How To Improve 1v1 Defending | 8 Essential Tips

Defending 1v1 in soccer can be incredibly difficult at times depending on who you are coming up against. To be a great defender you do not always have to win the ball! Forcing the opposition backward, sideways or out of bounds still counts as successfully defending 1v1. This post will go over the essential tips on how to improve 1v1 defending in soccer.

These tips are vital, especially if you are a fullback, center back, or winger in soccer.

This is because you are more likely to find yourself in 1v1 defending situations than other players on the pitch.

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These 8 tips will improve your 1v1 defending in soccer

Reduce the space between yourself and the attacker

A soccer defender is quickly pressuring the soccer attacker to give them less space in a 1v1 defending scenario
A defender reducing the space with the attacker

The first thing you’re going to need to do when defending 1v1 in soccer is to close down the gap between yourself and the defender.

By pressuring the attacker quickly you restrict the amount of space they have on the ball, giving you more control in the situation.

Allowing them too much space and time will give them the upper hand in the situation, as they will be able to make better decisions on the ball.

Apply pressure from an angle

On the left there is a soccer player showing the incorrect way to pressure a player. On the right there is soccer player showing the correct way to pressure a player
The incorrect and correct way to pressure an attacker

When you pressure the opposition attacker you should do some from an angle.

By pressuring them from an angle you are limiting the passing options they may have on the ball while simultaneously closing down their space.

The fewer options an attacker has for the ball the better!

As you can see from the image above, the attacker has fewer options when the defender pressures from an angle as opposed to pressing them in a straight line.

Be in a side-on-body

Make sure you are in standing in a low side-on-body position.

Typically you will want your chest facing the close sideline because you will want to force the attacker into the wide areas. (This may change depending on your team’s tactics).

Being in a low side-on-body position will allow you to quickly adjust and maneuver to mirror the opposition’s movements while on the ball.

This will make it a lot harder for the attacker to get past, as well as putting yourself in a good body position to step in and win the ball while keeping your balance.

Jockey the attacker in your side-on position

When defending 1v1 in soccer, you’ll want to maintain the same distance between yourself and the opposition player.

The best way to do this is by jockeying, to shadow the attacker’s movements.

You will want to try to keep in a side-one-body position, with your knees slightly bent and on your toes to quickly adjust to the attacker.

This will also stop your feet from getting muddled when watching the attacker.

Be patient when waiting to try and steal the ball

One of the biggest mistakes players makes when defending 1v1 is thinking they have to win the ball.

This leads to the players making poor judgments and diving in to try and win the ball.

As a player, if you have applied the previous steps correctly you should be in control of where the attacker is going, giving you the upper hand.

When the attacker is contained, you must continue to apply pressure.

You should only step in when the opponent makes a mistake, for example, if they have a poor touch.

Here is a post about all the pressing triggers, in soccer so you know when to step in and win the ball as a defender.

Remember to be a successful defender you do not have to win the ball, you can:

  • Make the attacker pass backward
  • Force them out of bounds

Keep your eye on the ball

This is one of the first pieces of advice I give to my players on how they can improve defending 1v1.

As a player, you will want to ignore, all the noise around the player and focus on the ball.

Attacking players usually come equipped with a barrage of skills they can use, but they will be useless if the defender doesn’t fall for them.

The purpose of the skills is to try to draw you in and make you dive in to win the ball.

From this, they will either win a free-kick or exploit the space you have left behind.

Try to always stay on your feet when coming up against a tricky winger, this will make it a lot harder for their skills to work!

It also puts you in a better position to step in and win the ball.

When you step in to win the ball make sure you fully commit

That being said, if you feel you can win the ball, step in and fully commit to winning the ball.

If the attacker sees that you are hesitant they will look to capitalize on your hesitancy.

A confident player when defending 1v1 in soccer will usually come out on top!

Even when you commit to trying to win the ball, there is still a chance you can miss the ball and foul the player.

Be cautious because this could earn you a yellow card and a dangerous opportunity for the opposition to score.

Study the attacker you are up against

To help improve defending 1v1 you will need to study the attacker you are up against and mostly likely to defend 1v1 against.

By studying them you will gain vital clues about how they like to play, along with their strengths and weaknesses.

This is what you can use to your advantage.

Here are some things you should look for when studying the attacker:

  • Which foot do they prefer?
  • Are they comfortable on their weaker foot?
  • Do they like to cut inside or go on the outside?
  • Are they fast or slow?
  • What skills do they like to use?
  • Will they likely make mistakes when they are under pressure?

After the first 10 minutes of the game, you should have a clear image of how you are going to defend the opposition player.

Final thoughts | 1v1 Defending tips

Improving how to defend 1v1 is a crucial part of being a defender in soccer.

Like any skill in soccer this a skill that will get better over time with experience and practice.

Defending 1v1 isn’t all about diving in to win the ball, it is more about learning to control and contain the opposition player, to force them into a mistake, or into a less dangerous area of the pitch for your team.

If you are looking to improve your ability or a team’s 1v1 defending ability, here are 8 1v1 defending soccer drills that you can use.

If you found this post on how to improve 1v1 defending helping or know a player that would then please share it with them.

Thank you for reading and sharing,


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