'Pressing' - is one of the buzzwords in modern football, spoken regularly by pundits and coaches across many levels.

Such are the tactics and strategies that some of the world’s top teams are using when out of possession, it's become a significant part of the game.

Here, we unpick the detail of pressing to help you understand more and enable your team to spend more time with the ball than without it.

What is Pressing?

In its simplest form, pressing is when pressure is applied on the player or the team in possession.

Initially, it will be one player that presses, and if done correctly, will be supported by a number of players whose job it is to provide cover, as well as to cut off passing lanes into the attacker’s teammates.

The ‘pressing game’ has evolved significantly over recent decades. For those old enough to remember the days when goalkeepers could receive a back pass and pick the ball up, there didn’t seem much point in pressing the ball high up the pitch.

The introduction of the back-pass rule in 1992 revolutionised the pressing game and teams began to press further up the pitch in an attempt to keep the ball as far away from their goal as possible. But, more importantly, if they did win the ball high up the pitch they didn’t have far to go before they reached the opponent's goal.

In recent times, it was Pep Guardiola and his Barcelona team that took the pressing game to a new level by the introduction of the counter press.

This occurs immediately after the team in possession gives the ball away in the attacking third of the pitch. Barcelona became masters of winning the ball back immediately after losing it, by quickly pressing the opposition as they started to disband into more forward positions.

This is the strategy that Jurgen Klopp has become known for with his teams at Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool. You may have heard the phrase 'gegenpressing', which is German for 'counter pressing'.

Why do you press?

Individuals might press to:

  • TURNOVER - win the ball back from the opposition.
  • DENY SPACE - prevent the opposition from progressing up the pitch.
  • MAKE PLAY PREDICTABLE - force opposition into areas you want them to go.
  • DELAY – allow for teammates to recover.

When would you use a press?

Players can press at any time. Some scenarios of players pressing might be:

  • When a young player enthusiastically closes down an opposition player.
  • When a player recognises ‘trigger’ cues e.g. A bad first touch or pass.
  • Immediately after losing the ball (counter press).
  • A team coordinates their movements to apply pressure, making play predictable and eventually winning the ball back.

What are the strategies for pressing in different areas of the pitch?

A strategy for pressing in different areas is dependent on the spaces you are prepared to leave.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the different pressing strategies:

When wouldn’t you press?

  • When you are isolated. Pressing on your own and the opposition will just ‘pick you off’
  • When you are underloaded. Try to DELAY for as long as possible to wait for teammates to arrive
  • When you might leave dangerous spaces for opponents to exploit

The methods to apply a press?

Know your surroundings

Knowing your surroundings can help significantly help your decision of:

  • whether to press or not
  • the angle of the press to cut off passing options

Pressing Technical Information – the 5 S’s!

Shut Down – aggressively travel to the player on the ball

Slow Down – consider the distance away from the attacker to slow… do not get beaten in your 1v1 dual!

Sit Down – get low, shift your balance to the side on and force the attacker where you want them to go

Stay Down – be patient – don’t dive in. Let the attacker make the first move

Show Down!! – can you:

  • steal it
  • rush them into a mistake
  • halt the attack
  • force them sideways/backwards

Encourage a teams ethos to win the ball back

The nearest player might press aggressively and with support from surrounding teammates who provide good cover positions, combined with positive communication to the first defender can help form a team ethos to winning the ball back.

Come up with your own terminology

Consider different terminology that might be appropriate for your players. For example. Calling ‘Pack of Wolves’ to your team when they lose possession might encourage your players to ‘hunt’ the ball back in pairs and threes, surrounding the player in possession and leaving them with very few options.

Session Examples for Senior Football and Youth?

We have some example session plans for you to download and adapt to use with your team and players, focused on;

  • Pressing
  • High Press
  • Counter Press

TO VIEW AND DOWNLOAD THESE SESSIONS CLICK 'COACHING PRACTICES' ON THE LEFT-HAND MENU (you will need to log into your MiMentor account, sign-up for free, or subscribe.)

Also known as…

  • Geggenpressing = Counter Press
  • High Press
  • Deep Block
  • Pressurising
  • Closing Down
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