Mauricio Pochettino (the newly appointed Tottenham Hotspur manager), Gerardo Martino (former Barcelona), Jorge Sampaoli (Chile), Eduardo Berizzo (newly appointed Celta Vigo manager), Pep Guardiola – all have the words “press with intensity” inscribed into the playing-style within their coaching philosophy. All directly inspired by Marcelo Bielsa (newly appointed Marseille manager).
Also included in each philosophy of the managers listed above, will be the idea of getting into the pockets of space behind the opposition’s midfield – regardless of the approach they take towards possession. In a recent friendly (pre-World Cup) between South Africa and Australia, the importance of pressing in high areas being coupled with the idea of breaking the opposition’s midfield lines in numbers was highlighted [see video below – analyse positioning of Australia upon freezes]. Like Bielsa, Ange Postecoglou prefers to press with intensity and play ‘vertical football’ (playing into these pockets of space as quickly and often as possible) and since the South Africa friendly, Australia have impressed at the World Cup – despite finishing bottom of 2014’s group of death that included Netherlands, Chile and Spain.
In the English Premier League, we are blessed with a few high pressing teams that we can analyse and take information away from: Rodgers’ Liverpool and Pochettino’s Southampton are probably the two best examples.
Aside from a quick and high back-line, a great detail of understanding is required from the players on the field. This article looks to theorise the many possible pressing triggers into just four categories and provides depth to what otherwise might appear to be unorganised madman-like intense pressing. There is a calculated art in pressing well and it isn’t something you can achieve overnight or by simply drawing on a tactics board. Players need to become automatic actors (habitually, without thought) to trained triggers and understand how and where to set up specific traps. It’s perhaps Hodgson’s failure to recognise that the core of his starting XI at the recent World Cup spend all year pressing high up the field, only to then be asked to sit in a medium to low block for England (but that’s another article within itself). For the same reasons, Adam Lallana’s habitual action upon triggers should be highlighted as a positive reason for Liverpool’s purchase of the midfielder. England’s use of Lallana did not allow for Lallana to press as he does for his club or move into space in a way that benefits the new Liverpool signing.
Under Mauricio Pochettino, Southampton football club were said to use over fifteen pressing triggers. Fifteen pressing triggers. Given that Pochettino is a former student of Bielsa, it’s not entirely unlikely that so many triggers were installed – after all, Bielsa once said that “there are 26 ways to play football” and “36 ways to communicate through a pass”. It’s therefore not a world away to think Bielsa has used twenty or more specific triggers.
“A man with new ideas is mad – until he succeeds” – Marcelo Bielsa
At a recent World Football Expert Meeting in South Africa run by the world’s greatest coach educator, Raymond Verheijen and his World Football Academy, an established professional football manager revealed his team are sent out with the instructions of only three of four specific triggers, depending on the opposition. It is far more likely that football teams press with three or four pressing triggers in reality. That said, I believe that all these pressing triggers can be theorised into just four categories that are easily followed through a slow implementation of ideas and triggers.
Below I have categorised the many pressing triggers into four categories and then detailed many of the triggers widely used in football.
Four main categories:
- Attacking team are not organised/yet to transition into shape that supports ball retention
- Opponent’s conditions for control* are not present/yet to be created.
- Patterned traps
- Pressure in relation to risk
*Define: ‘Control’ = The conditions to execute the desired football actions, i.e. to dribble, to pass, to shoot, to cross etc. Control of the ball is not an objective within itself. Control can be present at arrival without having to take an actual touch to bring the ball under control.
1. Attacking team are not organised/yet to transition into shape that supports ball retention
1a. Opposition remain compact
1b. Six second rule (as above)
1c. Defensive player overload (more of us than them around the ball!)
1d. One vs. one match ups in the final third
2. Opponents’ conditions for control are not present/yet to be created.
2a. Bouncing ball
2b. Poor touch (opponent looks down at the ball to re-attempt)
2c. Ball is on opponent’s weak foot (force action on weak foot)
2d. Ball yet to arrive at the opponent
2e. Slow/backwards pass (rush decision)
2f. Opponent receives the ball flat-footed (cannot play forward)
2g. Pitch/weather conditions (meaning control is created less often)
3. Patterned traps
[See Southampton v Liverpool video – note Lallana’s head turn upon first freeze to check the trap can be set] A reoccurring pattern from Southampton is for the ball to be forced inside from the opponent’s defenders and then forced back to the defender (allowing for time to get organised). Thereafter, the ball is forced wide against the touchline where Southampton have a defensive overload to win the ball.
“The touchline is the best defender in the world” - Pep Guardiola
The touchline creates a situation where the opponent’s angles are reduced by 50% and as a result, teams like Atletico Madrid (whose midfield set up narrow), Barcelona (trap: closing the fisherman’s net) and others have found much success forcing the opposition wide into set traps.
4. Pressure in relation to risk
Defending teams that press in high areas will often have three different approaches to pressing the opposition depending upon which area of the field the moment occurs (final third, middle third and defensive third). There are three key types of pressing that can be used in football: man-to-man pressing, zonal pressing and option-based pressing.
TYPES OF PRESSING
Man-to-man pressing: often used in the final third to rush the opponent. The objective is to force mistakes and/or force the opposition into playing the ball long and increase the possibility of losing the ball. This type of pressure typically follows the rule of ‘nearest man’ gets to the opponent as quickly as possible, only to stop within a metre of the opponent. For this type of pressing to be maintained over large parts of the game, it is necessary for you to find ways to manage the tempo of the game in other areas (due to fitness limitations) and also ensure you have an appropriate training methodology for this specific pressing approach
Option-based pressing: a type of pressure used to force the ball into a predictable area, only for players to act quickly upon the pass into the only option left open. This type of pressing is often the basis for setting up traps in different areas of the field. It is important that for your team to close off all other options, they mark tightly other potential options (or go ball-side of his man, rather than stay goal-side), but offering space to the one option you want to force the opposition into.
Zonal pressing: typically used in midfield areas where you force play into a defensive overloaded area (e.g. 4 vs. 3). Forcing play into a set zone before pressing.
“Don’t mark a player, cover the space between two players. The opponent thinks he’s unmarked, making pressing easier” - Pep Guardiola
VIDEO 1: Second Southampton FC Pressing trap – again, forced inside then out into a defensive overload – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRHGpImbq30
BOOK 2: Coaching the Tiki-Taka Style of Play Book – http://shop.soccertutor.com/Coaching-the-Tiki-Taka-Style-of-Play-p/st-b019.htm