As far as young coaches who are turning heads go, Rúben Amorim’s methods saw his Sporting team overcome English giants Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in their arrival into the latter stages of Europe; making Sporting Directors amongst the elite sit up and take note of his schemes. His defensive ideologies and philosophies set the Portuguese coach apart from his peers and we analyse his principles below.

The first video shows his teams response to various situations in their first game against Spurs. For example, Sporting are aggressive in their squeezing of space when the ball is passed backwards in the first clip, catching Ben Davies offside.

The 2nd clip demonstrates the discipline of the defensive line; with the opponent in possession without pressure on him, and allowed to lift his head to play a pass in behind, Nuno Santos (#11) alters his body-shape in order to see and stay in line with his teammates, whilst now being able to recover in towards his own-goal should the opponent be onside.

In the 3rd clip, the elite levels of anticipation are clear, especially in the 3 central defenders, who all read and adapt to intercept passes into the Spurs front three.

The 4th clip shows the complete unity and perfect synchronization in the positioning of the three central-defenders once one of the opponents are found with a pass between the lines; creating a scenario where Harry Kane has no option but to pass to offside teammates.

The ‘strong-sided’ lateral centre-back leaves his zone in the 5th clip, and upon his return into his zone, he drops ever-so-slightly too deep, however the rest of the defensive-line correct this by immediately dropping to be in line with him.

The final clip shows the lateral centre-back on the ‘strong-side’ being attracted to the wing by Richarlison, leaving a gaping space in a central area. Spurs left-back Ben Davies attacks the said space, but the central defender corrects the distance by defending from in-to out, matching the run of Davies instead of the central-midfielder having to chase him (which would’ve been too late).

So then, how can opponents attack this type of defensive blocks/line?

Well-coordinated attacking routines are never easy to construct, especially in open play, but there are methods that will facilitate opportunities. The ‘double arrivals’ being one of them; probably the fastest ‘routine’ to implement if you don’t have time or a depth of quality in your range of attacking resources.

That said, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are surely the team who have best interpreted this method to date, setting a blueprint in their 5-0 victory in the Portuguese capital.


The sequences of both goals perfectly exemplify the intention: to invite the defensive line to jump and stagger, both vertically and horizontally, with 2 different players arriving, either at the same time or one just after the other.

It is important that attackers are unmarked, in channels next to each other and attacking the blindsides of the defenders; The intention is to play with and manipulate the metre and a half of space created between defenders, to stagger the defensive line and thus hurting the opponent with the second player arriving. First Sterling arrives, and then Bernardo in the first goal scored by Mahrez, and then in the opposite order, with Sterling attacking the inside channel just after Bernardo attacks the wide channel in the 2nd goal.

Guardiola spoke on facing Sporting last season, heaping praise on Amorin (from 0:20″ in the video in the tweet below)

Sporting’s reverse fixture against Tottenham in London demonstrated Amorim’s flexibility as the reactions and readjustments from the defensive-line adapted once the midfield had been surpassed or played through.

His central-defender adapted his behaviour (within a 5-2-3/5-4-1), according to the distance between the defence and midfield lines at the moment that the opposition striker receives the ball.

If the distance between the defensive-block is stretched because the central-midfielders have been attracted by opponents, a more conservative behaviour is witnessed. The centre-back always has the license of jumping to apply pressure but prioritises staying deeper in these scenarios.

The line of the penalty area is utilised as a refence-point when the ball arrives to the winger/crossing area, and midfielders can then end up recovering to close distances and spaces between lines.

The threat of Kane and Son is always in mind.

We see this exemplified with Coates (#4) in the first clip, firstly backing off and preferring not to engage with Kane, then jumping to be aggressive moments later when distances are shorter. We also see at 1:03” the detail of the ‘frontal’ body-shape. This is a technique used to “block” immediate spaces around him (key and central) limiting passes going behind him into central areas whilst also delaying Kane’s decision and execution, which, again, buys time for recovery runs from teammates.

Another thing key to cover in Coates (#4) is his body-position during the slight stagger in his recovery run, in this case diagonal enough to run backwards once the Kane has released the ball, but frontal enough to take up space and look like a real obstacle.

Then, at 2:02”, with less distances between the defenders and midfielders, he goes to apply pressure.

If the first example occurs (larger distances between defensive lines and the central-defender of the back three staying lower) and the opponent, after attacking centrally initially, ends up playing the ball wide, the lateral centre-backs jump immediately to go up against and slow down the wingers/attacking-midfielders (Son/Lucas Moura) as soon as they receive the ball between the lines and behind the double-pivot. Seen with Reis (#2) at 0:46” and then Inácio (RCB #25) starts to creep towards Son at 1:02”.

Now, how does his team respond if the winger/attacking-midfielder (Son/Lucas Moura) drops down to receive beside the double pivot; an extremely common behaviour against a 5-2-3, since the jump is too far for a lateral centre-back to make, and the double-pivot is usually matched up against central-midfielders?

The lateral centre-back does not jump initially, he loses metres, staying deeper with the rest of the defence up to the trained height (in this case, about 3-5 metres in-front of the penalty area), and there he stops. The rest of his teammates continue to lose height to defend the area, and he forces the player in possession to make a decision and pass. We can see this in play with Inácio at 1:18” and at 1:38”.

This technique blocks progress for the opponent as the defensive-line can allow itself to recover whilst not letting the opponent arrive to the edge of the area, thus denying dangerous situations/shots from central areas etc.

If the lateral centre-back then arrives too late to defend the front post because of a fast transition (1:40”), playing with 5 at the back adds that extra man, and the central-defender (Coates) can defend against the forward’s movement on the near post. As soon as the opponent slows down, the lateral centre-back ends up arriving (1:22”).

One final individual micro-detail:

A critical part of Amorim’s methods is the defensive body-shapes of wing-backs if they have to prepare to defend the ball in-behind when the opponent receives between the lines (Nuno Santos (LWB #11) in 0:09″, Pedro Porro (RWB #24) on 1:19″ and 1:39″).

This closed body-shape (looking inside) not only allows the wing-backs the option of changing their body-shape if there is a pass into the winger; so they must defend a 1v1 or a cross – the timing of the hip-turn is critical; and must be done during the recovery run, and not at the beginning (which would be forced if they defended with an open body-shape) – but also facilitates a collective component.

Looking inside, wing-backs affords the lateral centre-back the license to jump without risking the gap between central-defender and wing-back becoming too wide. The wing-back can then react to passes behind his back and, as soon as the ball goes wide, he takes off. We also see this demonstrated in the in the minutes noted.

Read part 2 here.

By Jordi Bacardit – @jordibp29

With permission, this article was translated from Jordi’s threads here: 1 & 2 . All videos are made and create by @jordibp29