The aim of pressing in football is to apply clever, planned tactical behavior to steer the opponent and put him under pressure so that the ball can be won. The aim is to create an outnumbered situation close to the ball. This is then used by aggressive attacking (often also: doubling) to win the ball. There are countless ways in which this can be done.

A first important question is in which team tactical formation you want to act in the game and in the pressing. Depending on this, the individual phases of pressing must be broken down and worked out. For example, when playing with three strikers, it is often the case that the opponent is directed into the centre, as you tend to be more open on the outer lanes.

With a four-man midfield and two strikers, it is a good idea to let the opponent play to the outside in order to win the ball inside in a second phase. This classic 4-4-2 system in football offers a good balance of a strong centre and a strong wing, especially if a striker additionally strengthens the centre of the field and supports the pressing.

1. Compact basic formation for pressing

It is crucial for the success of pressing that the players play relatively close to each other, i.e. that the distances are no greater than 8-12 metres in width and a maximum of 15 metres in depth (compactness, Figure 1). This ensures that the players can protect each other and also create outnumbering situations. If the distances are too large, a player may be too late to prevent a pass or ball reception, and the opponent will play through.

Figure 1: compact basic formation

2. Triggering the pressing

It must be clear to the players when they should/must start the pressing. For example, a pass to a very specific player of the opponent (pressing victim), a pass into a very specific zone, a badly handled pass (stick error) or generally a back pass by the opponent. It is now important that the players of their own team quickly recognise this key situation for pressing. The signals and the corresponding quick reaction must be consistently and continuously worked on and improved in training. The players must also know how to behave if the pressing does not work as planned.


Target: "We attack the opponent's outside defender (on both sides) directly with the play to the outside. Exception: We recognise that he can process the ball quickly and safely, then we drop back compactly."

3. Control/steering or action space and pressing zones.

It is also important where and how pressing should be played. First of all, it should be clear how the opponent is to be controlled (depending on the system of play), i.e. which passes are to be allowed and prevented and where the ball is then to be won (outside or in the centre, far in the opponent's half or rather near the halfway line).

In favour of winning the ball in the centre is the fact that it is easier to initiate a counterattack situation from here and that quick shifts of play are better possible.

If the pressing in the centre fails, the opponent may have a counterattack opportunity in a central position. The "safe" pressing variant is therefore to try to win the ball on the outside position, because even if the situation fails, the opponent has a long way to the goal. However, if you defend to the outside, it can happen that you get more balls played to your chain.

If you attack far into the opponent's half, you speak of offensive pressing or attacking pressing, near the halfway line of midfield pressing and deep in your own half of defensive pressing. All variants have their advantages and disadvantages or opportunities and risks.

4) Exemplary procedure (variant in 4-4-2):

a) Striker (11) directs the opponent to the outside (provoke pass to the outside defender), outside midfielder (7) runs offensively and directs opponent to the centre (risk pass to the centre or dribble to the inside), the rest of the team moves in to the inside (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Steering outwards, attacking

b) (11) provides the back pass to the centre back(!), at the same time striker (9) makes the centre additionally strong, in the centre (10), (6) and (9) win the ball together (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Winning the ball in the centre

c) After winning the ball, switch quickly to take advantage of the counterattack situation (5 vs. 5) (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Switching/Counterattack

The behaviour of the forwards in midfield pressing can also be arranged differently, as shown in the article Midfield pressing: forwards and tens or two forwards?

5. What to do if the pressing fails

Interrupt pressing (skilful tackling or tactical foul) and get behind the ball again as quickly as possible (all players of the team), push the opponent away from the goal to gain time for the compact basic formation.

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