Pressing in Soccer Explained: The Ultimate Guide 2022

Updated on 
February 13, 2022

You are reading the ultimate guide about pressing in soccer.

After reading this guide, you will understand what is pressing, what types are being used in soccer, and how you can utilize them to the fullest potential.

This article is great for players, coaches, and soccer enthusiasts that want to know more about pressing.

Let's dive right into it!

What is pressing in soccer?

So when it comes to pressing, people usually are able to understand the main point of this tactic.

But what is a real encyclopedia-like definition? What is pressing in soccer?

Pressing in soccer is a tactic utilized by defending a team without the ball. The main objective of this tactic is to win the ball from the opponent. Depending on the type of pressing, the whole team is being aggressive and creates as little space as they can, so the opponent team is forced to make the mistakes.

To put it in a few words: pressing is an effort of the whole team with one goal in mind - to win the ball.

Every well-executed pressing has usually these features:

  • Aggresivity - appropriate amount of aggresivity makes it harder for opponent to keep the ball
  • Forcing opponent to play faster, riskier - so they make mistakes
  • Creation of a tight space
  • Whole team working together - if one player stays behind, opponent could get out of your pressing

My favorite thing about pressing is that it can be exploited by the team, which is not that good on the ball. So even playing against the best clubs in your league could be an opportunity, to apply some pressing tactics.

But before you can use pressing in your favor, you need to first learn about the most common types of pressing.

Types of pressing in soccer:

There are a few main types of pressing that you will see almost in every single game. There are also ones, that are being used even though some teams don't realize it.

Let's have a look at the first one.

1. Low press

So what is low press in soccer?

Low press is the most passive press in soccer. The main reason why is because the defending team is lined up on the defending half. This makes them much more compact, which makes it hard for the opposing team to get near the box.

Most of the best clubs in the world utilize this type of press - especially when they face teams that are holding the ball a lot (FB Barcelona). You basically make your defense much more compact, and that way the opponent will have trouble getting closer to your goal.

The biggest upside I see in the low press is that if the team has fast attacking players, there is a high chance that you will get into a lot of counterattacks.

Great for fast attacking playersTeam is mostly without the ball
Good for secure defenseEnemy team is playing on your half

As you can see, the biggest downside is probably the fact, that the opponent will have the ball much more - and it will be in your half most of the time.

2. Midfield pressing

Midfield pressing is basically creating pressure on the enemy team in the middle of the soccer field. This press is great because it's relatively safe, and it's closer to the enemy team enough to create dangerous counterattacks.

The key here is to get the opposition stuck in one side of the field, where your whole team can apply the pressure needed for winning the ball. It is important that strikers here make sure that the enemy defenders cannot pass the ball to each other - as rotating the ball to the other side of the field is one way how the enemy team can get out of this pressing.

The downside I see in this pressing is that you are starting to expose yourself to the risk of getting a long ball behind your defense line. If the opponent's attackers are fast, I would consider twice if you want to go with this pressing.

Relatively safeThe danger of long balls

I consider midfield pressing as a very solid way to win the balls - as the transition into defense and offense is very fast.

That could be the very reason why most of the soccer formations actually use this one.

Suggestion: Learn how to motivate soccer players.

3. High press

Now that we covered low and mid press, we're getting in my opinion to the most "fun" one.

What is high press in soccer?

High press is the most popular way to win the balls on the enemy half. It happens when the entire team is on the opponent's half ready to win the ball, no matter where it is. It is considered as one of the most effective ways to win the ball on the enemy half and create goal-scoring opportunities.

As a former striker and winger, I had a lot of fun executing this one.

You basically make the life of your opponent harder on the pitch by being aggressive, leaving no space for mistake, and literally "breathing on his neck".

It's a time when most players do mistakes. Usually, when a high press is done well, the enemy team has two options:

  1. Kick the ball blindly away - which mostly results in winning the ball for your team
  2. Try to get out of that situation - and that's a very big risk to take, but it's good for you and your team.

Either way, it's usually a win-win situation for your team, if you guys are doing it correctly.

One big downside is that if they have fast players and strikers, they can easily get into a dangerous counterattack.

