Rock solid defending in 5 weeks WEEK 1 PRESSING

Pressing is vital to the modern game. In fact, it is one of the key defensive strategies left as a legacy of Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona team of 2010. “Without the ball we are a disastrous team, a horrible team, so we need the ball,” he admitted that year. As a consequence, when they lost it, his players were drilled to win it back very quickly.

Guardiola has changed clubs but hasn’t forgotten this basic principle. Check out his Bayern Munich team of 2014, and you will see the same tactic deployed at an alarmingly quick rate. The mantra is: lose the ball, win it back. Fast forward to 2019 and you’ll see him doing the same thing with Manchester City

These days most successful teams like to regain possession as soon as they can. When teams are quick to close space it puts a huge amount of pressure on the player with the ball, making them more likely to allow the defending team to intercept or steal the ball following some poor control or weak passing. Pressure makes simple passes become very difficult and a misplaced pass gives the ball back to the opposition.

Smother the opposition

The way teams like Barcelona and Manchester City press is almost like a blanket – they move as a unit and smother the opposition. They will press the wings to keep the ball out there and away from danger zones.

However, pressing zaps energy and most teams won’t be able to press the opposition for long periods of time. Usually pressing is at its height when the game first kicks off and teams are hungry for the ball. This is a great time to put pressure on opponents, forcing them back and claiming the psychological advantage.

If a team starts the game with full pressing, almost hounding the opposition to give up the ball, this will inevitably be followed up by ‘half pressing’, when the pressing team waits until opponents have crossed the halfway line with the ball before reacting, thus saving energy and being much more solid at the back. Teams will also ‘fake press’, where just one player will chase the man with the ball while the other players rest.

Use the tactic

Pressing should be looked on as a tactic to be used at certain times in a match – this selective use of pressing will enable teams to get the benefit of the policy at key points, while not tiring too soon.
What teams must work out is when to press and when to sit back and let the ball come on to them as it crosses the halfway line.

As individuals, each defender will have to practise their own approach: when to press, how quickly and how tight. Body shape is important too, half turned to one side or the other, with knees bent and weight forward. They must also learn when and where to support team-mates – which side to open up and how close they should be.


If you want your team to concede fewer goals, you need your players to close down the space and press to get the ball…
> Players must close down quickly while the ball travels
> They should slow down as they approach the attacker in possession
> It’s important to get tightly in touch to prevent the attacker from turning
> Body shape is important. Player should bend their knees and stay sideways on to the ball
> When pressing, players should mirror the feet of the attacker
> Pressing players should always be prepared for the next action, whether it’s to delay or tackle

This week’s two defending sessions are by Justin Neese, the Under 11s coach at MLS club Houston Dynamo, and they look at where and when to press in order to help regain the ball and win the game.

Share this

Follow us