While pressing has always been a part of football (at all levels pf the game too), it has arguably gained increased tactical importance in top flight leagues around the world during the previous decade.

As players have become fitter, they’ve also become more adept at pressing consistently and with high levels of aggression, enabling managers to create front-foot and high octane styles of play.

This tactic simply refers to the practice of putting pressure on the ball when the opposing team has it, usually with a view to either regaining quick possession or sustaining attacking phases. To do it effectively, individual players and teams require a number of key attributes, but what are the most important?

Awareness and Football Intelligence

In truth, football intelligence breeds in-game awareness, and it’s important to start coaching these attributes at grassroots level. They’re certainly key to successful pressing, as players must be able to identify potential triggers and determine whether they can execute in time.

For players to achieve this, they must be coached to constantly scan the pitch and play with their heads up. Of course, one of the main criticisms of young attacking players is that they tend to play with their heads down and make poor positions in possession, but encouraging them to scan their surroundings at all times can improve their off-the-ball performance too.

Players also need to understand your pressing philosophy as a coach and the purpose for pressuring opponents in the first place. This will make it easier for them to carry out your instructions individually and as part of a collective.

Fitness and Aggression

The act of pressing often requires one or more players to sprint to the ball, with speed, dynamism and no little aggression. This is especially true when deploying counter pressing tactics, which usually require you to recover the ball within a short period of time immediately after it has been lost.

For example, Pep Guardiola’s great Barcelona side of 2009 employed a ‘five-second rule’, which afforded them five seconds in which to aggressively hunt the ball after possession has been turned over. After this, the players would retreat and construct a 10-man defensive block, but the effectiveness of their counter press usually enabled them to recover the ball and sustain attacks.

Deploying any kind of rule like this challenges your players, both in terms of their positional play and the speed with which they press an opponent. Make no mistake; they’ll need to be fit and play with the requisite intensity to make this tactic work.


As we’ve already touched on, modern-day pressing is a collective endeavour rather than one that sees players engage in individual duels. This is due to the innumerable formations now used at all levels of the game, and players must work together to compress space and specific zones on the pitch.

So, when one player identifies a trigger and presses an opponent, it’s crucial that their teammates read the exact same signal and react in unison. Players may perform different roles too, as some will support the initial press while others will cover in behind to create an additional line of pressure.

With this in mind, an effective press requires players to showcase excellent teamwork and communication at all times, in addition to their in-game awareness and physical attributes. They must also be adaptable depending on their position on the pitch when the press is triggered.

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