Winning the ball on enemy halfExposed to counterattacks
Asserting domination on the field

What do I mean by asserting domination?

Well, did you ever feel that the enemy team is "everywhere"? That they're "too aggressive?". That's how it feels when you are being dominated.

4. Counter pressing (Gegenpressing)

What is counter pressing in soccer?

Counter pressing (also known as a gegenpressing) happens when a team loses the ball and tries to win it back immediately. A good counter press is done immediately after losing the ball, and is fast, aggressive, and creates a big pressure on the opponent team. It's a great tactic that helps to prevent counterattack of the enemy team.

This tactic is usually "a must" in professional soccer. Usually, when a team loses the ball in the attacking zone, they switch without thinking and try to get the ball back. To be able to counter press effectively, every single player needs to be aware of this.

Getting the ball immediatelySometimes hard to execute
Being aggressive & dominating Risk of counterattack

As I mentioned in the cons - sometimes this tactic can be hard to execute. You know, the thing is that it can backfire easily by not winning the ball. When you end up without the ball even after execution of counter press - players get fatigued and exhausted and they'll need a bit of time to recover - and that is a time window for an opponent to strike!

Also, If the opposition team can get out of this situation, you will usually end up exposed to bigger danger of counterattack. In order to prevent counterattack, every player needs to know, where they need to be during counter pressing.

5. Ball oriented pressing

Ball-oriented pressing is a very effective way to win the ball from the opponent. It's about the entire team being as close to the ball as possible, creating a tight space for enemy players. This usually happens on the sides of the soccer field, where you can easily lock the opponent down and win the ball.

I'm a big fan of this tactic - but as with every other pressing tactic, this requires the players to understand what is too much / too little.

Very effective way to lock down enemyRequires a good decision-making skills

6. Zonal pressing

In zone pressing players are in specific alignment reacting to enemy players entering the specific areas and zones, instead of focusing on each individual player. Zonal pressing is also the exact opposite of ball oriented pressing.

This one is the most difficult in my opinion, as it requires the players to really understand the tactic. This pressing tactic also demands great communication skills - especially between defenders. It is definitely not easy to defend attacking players that are making all kinds of runs, and that's why you need great communication in the team.

However, If this tactic is done properly, your team will reap the benefits of running less without the ball.

The benefit of running lessVery difficult to execute well
Demands great team communication

Principles of pressing in soccer

I noticed, that there is a specific pattern for every well-executed soccer pressing.

Here is a full list of principles of pressing in soccer:

  • Aggressity - aggresive pressing is the best pressing. There is nothing more annoying than attacking players that are breathing on your neck every time you get the ball.
  • Fast switching into pressing - this applies especially for the counter pressing. When the team loses the ball, they need to immediatelly swich their mind mode into "get the ball!" and start making the runs.
  • Activity of every player - every player is important in the pressing. Every player needs to actively press. If only one does something wrong, everything can go south.
  • Being smart - while pressing should be done in aggresive way, you need to go also smart about it. Striker needs to think where he must be so the defenders won't rotate the ball with short passing. Midflieders needs to make sure there are no gaps between them. Defenders needs to make sure striker doesn't drop down to the center field and etc. Everything must be done in a smart way.
  • Harmony of the team - it must be clear for every single player on the pitch, what type of pressing your guys are doing. Everybody needs to understand it fully - so there won't be small errors that will allow the enemy to exploit them.

These are just a few principles of a well-executed pressing in soccer.

How to beat pressing in soccer?

The best way to beat pressing in soccer is to practice in training good passing in triangles. If players are active, think fast and pass precisely enough, they are able to beat every type of pressing. Even though it is hard to do, some of the best clubs are able to beat pressing most of the time.

If you have fast players, you could also practice long balls behind their defense line as with most of the pressing tactics opponent is being exposed to counter attacks.

How to teach pressing in soccer?

There are many youtube videos that will show you how to exactly practice pressing in soccer.

Some of the best videos are here:

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Tom Lindeman
Ball Athlete project
Hey! My name is Tom and I created this blog in order to help people wherever they are in their sport journey. Inspirational posts, guides, reviews and much more! Read about the project here.
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