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The Backpage | Tactical Defending Explained

In the first of his new series of blogs, football journalist and FIFA gamer Darren Cross looks at FIFA 12’s Tactical Defending and reveals how you can start preparing for it now…

Hello, and welcome back to The Backpage.

It’s been ages since we’ve spoken, but I’ve been quiet for a very good reason… I’ve spent the last few weeks and months getting to know FIFA 12 a whole lot better. Among trips to FIFA HQ in Vancouver and the UK offices in Guildford, I’ve also managed to wangle a day playing a very early version of the game.

Just don’t tell my Editor at MATCH that, he thinks I was in meetings.

By now I’m sure you’ve hoovered up all the available info on the new game, so I’m not going to go over old news by writing about the headline features that were announced last month. Instead, over the next few weeks I’ll be focusing on what these features and changes actually do to the game and the gameplay, what that means to you and – in some cases – how you can start preparing for them now. And as always I’ll aim to include a bit of real football insight if it directly relates to the game, which will prove to be the case a lot as we take a much closer look at 12.

So you’re going to notice that FIFA has changed as soon as you turn 12 on for the first time. I’m sure you’ve picked that up so far. You’ll instantly spot the new menu system – horizontal instead of vertical – and the improved presentation of the matches, which is now closer to the kind of package you’d expect to see on Sky or ESPN.

Once you’re done being quietly impressed with that, the game will kick-off and you’ll immediately see the new Player Impact Engine at work as players move about the pitch and react to what’s happening around them. It looks amazing, and some of the collisions and their effects will have you wincing… then quickly accessing the replay function for another look as you wonder just how the team at EA Canada have made this all look so real.

However, it’s not how things LOOK that will make the biggest impression on you initially, but how things FEEL. I’m talking about the new Tactical Defending feature, which is going to slap you in the face and shout ‘I’m new!’ as soon as you start working on winning the ball back for the first time.

In FIFA 11 you don’t really have to work all that hard on defence. The press and standing tackle feature take care of all that for you, tracking down the player with the ball and pressing them constantly until your team win it back. As the defender, all you are doing is holding one button to press – or two to double press – but as the attacker you feel a bit like the ball is a hot potato… something to get rid of quickly due to the heatseeking defender that is inevitably closing in on you.

Great for the defending team, but a little unbalanced and not really all that realistic.

Realism, as I’m sure you know, is something the team behind the game strives for and prides themselves on, so it’s no surprise that this system has been completely overhauled, but let me just explain what I mean when I say that the defending system in 11 isn’t as realistic as it could be…

For starters, constantly pressing with multiple players can rip a team’s shape and formation to pieces. I’m sure you’ve seen this happen in FIFA 11 and – if you’re anything like me – you’ve probably fallen into the trap of over-pressing then watched with horror as the opposition skips through a gap in your defence, which has parted like the Red Sea, due to both of your centre-backs being roughly 40,000 miles out of position.

You just don’t see that in real football (well, unless your unfortunate enough to be watching my amateur team play on a Saturday) and so you no longer see it in FIFA. Now a defender will track the path of the ball, but won’t go surging in to win it right away like he will do in 11. You now control the distance your defender stands from the attacker, and you also have control over which areas of the pitch you want to shepherd the attacker into. If he wanders into an area that would take your player out of position, you switch to a defender in a better position and begin the process again. Finally, and crucially, YOU choose the exact moment to make an attempt for the ball.

This is exactly how defending works in real football.

If you speak to any professional footballer, they will tell you that the first job of a defender is not to win the ball back, but to slow the opposition player down and direct him to areas of the pitch where he will either do no damage, face more traffic or be forced to turn back.

If, during that process, they get a chance to win the ball back then they will of course take it, but what they don’t do is go mindlessly rushing forward in search of the ball without any thought to positioning.

Neither will you in FIFA 12, and it’s this that will take the most getting used to.

I don’t mean that in a negative way though. Yes it takes time to forget the pressing system from FIFA 11 and you will spend the first few games instinctively trying to press, but once you get the hang of it – and you will – the experience is infinitely more engaging, rewarding and realistic.

Which brings me on to my final point; how you can prepare for this new system now.

The answer is simply to watch some football. As much football as you possibly can, paying particular attention to what is happening with the defending team.

Watch the body shape and positioning of the defenders and notice how they attempt to direct the attackers into disadvantageous positions. They will do things like force a player on to his weak foot by standing to the attacker’s stronger side. Wide midfielders will show attackers infield where they know they’ll have more bodies in the way to intercept and – most importantly – all defenders will stay on their feet until they’re as certain as they can be that they’ll get something on the ball if they go for the tackle.

Look out for these things, take a mental note of how they’re done and I guarantee you the transition to FIFA 12’s Tactical Defending system will be smoother.

And don’t worry that’s it’s the closed season either; there’s still plenty of live matches for you to check out. The Copa America starts on July 2 and there are more than a few players there who can teach us all a thing or two about defending. I know I’ll be watching.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave a comment below. You can also follow me on Twitter @Darren_Cross and I’ll try to keep you up to date with everything #FIFA related.

See you next week,
Darren