Tony Linton – Session Report


“Our first coaching session at the Arsenal Hub on the 30th of September was a great success all round. Thanks are due to the staff at the Hub for all their help and to Tony Linton who put on the session for us and then spent time afterwards in a debrief and question and answer session. Watch out for the next session on the 28th of October when our former member and now Head of recruitment at Watford Barry Quin will be the presenter. November will see Colin Reid and January’s presenter will be another an old member of ours Ose Aibangee Academy Director at Brentford. The next session will carry CPD points so watch out for more news on this website.

Now here is the report of Tony Linton’s session with thanks to Stephen Haslam for writing it up as usual.”

Tony Linton introduced his session by saying that when he tells young players that he is going to coach defending they automatically think that it will be about tackling.
But it is his  opinion that you can defend well without making a tackle.  The first requirement is to deny the opponents space.  Today, everyone wants to press, but it’s knowing when to press or when to stay compact. Barcelona will be compact until it’s time to press the ball. The art is in knowing when to press the ball.

Tony quickly outlined the structure of his session. He said that it was divided into four sections: shadow play, hand ball game, 4 v. 4 defending, small game.

The shadow play comprised the players moving around the area, avoiding each other by jockeying away from other players in a side-on body shape and adopting a low stance by bending their knees. Some of the players jogged around the area in a normal fashion and when confronted by them the defenders jockeyed away as described. Then the attacking players each took a ball and held it in their hands as they moved around and the defenders continued to jockey but forcing the attackers to switch the ball away into their furthest away hand.

Next, Tony set up a 7 v. 7 handball game.  During this game, Tony brought out many defensive coaching points. He continued to work on the immediate challenger to the player with the ball, encouraging him to close the player down tightly but now he also looked at the players away from the main 1 v. 1 confrontation. He corrected wrong marking positions by the other defenders, such as when a defender in a central position was marking on the outside shoulder of the opponent instead of the inside shoulder. He illustrated how the full back was positioned inside to track that player if he turned away towards the outside, but by giving him space on the other shoulder he could be left helpless by a run in there by the forward. Tony stressed that every time the picture changes the defender’s job changes. So Tony was coaching on the ball, around the ball and away from the ball.

Tony progressed the handball into a possession game with the ball at feet. This led into 2 v. 2 defending exercise. The defenders had to work as a pair where one pressed the ball and the other was in a covering position, slightly deeper from the pressing defender, able to press the other attacker if the ball was passed to him, but also deep enough to get round on the cover if his  colleague was beaten. The pressing player had to get his body shape right in order to direct his opponent into the path of his colleague should he be beaten for pace or trickery. Communication was now becoming an important factor in the defending.

This led into the 4 v. 4 defending exercise. This was done across the width of the training area. As with the 2 v. 2 exercise, the nearest defender to the attacker with the ball went to press the ball. Tony worked hard to coach the other players into understanding their marking responsibilities relative to the position of the ball. There was a tendency for a defender to stay close to the furthest away attacker from the ball, simply because he was that defender’s opposite opponent. But Tony pointed out that this attacker, in relation to the position of the ball, was not a danger. The area and opponents around the ball is where the danger lies and so you work from the ball outwards. You leave the least dangerous player but are aware of where he is.

All that had been worked on was brought together in a 6 v. 6 game. Tony remarked that after the first two minutes of play not one tackle had been made but  the pressing had been good. This showed that if you get the set up right, the jobs and responsibilities, then you don’t need to tackle.

There was now free flowing play in the game and situations where recovery runs had to be made. Tony pointed out that when recovery runs had tobe made there were three reference points as a player got back: the far post, the near post and the penalty spot.

As the game went on, and bearing in mind that this was at the end of a quite intense session, the players were understandably tiring. It was   important for the players to stay compact and if a player, particularly a forward, went to press but was too far away to effect the ball, then the opponents could play round him easily.So he must stay in position and help retain a tight, compact unit. It is simply not possible to press continuously because that is physically impossible. There are always two options: to press or drop off to stay compact.

When summarising the session, Tony said that when he asks them, many young players tell him that they have never done any defensive sessions. That is why the defensive play has become so poor in this country because we are simply not coaching it well. He also said that playing games of handball is an excellent way to coach technical and tactical aspects of football. This is because it slows the game down and gives the opportunity for players to see what they are doingand see where they are in relation to other players. It also helps the coach to control the session and bring out the points which he wants to coach.

It was an excellent session and of great benefit to all the coaches, whatever level they may work at.