Shielding the soccer ball doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Just ask Roy Keane, a player who earned a fair amount of respect when he played for Manchester United.
Overall, shielding the soccer ball is an art that is a key part of the game that doesn't get as much attention as it should. Not only are you protecting the ball, keeping possession, but it also allows you to hold the ball up until a teammate can get into a better position. And it’s surprising how many times goals are scored off a player shielding the ball so another player can make a run or get into position to cross the ball or shoot.
Shielding doesn't have to be a conservative type of play, trying to kill time down near the corner flag towards the end of the game. Rather, shielding the ball can lead to a number of goal scoring chances.
If you receive a long pass but don't have any support, you can shield the ball towards the sideline all the while looking to switch the ball to across the field to a teammate making a run. Shielding allows you to keep the ball but also move forward. Just because you’re shielding the ball doesn’t mean your carrying the ball back away towards the goal you’re attacking. Players who are exceptional at this are Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Memet Ozil, Kaka, to name a few. These are all midfielders who use their body, with a physique that's small in stature but strong, but keep the play moving and flow up field into the attack rather than backwards. They drag the ball with them into the open space, whether it’s to the inside or the outside they are always trying to push the ball forward.
If the defender forces you wide then except that and hold the ball up in the wide area. Then, when a teammate is open you can lay the ball back to them so they can play it forward - the key is to keep the ball and keep the possession flowing. If you have to, try to win a throw in by forcing the defender to either foul you or kick the ball out of bounds.
A player can also shielding the ball and use the defender as a way to cut back in the other direction, sort of roll off the defender, using them as a screen. And then continue in the other direction. Let them force you they way they want to, all the while shielding the ball, and then roll back the other way. If they then cover you again the other way, chop back and go in the direction you give you.
Shielding the ball is sort of liking letting the defender contain you but not letting them win the ball, and all the while looking for a teammate making a run. Actually, you should know where you teammates will be, or should be, and then should read the play so you can play the ball before the defense sees what you’re trying to do. Shielding the ball gives you the time to do this.
There are also moves and turns that work well when you’re shielding the ball. There's the Cruyff chop or cut back, the step over turn, the sole of the foot pull back, and even the Roulette move by Zidane is a quick shielding type of move, as he sort of a spins as he shields the ball.
But shielding is a constant and fundamental part of the game. If you can’t use your body to protect the ball, can’t turn away from pressure and keep the ball away from a defender, can’t cut back with either foot to protect the ball, the game will become very difficult very quickly.
Too often, young players, say a forward who has just lost the ball, will foul a defender deep in the defensive third when all they needed to do was hold the defender up and contain them. There is absolutely no reason for fouling a defender in their own defense third when their back is turned.
Receiving the ball with your back to the goal, and a defender right on top of you is essentially shielding. You're goal is to keep the ball, hold the ball up so you can lay the ball off to a teammate. Watch some of the world’s greatest forwards, players like Ruud van Nisteroly, Ibrahimovic, Klose, Diego Forlan, or David Villa, all forwards who check back to the ball and in one or two touches lay the ball back so their team can build up an attack. The forwards enable a team to move up the field and get out of pressure. They stretch the defense and then hold the ball so the team can move up the field. The secret though is dragging the defender away so you have space to check back to and receive the ball.
However, it's not just forwards who check back and receive the ball, midfielders too. They check back to help out their defenders who are under pressure. They lay the ball back to the defender so they can then play the ball into a forward. The key is to be big and strong, use your body to protect the ball, get the ball out of your feet with the first touch and then lay the ball off with the second.
Here's another good video that further explain how to shield the soccer ball. If there's one skill in soccer that's under appreciated, it's shielding.