have (so far) succeeded, and the channelling stage is almost over. But now comes the most important part: Actually recovering the ball.

What we want now is, once the outside defender gets the ball, is to put pressure on him in a good angle so we make him pass the ball on the line (usually the simpler and safer way out for the defense).

Our wing needs to put pressure diagonally, cutting the pass to the Box (or the inside midfielder), while, at the same time, our CF remains cutting the pass back.

When the ball travels to the line, all our team moves together as a block keeping the structure. The wing presses diagonally, closing the inside and leaving open the line.

We have now got to the point where we wanted, now the only thing left to do is wait for the defender to pass and get people to the recovery zone to intercept: Our left midfielder should run to the line (not be there earlier, so they still pass it there) and be ready to intercept, even if he is marking a defender: All our midfields should move horizontally together, so somebody will pick up his player and leave the opposite open, as the ball should never get there.

Midfielders moving horizontally all at the same time, leaving the opposite open.

As we can see, there is also another action going on, the defender from that side is also ready in case the midfielder doesn’t get there on time, defending in front of his forward to anticipate. One of these two should get the ball!

Real Examples

An example from Belgium during the last World Cup. Watch in HD on Youtube!


The idea of these two post was to make an introduction into Zonal Defending. This press example is just to give an idea of how it can work, but I don’t think it could work effectively on top level, mainly because with players who can pass the ball fast, the midfielders shifting would never get to the ball on time, and also leaving open our left (and weak) side is too dangerous.

In the next posts we will introduce some small changes we can do to improve this, but also with the objetive of understanding how, with really small changes, we can change the whole concept of a press.

The main idea is not just to “copy” movements, but to be able to really understand what is going on and how each one can create the press that would suit better for your team, and also for whoever you are playing against.

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