Everybody talks about pushing. Appears in match reports and post-game interview questions. It is on all social networks and is mentioned in radio phone calls as casually as passing or attacking.
Pushing is arguably the first tactically nuanced concept to enter the mainstream and unsurprisingly it has become a vague buzzword that often seems to mean whatever the user wants it to mean, which can be anything, from a gegenpress consistently winning the ball in the final third to closing the man closest to the edge of his own box.
Of course, it is fine to use the verb “press” as a way of talking informally about the idea of closing, but there is a big distinction between pressing and applying pressure to the ball; between the hard work of getting closer to the person in possession, something we’ve had in soccer for decades, and a collective targeted press that engages the entire team and works on pre-set triggers.
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The 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 leadership that we have ever seen.
Against Crystal Palace, United’s 4-2-2-2 saw Marcus Rashford and Cristiano Ronaldo work together to engage in the press.. The team closed the passing angles together; they launched high intensity charges in the third of the opposition; they swarmed as a unified force.
It was a stark contrast to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who, according to The Athletic, did not train pressing because he thought that his player closest to the situation should naturally be able to close the man on the ball.
It’s quite worrying that a Premier League coach so drastically misinterprets what pushing is and isn’t, but it captures just how deep this goes.
What is pressing?
Too often the idea of shutting down is seen as an example of pressure, when in reality this action is known as “pressures” in the analytics world.
Norwich City is fifth in the Premier League on pressure, according to FBRef, and Everton is fourth, but clearly neither of these teams are pressing on the sides.
Instead, they are working hard to get closer to the ball once it enters the final third, and they rack up high numbers because they a) have so little possession that they generally complete more defensive actions and b) squeeze their bodies into their own. third, it’s easy to get close to the action and run to close it.
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Nobody who likes to sit deep, like Rafael Benítez or Sean Dyche, handles pressure equipment. They don’t push; apply pressure.
Lobbying is a collective action that defines how, why and when a team seeks to shut down en masse.
This can be to win the ball directly and counter from behind, or it can be to force the opponent to pass in the direction they want him to go.
What are Pressure Triggers and Traps?
So a well-choreographed press has been worked on in training to follow a very specific set of instructions covering where to position the players and when to suddenly snap into the press.
The level of detail is best exemplified in the use of pressure traps. This is when a team deliberately leaves a player or an open space for the opponent, effectively luring them into making a specific set of passes until they are in a position more favorable to the defending team (for example, close to the touch line. ) or hand the ball over. to a particular player.
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For example, a team may have identified a central midfielder as particularly weak on the ball. The shape of his press would encourage a pass to this player, at which point three or four pushers would swarm the midfielder from all angles.
A pulled trigger is the action that propels the defending team into action. For some teams, the trigger pressure will be any strong touch from the defender. For others, it will be a certain minute of the game or the ball will enter a certain area of the field.
How to measure crimp
The best way we have to capture the pressure in the statistics is ‘defensive passes per action’ (PPDA), which calculates how many passes the other team can make before the team tries to break it.
This is an indirect and imperfect way of measuring the intensity of pressure, but it largely works because it gives an indication of whether defenders or midfielders are free to pass the ball, effectively showing how high the line of engagement is.
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A high PPDA number means more opposition passes before defensive action, or in other words, a low PPDA score means a lot of pressure, which inevitably translates into a commitment high up the field.
Everton and Norwich, despite their pressure numbers, are in the top three for PPDA, while unsurprisingly Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester City are in the bottom three.
Styles of pressure and different lines of commitment.
The thing to keep in mind, beyond the PPDA number, is the extent to which a team appears to be working together on how to close, as well as when and for how long.
For teams like Liverpool or Man City the purpose is to immediately regain possession, the swarm approach takes advantage of their high starting positions (due to their overall territorial dominance) to keep the opponent locked in.
But for those who are lower on the table and therefore incapable of such intense and consistent press, there is a lower line of compromise.
Southampton, for example, actually spends long periods of the game camped behind the ball, allowing opposition central defenders to pass the ball back and forth but surrounding midfield with bodies, and using the midfield pass as their trigger.
And yet it is correct to call Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side a pressure team.
There are specific moments when the team suddenly moves as one: squeezing a winger, for example, to force him to hit the ball and give it away (another trigger); or from goal kicks and right after losing the ball, when they will go together in hopes of winning the ball as the opposition stretches, before quickly counterattacking in the spaces left in this chaotic moment of transition.
That’s a concept that Klopp made famous when he said that gegenpressing was the best playmaker.
It’s a system started by Rangnick and adopted by the likes of Hasenhuttl (only less often), Klopp, and Thomas Tuchel to varying degrees.
But even Klopp and Rangnick are a bit misunderstood. Actually, it is not possible to constantly press high during a game.
There are many times when you have to fall back into a regulated formation, and the gegenpress is really about what you do immediately after losing possession, designed to counter the fast break, with Klopp and Rangnick eager to press hard for a while. before giving in. way to organization
What it looks like to press in action
The most famous exponent of this is Marcelo Bielsa, whose Leeds team runs in a straight line and puts pressure on individuals in a way that lures the opponent into a risky forward pass..
While pressing space paralyzes the action, pressing players means that often the opponent can receive the ball, but only under immense instantaneous pressure.
In Guardiola’s philosophy, avoiding the press is difficult, but once you do, there tends to be room in front of you.
In Bielsa’s approach, a pass is available (it is often deliberately left open to lure him into the trap) but after receiving the ball it is very difficult to turn and move forward. To illustrate the point, Leeds top the Premier League charts in tackles, while Man City is 19th.
Over time, Man Utd will become more like the latter, and green shoots are already appearing.
They won the ball in the final third 12 times against Palace, the most in a single United league game since Alex Ferguson left the club in 2013, while Ronaldo applied 11 pressure, his highest number of the season.
What you’ll see is an entire team pressing as one, acting on triggers, and setting traps (if you look hard enough). What you won’t see is a fierce chase for the ball in every phase of the game, because that’s just not practical.
It will take a long time for Man Utd to get it right because contrary to the casual way the phrase is used these days, the press is a complex set of tactical instructions that cannot be taught overnight.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.