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Preventing The Cutback Cross

I’m reaching out in hopes that you can direct me to some ideas for defending a cutback cross as that seems to be a common tool for many teams that we’ll be facing this season.

How would you go about defending the cutback once the opposition has gotten in behind our back line?

Great question. I think this has definitely been a trend in the game at all levels with more and more teams utilizing cutbacks in recent years. Dan Wright wrote an excellent blog in 2016 about the growth of cutbacks and he highlighted the following advantages below:

- They happen closer to the goal, which we know increases the success rate

- It’s easier to score with feet than with a header

- It encourages 1 touch finishes, 70% of goals scored are with a 1 touch finish

- From a cutback the striker can see the whole goal

- Cutback gets the crosser in the box which has benefits such as penalties and rebounds

- It’s easier to eliminate defenders than wide crosses

So how do we actually stop the cutbacks? It’s something I’ve never previously sat down and reflected upon, so I enjoyed this question and used it as an opportunity to get some insight from the coaches that I work alongside in Chicago. We talked about it for about twenty minutes a day and there were quite a few enjoyable debates about coaching this in regards to organization, where to 'show' wide attackers, and individual roles and responsibilities.

Below are three areas that we all agreed .

1. Pressure the cross: It sounds pretty straightforward, but there is a significant difference between a cutback with no pressure and one that a defender can effect. Without pressure, the attacker generally has enough time to lift their head, evaluate the situation, and then pick the right kind of pass. It can also decrease the distance of the pass which can impact the ability of covering defenders to close down the ball.

2. Defensive Organization: This is so important but very difficult to achieve for two reasons. Firstly, positional balance is crucial because invariably, the better the opposition, the quicker they will adapt to whatever is available to them. I have outlined 3 areas on the video: the initial cutback, the space in front of the attacker, and the back post. Craig Harrington shared how he set up his teams during his time with Turks and Caicos where he almost created a diamond shape, where the weak side center back drops slightly into the six yard box and takes away that side. The number of covering midfielders will depend on what stage of the game it occurs in (See below). I really liked this because it provides a good visual for defenders to be aware of the danger areas that in front, behind and alongside the defensive unit.

3. Individual Defending: Simply filling a space is not enough for defenders as the top forwards only require the slightest opening to get a shot in. So the defenders must be aggressive, willing to block shots and cover for one another.

Moving onto the training pitch, I would be a huge fan of putting the defenders in situations where they must initially recover at game speed whilst trying to establish that collective shape at the same time. In the video I have used an exercise that is physically demanding, but can be easily modified with distances, rotations and recovery times. Once everyone is aware of roles and responsibilities, I would then work on that aggressiveness and defensive relationships with penalty box games. Players typically love these because they are competitive and attackers have license to score a variety of different goals, creating a variability in the exercise which should challenge the defenders even more. The final step for me would be to provide video and possible statistical feedback for your team to evaluate performance and progress. This strengthens the link between the game and practice, while also giving players the ability to review individually and give input to one another, both on and off the field.

Feel free to check out the video below with the exercises and reasoning behind each one. The video animations were created using Coach Paint.

If you have any additional thoughts, feel free to email me at I enjoyed putting this together and if any coaches have topics they would like covered, feel free to shoot them over. Thanks for reading and watching the video!

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