Rest Defending: Defend While Attacking



France's team is celebrating their goal in the World Cup

The World Cup champions of 1998 and 2018, are one of the candidates to win the 2022 edition, too. Majority of media is focusing on Griezmann and Mbappé, as the major threats the French national team has in attack – after Benzema and Nkunku injuries during the training camps before starting the World Cup. Today, though, we want to focus on their center backs – Upamecano and Varane – and their behavior during the attacking phase.

Didier Deschamps based their success at Russia 2018 in building a very compact team, starting from the defense. And of course, in order to defend well, you need to attack well. So what are France’s pair of center backs doing so well?

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Both Raphael Varane, playing for Manchester United under Eric Ten Hag, and Dayot Upamecano, playing for Bayern München under Julian Nagelsmann, are center back who are used to actively contribute to their teams build-up phase being able to provide emergency supports to their teammates, filter passes to midfielders and strikers, and drive the ball when they are in advantage. These behavior is also replicated when playing for the French national team during this World Cup.

However, there is another aspect of the offensive phase that they are mastering: rest defense. So what does this concept mean? Rest defense is the action – usually applied to center backs and holding midfielders – of marking your direct opponent while your team is attacking. But of course, are they marking their direct opponent during the offensive phase? Well, no. It is the balance of being available for the build-up and applying magnificent rest defense that makes their performance so high. During this analysis we will explain in which moments they are applying this concept and why it is so important for their team.

In these first actions, we can see how Varane and Upamecano are very close to their direct opponent and anticipate the action when they are a potential receiver or are actually receiving the ball. This concentration shown by the French players while their team is attacking is a key asset for center backs to help teams defend high in an effective way.

Rest defense, as performed in the actions we can see below, is key to avoid dangerous offensive transitions by the opponent. This action, even though it has a defensive connotation, it is important to understand that it is performed during the offensive phase. So, it is while your team is attacking that center backs – and also holding midfielders – must be active in this duty, as if done once your team has lost the ball, it might be too late and could allow deep players or link players receive the ball in advantage and build a dangerous offensive transition.

France – 1.Varane_Upamecano_rest_defense

As we mentioned in the beginning of this analysis, though, the key about rest defending is to identify when is the right moment to do it, as doing it during the whole attacking phase would mean that center backs are not available in the build-up phase or would not be able to provide emergency supports when full backs or midfielders are in a situation where the ball possession is in risk.

So, the question is, when should center backs apply rest defense? Well, football of course is not mathematics, so there is no magic formula to understand when is the right moment to start rest defense, but the idea is that in the moment your team progresses in the game and center backs are no longer a passing option, is when they should start marking their direct opponents.

France – 2. Upamecano_support_and_restdefense_a

France – 2. Upamecano_support_and_restdefense_b

Should they keep marking their opponent until the end of the attack? Again, the answer is no. The same way, we mentioned above that center backs should start rest defending when their team progresses in the game and they are no longer a support option, they should separate from their direct opponent once the team is circulating the ball back or we recover the ball after a clearance from the opponent.

As we can see in these actions, Upamecano and Varane are initially marking their opponent, but in the moment the team is circulating the ball back or getting control of a clearance, they immediately separate from their direct opponent to become a support option. This balance, and center backs understanding the difference between when to become an option to play the ball and when to apply rest defense, it is crucial to manage any dangerous transitions.

France – 5.Varane_support_restdefense_support_a

France – 5.Varane_support_restdefense_support_b

As we have seen in this analysis, even though France presents one of the most deadly attacks of the World Cup with Mbappé, Griezmann and Dembélé, it is the rest defense that their center backs apply during the offensive phase what makes them a complete team, who are able to defend while attacking and protect themselves against dangerous counterattacks. Varane and Upamecano performed at a top level against Denmark, being able to mark closely and deactivate transitions during the whole match.

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