How To Coach Pressing

Pressing has become an increasingly important aspect to the modern game. Some of the most successful teams in the world play a high pressing game, including Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. As a result, it has received great attention worldwide and is beginning to be implemented everywhere as a strategy, including with young players.

Pressing can be defined as the elimination of space and time by the team not in possession, through quick and immediate action. In its definition alone, it is obvious why pressing is such a beneficial part of modern football. Quite simply, pressing ensures that the attacking team has a limited amount of time on the ball and is forced to make poor decisions. The goal of pressing is to win the ball back as soon as possible after losing it and it is a great mechanism for stopping teams in their quest to play out from the back.

But believe it or not, pressing is something that might not always come as a first instinct to young players. Young players might think it is best to hold their position and wait to intercept a pass instead of shutting it down immediately. As a result, they may be reluctant to press. So how do you coach pressing? How do you instill a pressing mindset in young players? That is the question.


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To help young players understand when and how to press an opponent, the concept of “pressing triggers” can be introduced. These are a set of circumstances that should prompt youngsters to go and press their opponents. A lot of these will seem obvious and intuitive, however it is important to find the right ways in which to communicate these triggers to your audience, which may include children and youth. The most obvious of these triggers is when a player is closest to the ball. If a player is closest to the ball, chances are they should press their opponent and try to force a mistake. Other pressing triggers include:


When a player makes a bad touch, they may be off-balance and they may be struggling to sort their feet out. This makes it the perfect time for the opponent to try and win the ball back either individually or as a collective unit.


Although this can often be hard to tell, when it is obvious that a player is carrying the ball with their weaker foot, a press can be an effective way to force them into a mistake. If a player consistently looks very weak on their left-foot, players can try to force them onto that foot through the angle of their approach.


When a player has their back to goal, there is a very limited chance that they are going to be able to progress forward. In order to ensure they have no time to turn their body shape around and make a forward pass, a quick press should be conducted by the closest to the ball with a supporting player coming in to cut off a backwards or sideways pass that is likely to ensue.


When a player hesitates to make a pass, they are usually uncertain about what choice they are going to make. As a result, if the defending team can force a player to make a decision through quick and immediate action, the wrong decision might be made. If a player isn’t pressed and is allowed to make any decision they like, they are far more likely to make a correct choice and execute it too.


One of the more naturally intuitive triggers, a slow or loose sideways, backwards or even forwards pass, should always be pressed. If the defending team can’t win and intercept the ball on the pass alone, they can limit the options of the receiver and slow play down even more.


There is a certain amount of debate in the football world about when to show a player inside vs. outside, which is another article all on its own. However, when a player is already at the edge of the field, a pressing player has two options, both of which can be good options. First, they can force the player out of bounds by angling their body in that direction, wining a throw-in. But perhaps an even better option, they can force the player to the inside (especially in their opponent’s defensive third), in order to get closer to goal and try to intercept the ball in a more dangerous area. Both can be good options, but either way it is important to press a player on the edge of the field.


Pressing can take place anywhere on the field, but it is usually done by teams high up the field, in the opponent’s defensive third. This is otherwise known as defending from the front, where a team tries to win the ball back immediately after a goal kick or after a reset of possession. A massive shift has occurred in the past twenty or so years as more and more teams are playing out from the back. Pressing high up the field is the best way to stop a team from playing out from the back, so it’s a mystery why more teams don’t implement a high-pressing system. If pressing is conducted in a team’s own defensive third, it is almost always better to force a player to the outside, rather than inside where they have a better chance of scoring. If pressing is conducted in an opponent’s defensive third, it may be advantageous to force the player to play back inside.


According to gegenpressing guru Jurgen Klopp, the best shape for a high pressing game is the diamond formation. Klopp articulates that even when his team are playing in a 4-3-3, one of his central midfielders (likely the closest to the ball) has a crucial role in the diamond press and shutting down the opposition. The diamond shape is fantastic for pressing. It provides balance on the far side, cover or pressure on the near side and top of the diamond and cover in behind. In this example pictured above, the closest to the ball is the top of the diamond, who is responsible for pressing. Meanwhile, the winger and central midfielder are covering the only two passing options the ball carrier has. On the far side, a second striker is providing balance by preventing a pass being cut up the middle, while also giving the defending team a quick outlet if the winger or striker is able to intercept the ball. The ball carrier’s only options are therefore to hook the ball up field and hope that a target man-esque player is able to bring the ball down, or quickly turn around and play back toward their goalkeeper. If the player turns, they run the risk of the defending striker closing the ball down. If they play forward, they force their team into a 50-50, and become likely to lose the ball. This forces the opponent to make a bad decision regardless of what they choose to do, making the defending team very likely to win the ball back, which is what pressing is all about.

Triangles are very effective for many aspects of the game, but a diamond shape is likely the best shape for pressing. Without the top of the diamond pressuring the ball carrier, the player on the ball has far more time to make a decision. As a result a 4-4-2 diamond formation or a 4-2-3-1 may be most rooted in a pressing style game. Borussia Dortmund have been one of the best pressing teams around this season, utilizing the 4-2-3-1, while RB Leipzig have implemented the tactic well in a 4-4-2 diamond. That being said any formation can be used to create this diamond shape and teams in recent years like Liverpool (4-3-3) and Manchester City/Bayern Munich (4-1-4-1) have been very effective in defending from the front using other formations.

So there it is! How to coach pressing to younger players. This article only provides a brief introduction into one of the most researched and talked about topics in modern football. However, this should help teams get started with how to properly execute this industrious and valuable style of play. Have any comments or questions? Leave a reply below and make sure to follow The Mastermind Site on Twitter.

You might also like 5 Myths of Youth Sport4-3-3 vs. 4-1-4-1: Tactical Flexibility and Best Formations for 11v11. See you soon!




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