The high defensive line is a high risk style of play that see’s a team push up in order to shut down the amount of time an opposition has to play, however it requires high levels of skill and cohesion as the team stepping up leaves spaces to run into. The high line has been by deployed by some of Europe’s crème de la crème with teams such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich utilising it to great effect.
Playing with a high line compresses the pitch and makes it difficult for the opposition to move the ball with as much space and time. Essentially, the high line will often go hand in hand with a pressing style of defensive play that begins from the front as it requires all players to step up and make the pitch smaller for the opponent. It essentially promotes the idea of counter-pressing, whereby teams aim to get the ball back in 6-7 seconds, to the positions that naturally get taken up by the players on the pitch.
With defenders positioned roughly around the half way line when in possession it is also easier to recycle the ball and go through different patters of play at a faster rate. Whilst this does require defenders also be useful technically, it can be important in maintaining pressure on the opposition.
Playing with a high defensive line will leave a large amount of space behind the defence meaning there is plenty of room for a striker to run into when making movements in behind. It is quite susceptible and often comes unstuck when you see opposition allowing a striker to stay on the shoulder of the last and and try make runs in behind. By sliding balls in behind the opposition can quite easily get the defenders facing their own goal, which as a defender is not where you want to be positioned. And whilst we have seen Bayern Munich under Guardiola use this system with great effect, this style of play will result in the occasional hiccup where goals that are conceded look remarkably simple .
The formation is also taxing for the goalkeeper is it often leaves his isolated in one on one situations, however as Manuel Neuer has shown in recent years, it can be countered by developing this form of ‘sweeper keeping’ whereby goalkeepers essentially cut out any balls played behind the defence by rushing off their line. The problem with this is it is a high risk style of play that requires a goalkeeper with technical ability and speed.
The system requires players that are technically and tactically astute with high levels of skill. It suits teams that are looking to dominate a game as opposed to those playing on the counter-attack, therefore it should not be implemented by each and every team.