How to Defend Against Pace?

“Pace” is something of an obscene word in the world of FIFA. Many of us have loaded up an online match of Ultimate Team and been greeted by a dreaded opposition of speedsters, complete with strikers out of position just to make sure the sweat doesn’t stop pouring.

We’ve all scorned “the p-word” out of frustration when losing a match, but how is it consistently possible to stop teams who overlook squad balance for quickness across the pitch?

Bleacher Report spoke to a range of top-level FIFA players to answer just that. Although dealing with pace can be overwhelming—and relentless—there’s a handful of techniques that can swing the battle in your favour.

While most gamers are capable of providing some resistance by relying on a defensive setup, how do you maintain a consistent attacking threat while keeping things tight at the back?

“Be aggressive and try to read their play; the counter-attack will be available if you win the ball early,” Lightning Pandas’ esports player Sean “Dragonn” Allen said.

Hasib “BosnianMonster11,” a regular top-100 FUT Champions player on PlayStation 4, suggests an effective way of dealing with pace is by not letting your opponent have the ball.

“Defending against pace is difficult, especially if you don’t have the top-tier FUT players, which are difficult to attain,” BosnianMonster11 said.

“There’s a solution to every problem, though. Play possession football in a defensive formation or match your opponent’s formation. I personally use 4-2-3-1 narrow. It allows me to play a possession style of play while also having two defensive midfielders to quickly track back. I can then switch to them in order to cut the passing lanes to the incoming forwards.”

Proactiveness is a recurring theme on the quest to overcome those who rely on speed to break through defences. Quite often, even FIFA 18’s best centre-back pairings will leave a chasm of space open for forwards to exploit. The danger is obvious—and should become apparent as soon as a striker lays the ball off before bursting forward—but actually dealing with it is a much more challenging task.

“Try to select one of your centre-backs and watch the run, you should be able to intercept,” Dragonn advised.

AS Roma’s esports star Sam “Poacher” Carmody agrees with Dragonn’s assertion: “Try to detect the runs as early as possible so you can adjust and control your centre-backs to stop them.”

Jamie “Jamboo” Rigden, an esports player for West Ham United, also notes an instant reading of the game is needed: “The only way to stop pace is to manually switch to a defender and either block the pass or track the runner. Depending on the position, it may also be effective to bring the goalkeeper out to clear up.”

Top-100 Xbox player Thekesss also added: “If it is narrow and you are defending against pace, then it’s best to be patient until you 100 percent know you will make the tackle.”

Planning ahead of time is all well and good, but in those moments where it doesn’t work, a back-up plan is needed.

“I’m afraid once the ball is through, your best bet is to pull a full-back out of position using the right stick to switch and try to tug the attacker while the rest of your back line is reformed,” BosnianMonster11 said.

The implementation of custom tactics ensures most players will fall back on a style they’ve utilised for an extended period of time. Minor details can make a huge difference, and this is particularly true when facing quick teams.

“I think if you’re dealing with someone who is clearly using pace with over-the-top through balls, the way to stop it is to set your defensive line to stay deep,” Jamboo said.

Poacher also follows this line of thinking. “Lower the pressure/aggression on your custom tactics. I like to have them both between 30-45 depending on the formation,” he said. “You can defend against pace without custom tactics, but it’s easier with them if you don’t have a good pressure strategy. Now I just use what I normally would use and adjust during the game to how I see fit.”

BosnianMonster11 suggests a high line is maintained if you utilise the offside trap in custom tactics, but individual player instructions can also pay dividends. “Simply use ‘stay back while attacking’ or ‘cut passing lanes’ on your full-backs and defensive mids to decrease the likeliness of pace having a play,” he said.

No matter your tactical preference, there’s one situation on FIFA 18 that leaves the majority of players facing up to the quality of the opposition’s counter-attacking skill. Corners can quite often turn into vital situations for the team taking them, as a sudden loss of possession has the potential to leave you exposed on the break.

“I play mine short so my team can reform, as a loss of possession would allow a quick-blazing counter-attack, which is extremely dangerous,” BosnianMonster11 said. “When you’re facing the Premier League stars like Raheem Sterling, Anthony Martial or Ahmed Musa, you know a goal is beckoning.”

Over a year after FUT Champions opened up competitive FIFA to a global audience of players—from aspiring pros to established names—talk of a narrowing “skill gap” has followed most of the series’ patches and updates.

Discussion of AI-defending usually leads the conversation. This is the act of keeping your defenders in position by failing to switch to them while manually dragging a midfielder back to compete for the ball. It’s a common tactic among players as it ensures your team shape stays solid, but does it make a difference against quality pace teams?

“In certain positions, it’s still effective to let the AI defend; second-man pressing is very effective in some areas and a lot of the time can still lead to the AI winning you the ball back,” said Jamboo.

Poacher doesn’t believe AI defending is a viable tactic against the best, but there’s more than enough room to exploit it during lower-tier matches. “It’s not the best strategy to defend at the pro level, but it’s very effective for those who are unskilled as you can easily get away with it,” he said.

Despite AI defending becoming a popular technique, the ceiling for success is much lower if it’s continuously used. “You can only let the AI defend to a certain extent; they can still drift off and make silly tackles if you don’t control them,” Dragonn said. “AI defending works sometimes at the top level, but you won’t see many pros abusing it.”