Press Soccer Explained: The Ultimate Guide

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Press soccer: Pressing in soccer will always look a lot easier said than done. They require teammates to be on completely the same page. Because one wrong decision can lead to the press being broken and provide the opposition with a free attack.

Pressing is arguably the first tactically nuanced concept to enter the mainstream. And unsurprisingly it has become a vague buzzword that often seems to mean whatever the user wants it to mean.

In this post, you will learn the basics of what makes an effective press and how they can successfully implement throughout a full game.

What is pressing?

Press-in soccer involves your team pressuring the team in possession of the ball as a cohesive unit. The goal of a press is to force the opposition into mistakes that your team can capitalize on in dangerous areas of the pitch.

Pressing is a collective action that defines how, why, and when a team looks to close down en masse. This can be either to win the ball directly or counterattack off the back of it. Or it can be to force the opponent to pass in a direction they want them to go.

Typically the players leading the press will be the forwards and midfielders. And they must work together by setting traps and closing off passing lanes to reduce the option oppositions players have on the ball.

By working together they can also force opposition players into certain areas of the pitch. They know they’ll have a higher chance of winning the ball back.

However, all the players must be on the same page. Because all it takes is one player to not do their job and the press can be easily broken.

The 4-3-3 soccer formation is great for teams that want to press high.

Types Of Pressing In Soccer

The three main types of pressing in soccer are The High Press, The Medium Press (or Midfield Press), and The Low Press. Each of these presses takes place in a different part of the field. Let’s take a look at each of these types of pressing in soccer.


The High Press

A High Press is a type of pressing in soccer that takes place high up on the pitch, inside the opponent’s half. The purpose of a high press is to put pressure on the opposing team with the aim of winning back possession of the ball quickly and as close to the opposing team’s goal as possible.

The main advantage of a high press is that if a team does win possession of the ball, they are in a good position to create chances and score a goal. The biggest disadvantage of a high press, however, is that if a team fails to win back the ball, there is more space behind them for the opposing team to exploit.

For this reason, teams that employ a high press often have to have a high level of fitness. Because not only must players be able to quickly switch to defending if the opposing team counter-attacks, but they must also maintain energy throughout the game. This is also sometimes referred to as defending in a high block.

The Medium Press

The Medium Press is a type of pressing in soccer that takes place in the middle or central third of the field. For this reason, you may also hear the medium press referred to as the midfield press. Teams that engage in a medium press often allow their opponents to possess the ball in their own defensive third in the knowledge that it is far away from the goal they are trying to defend.

The main advantage of a medium press is that players have more time to collectively find their defensive shape. And if they do win the ball back they are still relatively close to their opponent’s goal. The main disadvantage of a medium press is that by allowing your opponent to have the ball initially, you give them the opportunity to control the rhythm of the game and build out from the back. This is also sometimes referred to as defending in a medium block.

The Low Press

The Low Press is a type of pressing in soccer that involves a team sitting very deep & close to their own goal. And it allows their opponents to attack before engaging and trying to win the ball back. Teams who defend in a low block have to rely on high organization and defensive discipline in their own half and be patient in not having the ball for long periods of the game.

The main advantage of a low press is that your opponents commit more people forward. And if you do win the ball back there is plenty of room to counter-attack. The disadvantage of a low block is that a mistake defending near your own goal can often lead directly to a goal. The low press is also sometimes referred to as defending in a low block.

What are pressing traps and triggers?

A well-choreographed press has been worked on in training to follow a highly specific set of instructions. It covers where to position the players and when to suddenly snap into the press.

The level of detail is best exemplified by the use of pressing traps. This is when a team deliberately leaves a player or space open for the opposition. It effectively lures them into making a specific set of passes until they are in a position more favorable to the defending team (e.g. close to the touchline) or they give the ball to a particular player.

For example, a team may have identified one central midfielder as being particularly weak on the ball. The shape of their press would then encourage a pass into this player. Then, three or four pressers would swarm that midfielder from all angles.

A pressing trigger is an action that jolts the defending team into action. For some teams, the pressing trigger will be any heavy touch from the defender. For others, it will be a certain minute of the game or the ball entering a certain zone of the pitch.

How to measure pressing

The best way we have of capturing pressing statistics is “passes per defensive action” (PPDA). It calculates how many passes the other team is allowed to make before the team attempts to break it up.

This is an indirect and imperfect way to measure pressing intensity, but it largely works. Because it gives an indication of whether defenders or midfielders are left free to pass the ball around. It effectively shows how high the line of engagement is.

A high PPDA number means more opposition passes before a defensive action. Or in other words, a low PPDA score means lots of pressing. It inevitably translates to engagement high up the pitch.

Everton and Norwich, despite their pressure numbers, are in the top three for PPDA. Besides, unsurprisingly, Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester City make up the bottom three.

Styles of pressing and differing lines of engagement

The thing to look out for, beyond the PPDA number, is the extent to which a team appears to be working together in how they close down, as well as when and how long for.

For teams like Liverpool or Man City, the purpose is to immediately win back possession, the swarm approach taking advantage of their high starting positions (due to their general territorial dominance) to keep the opponent penned in. But for those lower down the table, there is a lower line of engagement.

That is a concept Klopp made famous when he said gegenpressing was the best playmaker. It is a system pioneered by Rangnick and adopted by the likes of Hasenhuttl (just with less frequency), Klopp, and Thomas Tuchel to various degrees.


But even Klopp and Rangnick are slightly misunderstood. It isn’t actually possible to press high constantly throughout a game.

There are plenty of times when you have to fall back into a regimented formation. And the gegenpressing is really about what you do immediately after losing possession. It is designed to counter the counterattack. Both Klopp and Rangnick are keen to press hard for a while before giving way to organization

How pressing looks in action

Whereas pressing the space paralyzes action, pressing players means often the opponent can receive the ball but only under immense instant pressure. In Guardiola’s philosophy, evading the press is tough. But, once you do so there, tends to be space in front of you.

In the Bielsa approach, a pass is available (often left open deliberately to lure you into the trap) but after receiving the ball it is very hard to turn and move forward. To illustrate the point, Leeds top the Premier League charts for tackles while Man City is 19th.

In time, Man Utd will be more like the latter, and already green shoots are appearing. They won the ball in the final third 12 times against Palace. It is the most in a single United league game since Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013. Besides, Ronaldo applied 11 pressures, his highest figure for the season.

What you will see is an entire team pressing as one, acting on triggers, and setting traps. What you won’t see is the ferocious pursuit of the ball in every phase of play, because that just isn’t practical.

It will take a long time for Man Utd to get it right. Because contrary to the casual way the phrase is thrown around these days, the press is a complex set of tactical instructions that cannot be taught overnight.

Sum up

Pressing is no different from acquiring any other skill in soccer. And as a coach, you must be consistent and patient when teaching your players a new skill.

Also if you know of any other soccer drills for pressing that other coaches may enjoy then please leave a comment below at Footballterms.

Thanks for reading!

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