What Is Rest Defense?

It’s what you don’t see

Have you ever watched a soccer game on TV and wondered what was happening just offscreen? The camera usually follows the ball, as that’s where the action is. But in the modern game, many coaches are focused on what happens in transition – when a ball is won by one team, and therefore lost by the other. More and more coaches are concerning themselves with rest defense.

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This makes sense in 2023. The top players now can provide incredible quality at incredible speed. In order to protect themselves against quick breaks, coaches have made rest defense a huge tactical ploy.

A Common Spawn Point

Like many tactical trends since the 2010s, rest defense has its roots in German football. The word “restverteidigung” was first coined to describe it. To translate, verteidigung means defense. The rest portion is not a verb (“to rest”) but rather a noun (“the rest” or “the leftover”). Rest defense therefore is what the remainder of the team is doing when the attacking unit is on the attack.

ASTV: The Tactics Board

As teams become more adept at attacking in transition, coaches are more concerned with defending in transition. Employing this strategy allows teams to cope better defensively if their attack breaks down.

Your Rest Defense Is Offensive

As an under-appreciated aspect of the game, rest defense is most visible when it goes wrong.

Here’s an example from Liverpool’s 5-0 win over Manchester United in 2021. The hosts had pivoted to a pressing style just a week before, but the structure was haphazard and their application of this tactic was all but nonexistent.

The front four are pushed up towards Liverpool’s goal. The back four stays in a somewhat compact defensive line.

This leaves just two United players in the midfield. As Liverpool’s false nine drops in to support the midfield three, Liverpool has an obvious advantage. United plays an imprecise forward ball, yet the fullbacks begin to creep forward, ready to join the attack.

Ideally in this rest defensive structure, the backline would stay together and compact just in case possession is lost. By moving up, the fullbacks, specifically Luke Shaw at left-back, leave Man U exposed if they lose the ball. Which they do. Jordan Henderson dispossesses Paul Pogba, and there’s a noticeable gap for Mo Salah to exploit.

Foot Stays On The Pedal

This gap between Shaw and his center-back is far too big. The defense’s inability to move together means Salah is well onside. Henderson plays a very good through ball, and Mo is able to complete his hat trick.

It doesn’t matter if the game is level or you’re already 0-4 down. You must always be switched on and mindful of your rest defense. Lest you neglect it, you risk being punished.

Next time you’re watching a game, see if you can spot a team’s rest defense when the ball is turned over. Maybe, you might just see the goal before everyone else.

Another Monday of looking for answers as we look at the recent struggles but put all of it in perspective as we talk about the 35th anniversary and what it means to us
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