When coaching forums and discussions reference counterattacking, most of the focus is on how to execute this tactic rather than defend against it.

However, counterattacking can be a devastating style of play, and one that’s particularly effective against offensive sides that press high and leave large amounts of space in behind or in their full back areas.

In this blog post, we’re going to look at how you can stifle counterattacks and defeat opponents that deploy this type of tactic. So, let’s get into it!

First Up – What’s a Counterattack?

In simple terms, a counterattack is an attack that’s launched in response to (or defence against) another made by an opponent.

In footballing parlance, counterattacking teams tend to sit quite deep and invite their opponents to mount attacks, while setting clearly defined triggers for counter pressing. Once they’ve recovered the ball, they’ll look to transition quickly through a combination of direct forward passing, strong ball carrying and darting runs into space.

Speed is key to any effective counterattack, which can theoretically be launched from anywhere on the pitch. Historically, a counterattack would be launched after a team had recovered the ball in their own defensive third, but the evolution of aggressive counter pressing tactics has seen sides look to win the ball higher and almost immediately after losing possession.

So, How do You Overcome Counterattacks and Counterattacking Team?

To overcome and ultimately defeat a counterattacking side, you’ll have to you’ll have to be able to nullify individual counterattacks. The key to this lies in the mindset of your players, as they must be thinking about their position and how best to stop a potential counterattack while they’re in possession of the ball.

During attacking phases, teams typically create width and depth to help sustain attacks and create space in the opposition defence. However, this makes it easier for sides to play through the lines during quick transitions, so individuals must be ready to react and provide cover after possession is lost.

This requires them to have positional awareness and excellent anticipation, while they must communicate well with their teammates and quickly determine whether to help counter press as part of a collective or drop back into a defensive shape.

From an individual perspective, it’s also ideal if the players in your back four are able to defend one-v-one. Such players will typically need pace and strength, while they must retain excellent positioning during attacking phases. When taking on an opposing attacker, their goal should always be to slow down the counterattack by jockeying their opponent, which means maintaining a wide stance to prevent take-ons and simultaneously close down passing lines.

This can be coached in training simply by creating 1v1 simulations, while it should ideally allow time for fellow defenders to recover their position and the team to fall back into its defensive shape.

What Formation is Best for Defeating a Counterattacking Team?

There are many potential answers to this question, depending in part on the formation adopted by the opposing team.

In general terms, however, a flexible 4-2-3-1 formation offers one of the best solutions. After all, this includes two central midfield pivots to help screen the defence and cover space between the lines during transitions, while the shape can quickly adapt into a 4-5-1 when looking to combat counterattacks.

The wide attacking players also provide ample cover for the fullbacks, who are often targeted and occasionally easy to expose on the break. This is a key consideration, especially when encountering counterattacking sides with fast wingers or inverted wide players.

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