People are talking about frustration. It appeared in match reports and post-match interview questions. It pops up all over social media and it’s referenced in radio calls by chance such as skimming or hacking.
Pressing is arguably the first tactical nuanced concept to hit the mainstream, and it’s not surprising that it’s become a vague buzzword that often means whatever a user wants it to mean shutting down people. Your closest man on the edge of your own box.
Of course, using the verb ‘to press’ as a casual way of talking about the idea of finishing, there is a big difference between pressing and putting pressure on the ball; between the hard work of getting close to possession, which we’ve had in football for decades, and a collectively targeted press that engages the entire team and works on preset triggers .
General confusion is of particular interest in the aftermath of Ralph Rangnick’s first game in charge of Manchester United, a club that has made one of the most dramatic changes in tactical direction we have ever seen.
Against Crystal Palace, United’s 4-2-2-2 sees Marcus Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo work in tandem to woo the press. The team closes the corner to each other; they threw themselves into intense attacks on the opposing third faction; they gathered as a unifying force.
That’s a huge contrast from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who, according to The Athletic, doesn’t push the coach because he thinks his player closest to the situation will be able to close in on the man. ball.
It’s troubling for a Premier League manager to seriously misunderstand what pressing is and what isn’t – but it shows how deeply this goes.
What is anger?
Often, the idea of closing is seen as an example of compulsion, when in reality the act is seen as ‘pressure’ in the analytical world.
According to FBRef, Norwich City ranked 5th in the Premier League in terms of pressure, and Everton ranked 4th, but it is clear that neither of these teams is a pressure team.
Instead, they are working hard to get close to the ball as it enters the final third, and they increase the numbers high because a) they have so little possession that they often complete defensive actions. more defensive and b) by packing the bodies closely together on their own third, it’s easy to get close to the action and sprint to finish it.
No one likes to go deep, like Rafael Benitez or Sean Dyche, managing pressing teams. They don’t hit; they apply pressure.
Pressurizing is a collective action that determines how, why, and when a team can shut down en masse.
This could be winning the ball directly and counter-attacking from behind it, or it could be forcing the opponent to pass in the direction they wanted.
What are tap and trigger traps?
Thus, a well-choreographed press was worked on during training to follow a very specific set of instructions including the positions of the players and the moment of sudden snap into the press.
The level of detail is most evident in the use of the press trap. This is when a team intentionally leaves a player or space open to the opponent, effectively luring them into a series of specific passes until they are in a more favorable position for the defending team (eg. : near the touchline) or they give the ball to a specific player.
For example, a team may have identified a central midfielder as particularly weak at holding the ball. The shape of their press will then encourage a pass into the player, at which point three or four presses will encircle the midfielder from all angles.
Pressing the trigger is the action that activates the defending team. For some teams, the push action will be any hard touch from a defender. For others, it will be a certain minute of the game or the ball entering a certain area of the field.
How to measure pressure
The best way we have to capture statistical pressure is ‘passes per defensive action’ (PPDA), which calculates the number of passes the other team is allowed to make before that team tries. break it.
This is an indirect and imperfect way of measuring pressing intensity, but it is largely effective because it indicates whether defenders or midfielders are allowed to pass the ball around, showing how effective they are. participating line.
A high PPDA score means more passes before taking a defensive action, in other words, a low PPDA score means a lot of pressure – which inevitably translates into high engagement on the field.
Everton and Norwich, despite their pressured numbers, are in the top three in terms of PPDA while unsurprisingly Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester City take the final three places.
Different styles of accents and attachment lines
The thing to watch out for, beyond the PPDA number, is the extent to which a team appears to be working together on how they close, as well as timing and timing.
For teams like Liverpool or Man City, where the goal is to regain possession immediately, the swarm method takes advantage of their high starting positions (due to their shared territorial superiority) to keep opponents in check. pressured side.
But for those in a lower position, and therefore unable to bear such constant pressure, there is a lower stream of commitment.
For example, Southampton really went through a long period of the game, letting opposing centre-backs pass the ball back and forth but encircling the midfield with their bodies – and using the midfield pass as an effect. motivating them.
However, it is correct to call Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team a press team.
There are specific moments when suddenly the team moves as one: squeezing a full-back to force him to grab the ball and send it away (another trigger); or from kicks up and immediately after losing the ball, when they will go together in the hope of winning the ball while the opponent is stretching, before counter-attacking quickly into the spaces left in the moment of transition this chaos.
It’s a concept Klopp made famous when he said gegenpressing is the best player.
It is a system pioneered by Rangnick and adopted to varying degrees by the likes of Hasenhuttl, Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.
But even Klopp and Rangnick are a bit misunderstood. It’s not really possible to hit high continuously throughout a game.
There are a lot of times when you have to step back in a focused formation, and gegenpress is really about what you do right after you lose control – designed to counter the counter-attack – with both Klopp and Rangnick wanting emphasize for a moment before giving. way to organization
What anger looks like in action
The most famous exponent of this is Marcelo Bielsa, whose Leeds team ran in straight lines and cornered individuals to lure the opposition into making a daring pass forward..
While space pressing paralyzes action, pressing players often mean that the opponent can receive the ball but is only subject to immediate pressure.
According to Guardiola’s philosophy, avoiding the press is difficult, but once you do, there is space in front of you.
In Bielsa’s approach, a pass is available (often left open to lure you into the trap) but after receiving the ball it is difficult to turn and move forward. To prove this point, Leeds top the Premier League rankings for tackles while Man City is 19th.
Over time, Man Utd will look like the latter, and green shoots are appearing.
They have won the ball in their last 12 appearances against Palace, the most in a single United game since Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013, while Ronaldo applied 11 times of pressure, a high figure. his best of the season.
What you will see is an entire team squeezing into one, acting on triggers and setting traps (if you work hard enough). What you won’t see is the aggressive pursuit of the ball at every stage of play, because that’s not realistic.
It will take a long time for Man Utd to get it right because, contrary to the common parlance of the phrase today, the press is a complex set of tactical instructions that cannot be taught overnight.