Even though central defenders don’t get all of the headlines, these are usually the most respected players on the field. Well, the good ones are at least. Even though center backs aren’t as involved in soccer games as midfielders and forwards, they are the ones who are able to control the game from the back line.
As long as you have a basic understanding of each position’s responsibilities and you have studied defensive strategies, there is nothing that can stop you from becoming a very good defender. You just have to be willing to work hard and not let mistakes get in the way of your development.
Below are some tips on how to become a great central defender.
Anticipate Opponent’s Movement
Watch any of the best central defenders and you will see that what makes them so great is their ability to read plays and react early. This ability to anticipate what’s going to happen can give you a huge advantage over the opponents coming at you.
There is a big difference between anticipation and guessing. You do not want to guess which way a player or team is going with the ball or you will often leave your teammates vulnerable. This is why you should always be studying how soccer players move with the ball so you know their instincts. Over time, you will notice patterns and will be able to anticipate their movements pretty easily.
One bad habit that many central defenders pick up is staying back and waiting for opponent to come towards them with the ball. While there are times when this makes sense, the majority of the time it is better to go right for the ball to slow the opponent down.
Notice that it is “controlled” aggression and not just “aggression.” You should never just lunge into a tackle just to do it. You have to have a plan before you go towards the opposing player. This goes along with what we talked about above where you have to have to develop good instincts before you can be a composed, aggressive defender.
Even if neither of the central defenders are the captains of their teams, they are still the ones who need to be the most vocal. This is because they are the ones who can see the entire field and can direct players to where they need to go.
You will usually find that the best teams have central defenders who will not shy away from being vocal and putting their teammates where they need to be. This allows the team to keep its shape and they will usually give up the fewest clear goal-scoring opportunities.
Quick, Simple Passes
Possession is a very important part of soccer. A very underappreciated skill of good central defenders is their ability to see the openings in front of them and get their passes away quickly. In many cases it is the central midfielder’s job to find an opening somewhere in the middle of the field, but sometimes the best short pass is out to the full backs.
Regardless of whether you just got a pass from a teammate or you just stole the ball off of an opponent, you need to pick out your pass quickly. Not only will a quick pass allow you to avoid making a mistake near your goal, it will also allow your team to quickly transition to their offensive game plan.
When in Doubt, Clear the Ball
While you should always look for a pass if you have a second to think about it, that doesn’t mean that it’s always the best option. If you are under any pressure at all and don’t see a safe pass to make, then clear the ball out of the goal area as quickly as you can.
Too many central defenders take risks while they have the ball, which is unfortunate since that can lead to easy goals for the opponent. Even if you are a great dribbler, it is very rare when it is a better idea for a defender to dribble out of trouble rather than just clearing the ball away. Even if you kick it towards the sideline, that’s a better option than giving the ball up near your own goal.
Stay Calm Regardless of the Situation
It’s important for the whole team to be composed soccer players, but this is especially true for central defenders. Central defenders who are able to stay calm both on and off the ball bring a calming presence that will rub off on teammates.