What Does a Defender Do in Soccer?

A defender is a player that protects their team by keeping the other team from scoring. In other words, a defender prevents the other team from scoring by blocking their shots, tackling them, and intercepting passes. 

They play a vital role in a soccer team and their absence or ineptitude in a team would be hugely felt as suffering defeats may be the order of the day regardless of the talent a team possesses in the attacking positions.

Soccer is a high-intensity game, so defenders need to be ready to tackle anyone who tries to run by them. Defenders must be disciplined, patient, and alert. 

We’ve seen a significant number of defenders that met these criteria over the years and they carved niches for themselves as the best in the game in their time. 

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Some of them include Fabio Cannavaro, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, and Carles Puyol, amongst others. In recent times, we’ve seen the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Cesar Azpilicueta, Virgil van Dijk, Antonio Rudiger, Gerard Pique, Thiago Silva, Sergio Ramos, Kalidou Koulibaly, amongst others.

Before we delve deeper into the role of a defender in soccer, here’s what a defender in soccer does:

Discipline

A defender must have discipline in order to guard against players that run at them with the intent to shoot at the goal. They must be alert and quick enough to react to shots taken on goal or passes that come at them. 

Patience

A defender must have patience. They must be willing to wait for the right opportunity to get a tackle or block a shot. They must be disciplined enough not to foul the player in possession or run too far forward from their defensive position. 

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We’ve seen a good number of defenders that are lacking in this regard and are very good at giving away penalties with rash tackles to the detriment of their team.

Alertness

A defender must have alertness. They must be ready to react to any passes or shots that come their way. They must also be ready to intercept any passes or shots that come at them while they’re guarding.

READ: What is a Tackle in Soccer?

What Does a Defender Do in Soccer?

A defender has many jobs to do while they’re on the field. They are expected to mark players that are in possession of the ball, intercept passes that come their way, and tackle players that are running toward them. A well-drilled team will have at least one defender who can do all of these things really well. Here’s what a defender in soccer does:

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​Defends the Penalty Area

A defender is responsible for defending the penalty area. This is the area within the penalty arc (the area that starts 10 meters from the goal) that is directly in front of their own goal. The penalty area is therefore synonymous with the “D” in D. This is where a defender spends most of their time while they’re on the field.

​Disrupts the Opposition team’s attacking patterns

A defender is expected to disrupt the attacking team’s patterns by getting in the way of their players. This can be done by getting in the way of a pass, blocking a shot, or tackling a player.

​Defends the Ball

A defender is expected to defend the ball at all times. This means that when their team has the ball, they don’t let the other team have it. They tackle and intercept any passes that come their way and they block shots that come at them.

​Keep Out the Opponents’ Wide Players

A defender is responsible for keeping out the opponent’s wide players. This means that a defender will always be ready to tackle, intercept, or block any passes that come at them from a wide position.

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​Key Terms to Know When Discussing Defending

It’s a no-brainer that a defender has many roles to play while they’re on the field. To effectively discuss defending as a topic, especially for a fan of the round leather game of soccer, you need to be familiar with these key terms.

​Covering

Covering is the act of keeping a certain player in mind while your team plays in a game. A good example of this is when a center back focuses on the opponent’s striker while their winger is also in the area.

READ: What is a Clean Sheet in Soccer?

​Line of Sight

This is the line that divides what a player can see and what they can’t see. It usually starts at the player’s nose and extends up to a meter in front of the player.

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​Line of Contact

This is the line that divides what a player can touch and what they can’t touch. It usually starts at the player’s chest and extends up to their shoulders.

​Marking

Marking is a defender’s tactic of choosing a specific player to guard or “mark.” There are a few different types of marks that a defender can choose from. These include man-marking, zone marking, and direct marking.

​Man Marking

In man-marking, the defender focuses on the player that is in possession of the ball. This player is, therefore “marked” by the defender. This is the norm when small teams come up against a supposedly big side with a very prolific attacker. 

The coach can assign one defender to hassle and tackle that attacker for the entirety of the game and the defender will have to be very focused to avoid being caught out by the smartness of the attacker at crucial times.

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​Zone Marking

In zone marking, the defender doesn’t have a specific player that they’re trying to keep an eye on. Instead, they let the play come to them. They are in a position to challenge any passes or shots that come at them while they let the play come to them.

​Direct Marking

In direct marking, the defender doesn’t even focus on a specific player. Instead, they stay between the center circle and the end line (the post).

How Do You Defend as a Defender?

When a team has the ball, their first job is often to keep it. This is called “preventing” the other team from scoring. A team does this by keeping their defenders tightly knit together and preventing the other team from getting through. 

When a team has the ball and their defenders are doing their jobs, the team can transition into offense. This is called “retaking” the ball. 

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A team might also “switch the play” by having one of their players dribble the ball around the backline with another player providing cover. This is the role of a defender.

A team will have one or more specific defenders whose job it is to prevent shots at goal and keep the opposing team’s wide players (those that play on the wings) from getting a clear shot on goal. 

READ: Why Are Soccer Balls, Black, And White?

This is called “marking” the opposing team’s “shots on goal” while their team is in possession of the ball. Here are the main responsibilities of a defender:

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​Preventing Scoring

A defender’s number one priority is preventing their opponents from scoring. This means that a defender will do everything in their power to keep the ball from going into the goal.

​Blocking Shots

A defender’s number two priority is to block shots. This means that a defender will use their body to get in the way of any shots that come their way.

​Intercepting Passes

A defender’s number three priority is to intercept passes. This means that a defender will use their body to get in the way of any passes that come their way.

​Marking for Goals

The last thing that a defender wants to do is “mark for goals.” This means that a defender is focused on one player: the opposing team’s striker. A defender wants to mark this player so that they can prevent the opposing team from scoring.

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Conclusion – What does a defender do in Soccer?

As pointed out earlier, a defender is a player that protects their team by keeping the other team from scoring. This means that a defender prevents the opposition team from scoring by blocking their shots, tackling them, and intercepting passes.