How To Defend in Soccer 1 v 1

One versus one defense helps prevent goals and win games. This guide on how to defend one-on-one will help you excel at one of the toughest parts of the sport.

One-on-one defense, also known as 1-v-1, is an important skill for all players to possess. Man-on-man defense prevents goals, forces errors, and results in counterattacks.

Understanding the ins and outs of one-on-one defense will help you become a better all-around player, so you can lead your team to championships.

Key Principles of 1 v 1 Defense

Every player needs to understand the principles of one-on-one defense. Defensive success is heavily based on each player’s 1v1 defensive skill.

One-on-one defense is based on three key principles of pressure.

1. Quick Pressure

The defensive player closest to the ball needs to close the space between himself and the ball as quickly as possible. Closing the space begins as soon as the ball is played to the opponent.

The player must begin closing ground before the attacker receives the ball. A defensive player who waits until the attacker has the ball is often too late.

Three ways to apply quick pressure include the following:

  • Intercepting the pass: Quick and attentive one-on-one defense can lead you to intercept the pass before your opponent touches it. You must calculate the speed and the distance of the pass. Only commit to the interception if you’re sure you can get to the ball in time.
  • Challenge the opponent’s first touch: Challenging the opponent at the first touch means putting yourself in a position to steal the ball if the opponent’s first touch is not controlled.
  • Contain the opponent: You can contain the attacker by not allowing them the space needed to pass, turn, or penetrate your defense. Herd your opponent away from the goal and direct them to a less dangerous area of the field.

2. Tight Pressure

Tight pressure takes place once the opponent has the ball and is on the attack. Approach your player quickly, slowing down about five yards from him or her. Gradually close the remaining space from a controlled position.

Your position must be close enough to make the attacker feel uncomfortable, possibly causing an error. It should limit the attacker’s vision and close passing lines.

3. Patient Pressure

An excellent one-on-one defender knows that not all turnovers happen the moment you approach the attacker. You must be patient and approach the attacker while under control.

A successful one-on-one defense is made by a player who is controlled, alert, and confident. Be patient and wait for the right moment to take over the ball or punt it away.

A quick and precise tackle may be required to poke the ball away from the attacker and begin a counterattack.

Body Positioning for 1v1 Defense

Body positioning is a critical part of the successful man-on-man defense. Focusing on the following key elements keep you balanced and controlled while allowing for quick changes of motion and optimal reaction time.

  • Keep your knees bent with weight shifted to the balls of the feet.
  • Stagger your stance with your toes pointed at a 45-degree angle.
  • Keep your chest forward in line with your toes.
  • Stay low for a lower center of gravity and quicker change of motion.
  • Keep one to three yards between yourself and your defender until you’re ready to take possession of the ball.
  • Do not spread your legs too far apart (inviting a nutmeg).

Many players make the mistake of approaching the attacker in an upright position. This results in slower changes of motion that an attacker can use to his or her advantage.

Common 1v1 Defensive Mistakes

Players are bound to make some mistakes when defending 1v1. The most common mistakes are associated with positioning and lack of patience.

Defenders often do not get close get to the attackers, allowing them opportunities to turn, shoot, or pass. They may also try to steal the ball too early or too often, waiting for energy and losing control of their momentum. The attacker can then use his or her momentum to move forward beyond the defensive player.

Young or inexperienced soccer players may feel discouraged when losing possession of the ball or allowing an attacker to move forward. The defensive player may then become frustrated and hang his head, leaving the remainder of the team to pick up the slack.

Players need to continue applying pressure to the attackers, even if they’ve made a mistake and allowed a player to pass, shoot, or move forward.

Tackling in One-on-One Defense

Tackling is a 1v1 defensive approach that can result in a quick change of possession. A tackle needs to be carefully calculated and should only be used when necessary. A poorly performed tackle can result in a red card and ejection from the game.

A tackle can be used when the opponent makes a bad touch or another error. Make the tackle when the ball is farthest from the opponent’s foot. Never tackle from behind.

A poorly timed or poorly performed tackle can leave the remainder of your team vulnerable to an attack and shots on goal.

The Best Tips for 1v1 Defending

Following the three key principles of one-on-one defense listed above will lead you and your team to defensive success. Below are a few additional tips and tricks to help you perfect your skills.

  • Always apply pressure
  • Keep your eye on the ball at all times
  • Make the attacker think you’re going to tackle
  • Only tackle when needed
  • Never stand flatfooted
  • Push your attacker away from the goal
  • Slow down the attacker
  • Force your attacker to use his or her weaker foot
  • Force the opponent to make quick decisions
  • Act confidently and be decisive

You won’t be successful in all of your 1v1 defensive attempts. Continuing to apply defensive even after mistakes have been made is a critical part of becoming an excellent man-on-man defender.

Drills For Becoming a Better 1v1 Defender

Practice makes perfect, and that’s certainly the case with one-on-one defending. Learning how to defend in 1v1 situations means practicing closing down space, proper body positioning, patience, and stepping in to win the ball. Paying attention to the key elements of man-on-man defense during practice will lead to game-time success.

The following videos provide drills to help you perfect your 1v1 defense.