In this tactical analysis piece we explore the what, why & the how of pressing high in the final third. In the examples we have used a 4-3-3 shape but the principles apply to any other formation.

What is Pressing High In The Final Third?

“A team shape & attitude to restrict opposition time and space in their half of the pitch”

5 Key Principles

Compact Shape: In any defensive shape, the whole unit needs to be compact & organised with a clear plan. The distances between units are hugely important preventing any spaces for the opposition to play in and break any lines. When pressing high, the whole team need to squeeze up the pitch as one and at the same time to prevent these gaps occurring. If the attacking and midfield unit press and the back 4 remain in the same position, it will allow the opposition to play over the press and take them two units out of the game. It’s also important that the distances between players horizontally are not too big stopping any passing through the unit.

Intensity: To press high in the final third requires an intensity and a determination to win possession of the ball as close to the opposition goal as possible. Without this high intensity in players approach to the ball, the opposition will have enough time to play around them and consequently through the team. It also has to be well measured and not a case of sprinting flat out towards the ball. Like the above point, every unit needs to be on the same page and going together. This means as the attackers press, the midfield and defensive units are backing it up from behind.

Angle of Approach: With pressing the ball higher up the pitch, it relies on those attacking players to become the most important ‘defenders’ for the team. These players need to think about how they close down the player on the ball to promote passes into certain areas of the pitch where the team have good numbers. For example the #9 when closing down the centre half wants to prevent the switch of play to the second centre half. To do this the run needs to be curved cutting off the passing lane across the pitch and instead forcing the ball into wider areas to trap on the sideline or into central areas where players are receiving facing their own goal.

Decision Making: When pressing high in the final third, there will be occasions when it’s a better option to drop off and regain shape. This is a key decision that will be dictated by the intelligence of the forward recognising if it’s a good time to press or not. It might be a case where the team is out of balance after being on the attack and the best option is to drop in and wait for players to recover to then press. If a team is to press high it’s vital they all commit to the press. Players behind the ball should communicate to the forwards telling them to press if they feel the moment is right.

Chance Conversion: A key reason to press high in the final third is the ability to win possession near the oppositions goal meaning less distance being needed to cover to muster an attempt at goal. Within 1 or 2 passes on regain, an opportunity can be created to score. Once the ball has been won, the player on the ball needs to show good quality in their passing to setup a chance at goal. If the press is effective and then possession is lost straight away it then it becomes ineffective. Once the chance has been created, players have to show composure and confidence to score selecting the right type of finish/technique.

Why might you press high in the final third & what qualities does your team need?

Examples of How to Press High in the Final Third