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Article and most welcome discussion on the relationship between defensive line and mentality and its overall effects

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What would be the effects of a high defensive line and low mentality? And what about low defensive line but high mentality? Why are high line, high mentality or low line, low mentality most common?

Low line, low mentality
If one is intending to counter attack with good frequency, one is most likely to generate the highest possible frequency by employing a low defensive line. The reason is simple. By yielding more of the football field to one's team's opponents, one can expect them to make as much use of the yielded space as possible and therefore commit its players to that space, right up to one's defensive line. Therefore, by conceding a majority of the field to the opposition, one will be best placed to encourage overcommitment of the opposition with the highest possible frequency, leaving gaps behind their defensive line in which one intend to counter attack.

Furthermore, in order to generate the greatest rate of success in one's team's counterattacks, we have to also consider things like tempo, average passing length and closing down. For example, when we counter attack we want our team to move as a unit marauding at once and together through the acres of space behind the opposition defensive line. We cannot afford to have isolated players who lack the support of the rest of the team because that's how they lose the ball and the counter attack comes to nothing. Therefore, we should opt for a mentality which incorporates the most effective passing length and tempo, one that neither allows for the ball to be delivered forwards too quickly, thereby preventing the team from counter attacking cohesively, nor one that is too slow in delivering the ball and team forwards such that the opposition has had sufficient time to reorganise its defence and reassert control of the space behind its defensive line.

If you watch your match and ever see it happen that the ball has been hoofed up to the feet of your forward who then dribbles towards goal and he is tackled or intercepted because he has no passing option, then you should immediately consider reducing your tempo and passing length, overall mentality and possibly even your roles and duties. This is all whilst considering the attributes of the players in the event, because failing to do that would be ignorant of the fact that a League 2 counter attack against a Premier League defence will be highly unsuccessful at a high frequency.

The desirable counter attacking mentality also contains fairly low risk taking, to avoid defensive errors and ensuring the counter is executed with passes that have a high success rate because they are not risky. What else can be ascertained from this is that players with weak attributes relative to those of their opponents benefit from their manager opting for a low mentality. Low mentality inherently incorporates lower risk taking, and inherent to lower risk taking is higher action frequency success rates. Higher action success rates are what is desirable for a player who is weak at completing the action he attempts because by virtue of the action having a high rate of success, it is easy to complete and therefore does not need a player skilled in that action to perform it. This is part of why weaker teams invariably opt for a defensive or counter attacking mentality. They concede they lack the skill to exert more control of the midfield and opposition half than the opposition and possibly even the territory behind them, so they use a low defensive line. They also concede they lack the skill to make difficult technical passes and dribbles in attack, and so operate with low risk taking and overall mentality. However, they try to not concede too much space with too low a defensive line, they try to not attack too slowly and take too little risks, because otherwise they will not attain the counter attack frequency and success they are aiming for.

But if that team is so weak that it gauges counter attacking to be futile, then it has to adopt an even lower mentality and lower defensive line. If the counter attacks will come to nothing too often for it to be worthwhile to attempt it, then the mentality will either be to contain the opposition and prepare for enemy bombardment if there is absolutely no confidence of countering and the enemy onslaught is inevitable, or assume a defensive stance in which a team is skeptical of being able to successfully counter.

Are there tactical approaches which benefit from low line, low mentality that do not aim to counter attack? Yes. The most obvious one is a defensive strategy that is focused on ball possession and an attacking strategy that has little faith in the players to perform attacks with a higher mentality! In this setup, the aim is to keep the ball and take few risks. The yield will be high possession from ease of passing success due to the low risk approach, but a low amount of chance creation on account of a lower rate of penetration. Essentially this is keeping the ball for possession's sake alone. So if you think your team is so bad against your opposition that you have to give up all hope of attacking, choose this approach! Bang on Defensive or Contain, turn your passing length way down, play out of defence and use the minimum tempo and tell everyone to shoot less often. This can be effective at preventing the opposition from having the ball and getting your team a draw rather than a defeat, but it can also be very risky, because now you are playing keepball too often in front of your 18 yard box, and that can very easily lead to a goal being conceded.

Low line, high mentality
What if instead, a manager opts for a high mentality with a low defensive line. Firstly, to do so, the players ought to be superior in attributes to the opposition. For example, they need to be physically dominant to give them the physical capability of attacking over large distances at speed, and they need the technical superiority to retain control of the ball. Essentially they need to counter attack at a speed that is too high for weak football players to achieve. Secondly, one has a significant problem to overcome in that the team will, unless the problem is solved, find difficulty in attacking as a cohesive unit in which each player is supporting the others as optimally as possible. The distances between the players will tend to be larger in this scenario, so overall support between the players will be weaker, and unless executing this tactical approach successfully, the ball is lumped to the striker and he will lose the ball and attacks will be stopped too frequently to be viable.

