Pretty much all of Europe’s leading sides now adopt some form of high pressing game, from EPL giants like Liverpool and Manchester City to Bayern Munich and Xavi’s Barcelona team.
Of course, this philosophy was a direct response to the threat posed by low defensive blocks and counter attacking sides, which were happy to cede possession of the ball while controlling the space on the pitch.
High pressing teams look to dominate possession and space, however, making it an incredibly difficult tactic to counter when it’s executed well.
In this post, we’re going to look at some ways in which you can counter the high press, especially in instances where you’ve won possession of the ball.
1. Create Space by Going Wide and Deep
When organising your team from a goal kick, it’s probably wise to avoid playing the ball short and inviting pressure.
Instead, you’ll want to move your own defensive line higher before playing the ball a little longer, as you look to create width and depth and stretch your opponents all over the pitch.
Typically, high pressing teams also deploy blocks that are compact horizontally, so one option is to push your fullbacks to the touchline and pick them out with flat, aerial balls. They may subsequently have a little space to move into, pushing the defending side back and negating their press in part.
Remember, players also cannot be offside from a goal kick. So, another tactic is to push your forwards players high and beyond the defensive line, before asking your keeper to hit a long ball in the space behind. Defending sites will have little choice but to drop deeper and shift away from your goal line.
2. Focus on Vertical Passing and Breaking Lines
Perhaps the worst tactic when in possession is to pass sideways, backwards and slowly, as this invites pressure and may encourage the opposition to swarm you.
Instead, you should always encourage players to identify vertical passing lines and look to break these where possible, ideally with quick and accurate balls along the ground.
Often, breaking the first or second lines of your opponents’ press will force them to drop back into their shape and compress, while also offering you an opportunity to progress the ball quickly and get attack any space in behind.
Of course, you’ll need technically proficient ball players throughout the team to achieve this objective, with the weight of pass and a player’s willingness to take the ball in tight spaces key. Movement is also important, as receivers must take up spaces where they can be found through the passing lines and subsequently help build attacks.
3. Provide Support Behind the Ball
To beat a high press, your players will definitely have to receive the ball and retain possession in tight spaces. However, you can help your players by providing support around and behind the ball, in order to move your opponents out of position and create space that can subsequently be exploited.
For example, if your deepest midfielder drops into the defensive line to receive the ball, ensure that the closest centre back takes up a position behind him and the full back pushes wide ahead. This creates two passing options and a de facto overload, while potentially creating space in the middle third too.
An attacking player or midfielder could even drop into the midfield space to provide an outlet and collect possession, enabling them to turn and attack the opposing defence and potentially launch a quick transition.
Regardless, the key is to provide support to players in possession and ensure that they have more than one passing option, as this makes it much harder for your opponents to press effectively.