In the first volume of ‘A look at the defensive traits of Rúben Amorim’s Sporting’, the Portuguese coach’s principles and adaptations to the varying attacking threats of Tottenham were covered. The level of micro-details in place are constantly evolving and the ‘sequel’ will demonstrate the routines and reactions of the defensive-line which were in place in the overcoming of Mikel Arteta’s title-chasing Arsenal.

With the ball in the wide channel, the strong-sided lateral central-defender (RCB or LCB) is in charge of dictating the height of the defensive-line:

It is important to point out that we are talking about a structure in 5-2-3, and this responsibility typically falls to the lateral CB, however the centre-back in the middle of the three can also be the one trusted in setting the height of the line, depending on the situation (eg. if lateral CB is marking the player making supporting runs, the control of the backline is in the hands of the central defender).

In a backline of 4 this principle varies.

If accompanying the “leader” of the line at all times, and the line leader forgets possible runs in-behind, the CB needs to adapt to the control and body shape of the opposition player in possession. Let’s pay attention to St. Juste #3 and Diomandé #26 at 0:07”.

The former marks the line’s height as he is the lateral CB on the strong-side, however he is losing metres in his completely lateralized body-shape (unsure where Gabriel Jesus is) and when Zinchenko denies a deep pass, he steps forward during a backwards pass, the backline follow him out, and Jesus is then left offside.

Behaviours with a compact-block behind the ball as it circulates in the central lanes, or on opponent’s reception between the lines:

With the ball in the three central lanes, the central-defender in the same lane as the ball sets the height of the line. In the event of a misjudgement which sees a member of the backline finding himself surpassed, the line quickly drops a few metres; both to reorganize and be able to see the threats in front of them, knowing that the line is uncoordinated. Diomandé in 0:08” is a clear example of this.

Arsenal create an overload in the half-space, forcing the wing-back to jump before exploiting the space behind him. The backline loses height, dropping to be a metre and a half behind the ball against a possible cross. Once the ball is played backwards, they squeeze out again.

Change of “Backline leader”

In the second clip, Arsenal start the attack from the left (St. Juste leads the line), but when the ball reaches to the right, Inácio (#25) starts to do so, as we can see at 0:45”. The backline uses him as a reference (we see how Diomandé takes a little step forwards).

In the replay we see that Martinelli is offside, but Jesus was on.

Arsenal’s circulation to change the opponent backline’s reference is extremely well thought out and a devastating tool when faced with blocks like this: St Juste does not react quickly enough to going from line leader to follower in a matter of seconds.

Response after midfield are surpassed

With the backline being able to intervene on reception, the wingback takes a small step forward, and holds a frontal body-shape which delays opponent progression and allows support to come from his teammate.

If the attack is stopped and they turn to play back, the backline positions themselves 7-10m in front of the penalty area (two full cuts of pitch grass).

Let’s stop for a moment to point out a question about the individual body-shapes that can be seen in this clip:

It is very important that, in addition to the lateralized body shape to be able to take steps backwards, forwards and diagonally whilst being ready to race, turn to alter trajectory, use arms to make contact…defenders are facing the ball at all times.

In the other clips this principle is demonstrated, however if we look at St. Juste at 0:27”, he is turning his back on the ball and therefore he doesn’t take a little step forward because he doesn’t see his teammates, and the offside would have been a close call.

In the 2nd and 3rd clips, it is impossible to intervene immediately, and the backline is forced to retreat.

Something that Arsenal did very well throughout both games (more so in Lisbon) was depopulating the backline by attracting it’s references out to then attack the vacated spaces, knowing that the defenders on the weak-side would be milliseconds later in jumping out to squeeze.

When the backline drops, the edge of the penalty area is used as a reference point to reorganize. Defenders can drop slightly deeper, getting closer to the penalty point if the player in possession gains metres without pressure, but at the slightest hint of the attack slowing (lateral CB goes out to the ball, or delays the attack), defenders return to the edge of the penalty area.

Diomandé demonstrates this principle on 0:48”. Martinelli runs in-behind but the Ivorian forgets about following him, ‘un-marks’ him and squeezes again. The rest of backline accompanies him. Defending with such IQ and extremely high levels of intentionality and concentration was both impressive and atypical in a game of this magnitude for his age of just 19.

Behaviours in defensive transition:

A short clip of a counter-attack solved by deciding how far they want to drop and defend, with some extra merit of Ugarte (CM) who executes it and demonstrates the clarity in the idea by the entire group.

With the ball under pressure, if defenders reach the predetermined and previously noted height of 2 cuts of grass (more or less), the counter is slowed down and the danger becomes slightly less threatening. Neither Inácio (at first) or Ugarte (secondly) followed Saka’s run, cleverly playing the England international offside.

Sporting inevitably suffered at times against a fantastic Arsenal team, but the manner in which they qualified at the Emirates was of enormous merit and the defensive methods and principles of Amorim played a starring role.

By Jordi Bacardit – @jordibp29

To read Volume 1 of Amorim’s defensive principles, click here.

With permission, this article was translated from Jordi’s thread here. All videos are made and created by @jordibp29