So you should opt for this approach when you are the much stronger side and strongly believe your tactical setup has solved that previously described primary problem of this approach.

Why might it be beneficial? A major advantage of this approach is that it is likely to encourage the opposition to leave their conservative defensive stance and become more brave in midfield. When they lose the ball, they will have conceded space behind them for your players to attack. When they want the ball, they will be more likely to close down more than their tactical instruction allows. Whether this works or not depends very much on the shape you adopt, your formation and your selection of roles and duties.

High line, high mentality
If opting for a high mentality, the most common approach is to employ a high defensive line. It condenses the space in which your team and the opposition can operate, thereby making it harder for both to keep possession, but it increases the rate of penetration and risk taking, therefore increasing the rate of chances of players shooting and hopefully scoring goals. However, it also increases the space behind the defensive line that the opposition can attack, meaning a team with this approach may be susceptible to conceding goals from counter attacks. This approach also has the effect of pressing the opposition into their own defensive third, which reduces the space behind their line your players can attack. With them pushed into their own box, your players need the technical, mental and physical capability and superiority to operate effectively in small spaces on the foot of their camp to create goalscoring chances as if from nothing. When your team cannot do that, your team will be greatly disadvantaged in using this tactical approach.

High line, low mentality
This approach should be used when aiming for a possession based tactic that keeps your opponents away from your goal and encourages your opponents to close down more and become out of position. A major disadvantage of this approach is that the insufficient risk taking and tempo inherent to a low mentality will create a failure to penetrate, thereby decreasing the rate of goalscoring opportunities. Through balls and risky pass frequency will be lower due to low mentality, and the opposition will be afforded more time to reorganise due to the low tempo in a lower mentality.

So the obvious way to go is to increase tempo, tell your players to be more expressive and pass into space, and that way they draw the opposition out of defence into midfield, but then use a risky passing approach to create chances from. But this will lead to conceding the ball at a higher rate and more goals from counter attacks.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and I will be very grateful if you would reply with your thoughts and also hopefully your ideas of how shape interacts and can be used with regards to these four tactical approaches.

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22 hours ago, permanentquandary said:

one is most likely to generate the highest possible frequency by employing a low defensive line.

This is true, but its simplistic. While a low defensive line can help generate counter attacks, it also depends on the roles and duties you have chosen in the final third and the formation you are playing against and their mentality and the roles and duties in that system. 


I will use some screenshots from an upcoming guide that I am releasing to the general public with tactics available for download, makes it easier to explain.

Take the 4132 above, it has a WB on one flank and a DFB plus a fairly conservative backline, its built for counter attacking on any mentality, because of the roles I have chosen. Now if someone were to change the roles to a FB(A) CD, CD, FB(S) backline, its ability to counter attack would now be affected by the roles. The changed roles would see a different style of counter attack employed, in fact, it may see the two CD's rarely look to play the ball over the top.  In front I have opted for the simpler roles of a DLF and a Poacher who by virtue of their roles play a more simplistic game. The Poacher does not look for through balls, and is likely to play a simpler game if he is on his own. He may run wide if there is no support, but if I changed that role to a CF(A),  it would affect how we counter, in fact it could be worse, because now I have a roaming striker who may try more stuff, and this may also negatively impact my counters. 

What if that tactic was playing against a deep 4222 with a narrow configuration. My ability to counter attack on lower mentalities may not even happen, worse still if I am playing a low defensive line, then all I do is sit back and allow the AI onto me. We want to find a good balance, of drawing the AI out enough and not giving it too easy a route to our goal. Sitting on a lower mentality and a lower defensive line could see it have an easier time parking itself in front of my goal. Here we would want to reconsider our own defensive line. The defensive line in itself tells players in our team how willing we are to see them be higher up the pitch during an attacking transitions. So if we are playing a high defensive line, then they are further from our goal in attacking play, forcing them to cover more ground when coming back. Playing on a low defensive line tells them not to be so far up the pitch. This means that players in advanced positions usually need to be good on the ball on their own.  Here we need to consider the effects of shape.

A structured shape can lead to situations like, strikers bombing off early on a transition. In the example above, I like to play on standard.structured when I am playing against a good team. The lower mentality encourages my team to be more considered with its use of the ball, however, those on attacking mentalities have higher mentalities than they would on a fluid shape. This means that during a transition from defence to attack, these attacking duties think about the attacking transition more. They kick off earlier or they could look to make more aggressive decisions. These again get impacted by their roles, which is why I have gone for a Poacher up front .It keeps things simple.

During a counter attack I know then that my shape affects the AP(A) and the Poacher more, but they will be supported in midfield by the central midfielders. To tweak this further I have opted for a WB instead of a FB, because the WB has a higher starting position which makes him more likely to support the midfield in transition and then when we have taken control of midfield he transitions into the attacking third. 

And I have done this all without having to adjust tempo, and without adjusting my defensive line.

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