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Tactical theory: Pressing

What is pressing?

Pressing is a tactical term that signifies the defending team is being aggressive in their approach to retrieve the ball from the opposition. Pressing can theoretically happen in any third of the pitch but is more common in the middle and especially the final third where recoveries become more effective as a whole. There is a lot of depth when it comes to pressing because there are a lot of terms closely related to it.

For instance, we can talk about a pressing duel when the defender is putting the ball-carrier under pressure without physically touching him or the ball. Note, however, that this shouldn’t be confused with a defensive duel which is the active attempt to win the ball. We also have to mention pressing triggers and pressing traps.

The former is a term used to describe actions or cues the attackers make to activate the defending team’s press. This can be a backwards ball, bad body orientation, bad pass etc. The latter, on the other hand, is a specific strategy the defensive team deploys in order to lure the attacking team into a certain zone or channel where they might be more susceptible to an interception.

Other tactical terms closely related to pressing tactics are PPDA (passes allowed per defensive action), high press, defensive structure and counter-pressing, which is a press deployed immediately after losing possession.

Examples of pressing in football

As we have already mentioned, pressing tactics can be used in different parts of the pitch and with varying intensity. A team may choose to press more actively once the ball arrives into the middle third, using collapsing and aggressive man-marking approaches. On the other hand, nowadays the high press is widely popular and many successful big teams like Liverpool, Manchester City and Bayern Munich use it very well.

There are also various different approaches to a high press in general, as some teams tend to block passing channels while others man-mark and mirror the opposition’s structure. Essentially, it’s difficult to talk about a right or wrong approach since it’s all in the execution of the said tactics. Other aspects like pressing traps and pressing triggers will play a role in the success of a good press as well.

Why use pressing?

Pressing tactics are usually deployed by the more aggressive teams who look to recover the ball high on the pitch. Of course, pressing more aggressively in the middle third is also an effective tool to start transitions but generally, the higher the ball is recovered, the shorter distance the team has to travel to the goal.

When it comes to counterpressing, that’s a strategy teams use since it allows them to immediately press the opposition before they had the time to settle into their stable structure.