As in our previous analysis article where we explored ‘pressing high in the final third , we ascertained that a high press was “A team shape & attitude to restrict opposition time and space in their half of the pitch”. The five key principles for pressing in a high press were: Compact Shape, Intensity, Angle of Approach, Decision Making and Chance Conversion. In this article, we are going to explore how you can play against a high press and exploit it to take advantage of it whilst your team is in possession.

Creating Space – Width & Depth: When organising from a goal kick or alternatively during open play you should encourage your team to set up with both width and depth. Particularly from goal kicks as you cannot be offside, the starting position from your attacking players to stretch the pitch vertically will force the defending team to drop slightly deeper or allow you to exploit the space in behind. See the example below of the attacking team setting up as a 1-4-3-3 versus a 1-3-5-2 from a goal kick. This situation allows the defending team to press man for man which with movement can be played around with the team in possession looking for an overload.

Beating the Press (passing lines): Encouraging your team to understand the different passing lines or passing order will provide your team with a great framework on how to beat the press. For example in the diagram below, the white lines are passes which bypass the press and play into the front three. This beats both the attacking and midfield unit of the opposition team but requires you front three to be able to win duels and secure possession. With movement to create space for these players to receive, this will allow players to be able to receive and allow for other players to move off the attacking player receiving the ball by supporting in behind and advance of the ball too.
Find the Overload: To exploit the spaces left in a high press each player in your team needs to be brave and also have the ability to stay on the ball and also receive under pressure too. Players should look to move to create overloads on the pitch with their movement, with the players on the ball looking to stay on the ball to create space for themselves or their team mates. The ball speed in your passes will either entice the opposition or allow you to evade them by drawing them into one side of the pitch to allow you to play into where the overload is. An example of how you may create an overload is shown here with the no.4 moving into the space vacated by the full back to receive to play forwards and also creating space for other players to move into.
Breaking Lines: As the ball travels both vertically and horizontally, players should look to move between the lines (i.e. two players from the opposition) to receive the ball. Players should look to receive between two players to allow them to beat the press and then play forwards. An example of this is is the no.8 receiving between two midfielders as the no.4 receives and travels into the space engaging the nearest CM from the defending team. To break lines, teams will need to play firm passes to allow the player receiving the ball to receive and evade pressure.

Support Behind The Ball: if players receive under pressure, support is required by the attacking players around and behind the ball. Providing support behind the ball, will allow you to bypass the pressure and will expose other spaces left by the individuals/units that have pressed your team. A great example of this is the no.4 receiving and playing into the no.3 with the no.5 then providing support behind the ball. This will move the opposition team to this area of the pitch allowing you to exploit space in behind or on the opposite side of the pitch. Due to the nature of the high press, the defending team will often try to prevent you from playing forward, therefore, support behind the ball is needed to ensure your players aren’t disposed whilst on the ball.

Influencing your coaching sessions: When approaching your coaching sessions it’s important to recreate sessions that are game related. As I explored in one of my previous blogs: practice designed by the four D’s: Direction, Definitions, Decisions and Difference is a great way of creating game related practices that your players can connect to when you are focusing on a particular topic. The use of constraints will also help support your team in possession but also most importantly encourage the defending team to defend with an aggressive high press. A great way of supporting this is by applying: Restrict, Relate and Reward.

If you are unable to recreate a 11v11 in your coaching sessions or whatever format that your team is playing but you wish to get them practicing against a high press; look at how you can take away players that allow you to coach the topic but with stripped back numbers. A Phase of Play, Small Sided Games or Technical Practice can be used to recreate the type of pictures that you want your players to work on in a match day. For example, in the practice below we have removed the No 2, 3 7 and 11 from the attacking team and likewise we have removed the back 5 from the defending team as well as adjusting the area for the pitch to play on. In this practice, the number 9 players for the attacking team when they have the ball and if the defenders win it he then plays for their team. This type of practice will allow you to work on specific players in a particular part of the pitch and support them on how they will evade the high press.

To conclude, to support your team in training to deal with playing against the high press you should work with your players dealing with playing and receiving in tight areas. Often in training we can overload our team with the ball, but exposing your team to deal with an underload of one, two or three players in an area will allow them to practice against high pressure and develop the skills sets that allows them to evade this pressure.