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Tactical theory: Block

What is a block?

The tactical term block is usually used to describe a team’s organised defensive structure. However, we can also differentiate between a low block, mid block or a high block depending on the height of their defensive line. For that reason, depending on the type of block we encounter during a football match, we can usually say how aggressive or passive a team is and what their general defensive tactics are.

When talking about defensive organisations, we can also mention the type of marking they use within their block. Generally, we can divide their approach into a man-marking scheme or a zonal defence. The former means that every opposition player has a predisposed marker on him who will cover his every movement. In the latter’s case, players defend zones as opposed to specific players, meaning once a player enters their zone of defence, he becomes their responsibility.

Some other terms that we closely connect with a block are PPDA, compactness, intensity, aggression, defensive structure, defensive shape and penalty area. The term PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action) is a metric we use to analyse how aggressively does a team press in defence. The lower the PPDA value, the fewer passes they allow per defensive actions and the more aggressive they are.

Examples of a block in football

The most important thing about a team’s defensive block is how high it is positioned, which can then tell us a lot about their tactics in general. A low block is the best weapon when you want to achieve compactness just ahead of your penalty area. Teams who defend in a low block usually resort to counterattacking tactics and transitions to hurt their opposition and will mostly frustrate them to submission with their defence.

Likewise, a mid or a medium block is generally a compact unit positioned somewhere between the halfway line and the defending team’s box. This is the block that we see most often in games and the more passive teams usually swap between a mid and a low block when they are out of possession. A mid block can then either transition into a low block if the team is retreating or a high block if they want to press the opposition.

A high block would mean the defensive unit is positioned around the halfway line and is heading into the opposition’s half. The high block can then move into a high press which involves an aggressive approach to ball recovery.

Why use a block?

A block is not something someone can choose to use or not, it is always present in any team’s defensive structure. It is the height and the type of the block that coaches get to play with in their tactics. Generally speaking, the type of your defensive block will reflect your approach and all three have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Some focus on compactness and purely their defensive mechanisms while others may be more geared towards counterattacking and aggressive ball retention.