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How to defend in FIFA 21: The top 7 defending tips

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FIFA 21 isn't all about pressuring your opponent. As well as trying to score goals, you also need to prevent your opponents from getting one past you. Here's how best to shore up your defences.
Written by Stacey HenleyPublished on
FIFA 21 is a hugely offensive-heavy game, with most players taking the Galactico “I’ll concede three but score four” attitude. Diego Simeone would be tearing his hair out. It’s true that the game doesn’t suit tight, containment football in the way the real thing does, but you’ll find yourself having to defend a lot through some entertaining end-to-end affairs.
If you want the upper hand at the back, these tips will offer it. Unfortunately, ‘kick them off the park’ isn’t an option, so again, Simeone probably isn’t best pleased.

1. Don’t use the AI

FIFA-21-Defensive-AI
Manual control, more often than not, is the way forward
In FIFA games in years past, the game didn’t put too much emphasis on actual defending – simply holding down X/A (contain) or R1/RB (second man press) would do the job for you. These functions still exist, and can be effective for shifting players over – second man press still has its uses – but manual defending is definitely the way to go now.
Further down, we’ve got tips to actually help with that, but the main thing to bear in mind is that you need to care about defending as much as you do about the more interesting attacking options.

2. Jockey

FIFA-21-Defensive-Jockey
Pulling players into spaces they don't want to be in is a key tactic
One of the best ways to do this is via jockeying. We see the best defenders in the world do this regularly, guiding the attackers into ineffective areas, or just outright jockeying them out of play. It’s a tactic typically favoured by strong, fast, intelligent defenders like Van Dijk or Varane.
Holding down L2/LT will mean a defender faces up their opponent and can keep them contained, without needing to commit themselves to a tackle. Adding R2/RT turns it into a fast jockey, which is especially effective if you’re trying to cover ground or want to make interceptions in midfield.

3. Defend the space, not the player

FIFA-21-Defensive-space
If you focus on opposing players too much, you can leave yourself open
Speaking of which, you’ll see that the best defenders in the world don’t make tackles all that often. Paolo Maldini even said that tackling is a sign a defender has made a mistake. Bombing forward to wherever the ball is can rarely be effective, as attackers will then just lob or pass the ball past you. Instead, focus less on always trying to tackle 100% of the time, and rather on blocking out avenues for passes or making sure a winger has nowhere to go.

4. Switch players effectively

FIFA-21-Defensive-switch
Switching up players allows your team to dominate more of the pitch
Switching players is especially effective for this. FIFA 21 will suggest the player closest to the ball, but a lot of the time, this player might already be in a good position. Football is a team game, and so is defending. You should use the right stick to manually switch rather than rely on the game’s suggestions, as that puts you in complete control of which player to switch to.
It needs to be someone close enough to the ball to get there in time, but not someone already in a good position or covering a path for a pass.

5. Have clear instructions

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Knowing exactly how you want a match to play out is important
As Jose Mourinho would probably tell you, defending starts on the tactics board. You can give your defenders specific instructions, so if you’re playing a formation that is defensively exposed, you’ll want to tell your full backs not to join the attack. If you feel you need more cover, you can tell your central midfielders to drop deep.
Regardless of what formation you play (more on that below), you’ll want to get the balance right for your team. Giving them specific instructions on the team selection page can help each player achieve their potential.

6. Get your formation right

FIFA-21-Defensive-Formation
You have to make sure your formation plays to your team's strengths
There are a lot of formations in FIFA 21, and while some are better than others, none of them are effective if you’re playing the wrong players. A back three can work, but relies on pacy, mobile defenders. If you’re playing a formation which relies on attacking full backs, make sure you have a central midfielder with lots of stamina who can cover for them. No formation will cover everything, but by looking at your best players and their strengths and weaknesses, you will find the formation which is right for you.

7. Use hard tackles to dominate

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Getting in with a hard tackle is sometimes the only way to dominate
A new addition to FIFA 20, hard tackles are back for FIFA 21. Holding down standing tackle (O/B) or slide tackle (Square/X) results in a more powerful tackle than just a press. This is risky, as it sends your player flying into a slide tackle or barging into their opponent for a standing tackle, and with poor timing, this can either leave you in a heap on the floor or give away a penalty.
These should be used sparingly, but are incredibly effective at covering space if a striker is streaming through on goal. Around two power bars seems to be about right.