Argentina’s perfect example on how to break a mix defense

In Análisis, English by Javi TelecheaLeave a Comment

During the 2018 Men’s Champions Trophy, one of the things that we discovered was that most teams were playing with zonal or mix defenses.

Argentina playing against Pakistan gave a perfect example on how to break this system efficiently and we will explain it in detail.

Pakistan’s defensive system

Pakistan was defending with 3 forward and 3 midfielders in zone, as we can see in the image above. On this kind of defense, we can clearly see the two “boxes” that are created.

In the back, they’ve got 4 defenders, 3 of them are marking man on man, while one is acting as “Libero”, a free man.

Breaking this defense

Argentina is setting up 3 players in the back, 4 wide midfielders and 3 narrow forwards. 

Firstly, we find two midfielders perfectly standing one inside each box. When you are being zonally defended, there’s no need of moving too much: if you are standing in a good position you should stay there and be patient.

The outside midfielders play a key role here. Unfortunately, we can’t see them on this image, but we can tell they are really wide and deep.

The 3 forwards are in the center lane.

Let’s start analyzing from the forwards going back:

As the forwards are being defended man on man, whatever they do, the defense will follow. This creates a big opportunity to give them the shape we want. By making them narrow we create big spaces outside that midfielder’s could use.


Midfielder’s are really wide and going deeper than usual, using the space that the forwards created for them.

With Argentina having players like Peillat or Gilardi in the back, the Pakistan’s midfielders know how easily  it would be for them to put an aerial ball in their back, so they are forced to drop back and get closer to these players, as shown on the image.

Final situation

Just by getting in good initial positions, Argentina ends up creating, not only really big boxes to play in, but also a big 2 on 1 in the center of the field, which they will use afterwards.

2v1 on the center midfielder

What was the outcome?

Play one box, 2v1 with the other and a midfielder getting the ball already facing forward: Press is beaten.

After that, we can see an amazing rotation by the Argentinean forwards, specially Paredes’ movement, starting on the left side of the attack, going all around without thinking of touching the ball at first, but with his mind already on the goal. Beautiful.


Of course, what Argentina did it’s amazing and we can’t say this is the perfect recipe to beat this types of presses. but what we can say for sure is that, this way, you will have better chances.

What could have Pakistan done better?

  1. As argentina has 3 in the back, set up the press with only two forwards, putting one more midfielder to cover that big gap.
  2. Push up their Libero from the beginning, playing closer to the midfielder. 
  3. Play totally zonal defense, so that their defenders wouldn’t follow forwards, and could occupy the space effectively.
Javi Telechea
Field Hockey Coach
PAHF Trainer. FIH Level 4 Coach.
Football Coach Level 2.
CoachingHockey founder.