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Football News: Tactics: Part 3 - Pressing

Tactics: Part 3 - Pressing
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Tactics - Part 3 - Pressing

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I see a lot of confusion about pressing, how it works, what it is and how it differs from just merely having a player or two close down the opponent with the ball. The problem is compounded by commentators and pundits who constantly bang on about 'a press' when none is in evidence in that particular game. The simple fact is that most of what is called a press is simply players closing down the man on the ball. The press is so much more, it is a tactical system such as a low block, though almost the complete opposite of it in terms of philosophy.

Then there are the kinds of press. In basketball they would refer to a full court and half court press, which is very similar to two of the main variables in pressing in 'soccer'. Football parlance tends to refer to a high press, instead of full court. That is when the pressing team, having turned over possession, will immediately try to win it back as high up the pitch as possible. A high pressing team will look to condense the space by keeping the defensive line high and players will press even if the ball goes back to the keeper.

The half court variety, something I have seen called a low press amongst other names, is when the defending team drops into their own half and only presses the ball when it crosses the halfway line. Even these come with caveats, as a press is not, unlike most of the media were trying to suggest with regard to Jurgen Klopp's teams when he first arrived in England, applied constantly once possession is turned over.

The press itself is when a group of players, usually 3 or more, look to surround the man on the ball and force him to give up the ball by cutting off any options for him. If he manages to get a pass off, then the press will switch to the next man on the ball and so on. The press can also be applied differently. Some managers will look to have players literally hound the man on the ball in a pack, others will have a looser press, with one or two closing on the ball, while the rest pressing take up positions to block passing lanes the player on the ball could use.

It's usage is designed to force mistakes out of a player on the ball, the press is making them rush and move the ball far quicker than they want to or risk getting caught on it. The intention is to win the ball back with the opposition out of position trying to attack you, so that there are spaces for you to attack with the ball. That is why a press is more useful to a team that counters quickly or is direct with their attacks. A team playing possession football, who move the ball forward in stages, will not get any real use out of the press and it will just be an unnecessary expenditure of energy.

That energy is the big issue with pressing, it costs a lot of effort as it has to be done at high intensity to be effective. If the pressing players amble over to the man on the ball, it gives him time to assess his options and pick a pass. Pressing players have to be at full pelt for the entire time they are pressing, which is why managers will tend to set a limit on the press. It usually varies from 4 to 6 seconds of pressing and then drop deep and sit in position if the ball is not won.

Then it is a case of waiting for a 'trigger' to press again. A misplaced pass, heavy touch or a stumble, for example, would be the signal to launch a press all over again. One of the triggers Pep Guardiola favours is when the ball goes wide. The reason he likes his players to press players in wide areas is because the sidelines limit their options. It is like having an extra man to press for you, as the man on the ball has no option to that side.

One thing is for sure, a press is not just players mindlessly chasing the ball around the pitch. Each manager has his own idiosyncracies that decide how and when a press is applied and even that will usually vary depending on what the opposition are doing. Like everything in football, the theory is simple but in application it becomes very nuanced and technical these days. It has evolved as players become fitter and faster, the more professional lifestyles allowing the top teams to use it throughout a season without the players flagging from exhaustion. In a normal season anyway.

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To read the previous Tactics article - Part 2 - The Low Block, click here.

Written by Tris Burke April 23 2021 21:09:54