“Pressure!”

This may be the next frontier in educating parents regarding sideline ‘encouragement’. After years of explaining why we really don’t want supporters yelling “Boot it! Get rid of it! Big boot!” at the younger age groups and asking them to somehow find it within themselves to mask their utter disdain for any type of “pass” that is not moving forward at 100mph like a laser to the opponents goal, I think we may be ready to take on the next enemy of the young player. That being the incessant shouts to “Pressssurrree!!”.

As is the case with a high percentage of casual parent soccer fans knowledge of offside, most do not properly understand what is entailed in pressuring (it always adds to my chagrin for some reason when I hear people yelling ‘pressurize’ by the way; it sounds like they want opponents to be made gaseous and stored in a canister).

Most seem to think pressuring is pretty much a kamikaze mission. Deploy yourself at full speed at an opponent with the ball and obliterate with extreme recklessness. Doesn’t matter where the ball is on the field, doesn’t matter what degree of support the ball carrier has and doesn’t matter where your teammates are: get there as fast as you can and throw yourself into a tackle is what the general expectation is.

Yes, pressuring this way is likely to pay disproportionate dividends at a younger age when the average first touch is a bit like playing off a bumpy wall. If a player has poor control and is faced with the added dilemma of ten parents screaming “Pressure!” every time the ball comes anywhere near them and they then see another eight year old bolting towards them at top speed, there’s a good chance it’s going to result in a turnover.

So that’s understandable and in a Darwinian way forces players to either get a better touch and provide support angles for passes for each other or continually face kids throwing themselves at their feet at high speed. Those that evolve progress to become better soccer players. Those that don’t end up playing baseball 😉

Pressure though is not a solitary tactic and it’s not an absolute tactic (ie. it’s not on all the time and everywhere on the field). It is, of course, a very fundamental and important aspect of defending and even the best teams in the world, on the ball, employs different strains of pressuring when they lose possession.

It becomes frustrating when you reach an age and level of play where parents (and a large number of coaches, to be fair) still scream “Pressure!” and one player goes flying in only to have the ball passed in behind them simply and effectively.

Here’s some things to keep in mind about pressuring the ball once you get to around U12 and up.

1. Pressure should be used selectively and as a group. You need a concentration of players around the ball ideally and compactness in behind them so one pass doesn’t get behind them. The video of that goal against Liverpool in my earlier post (below) shows what happens when one player commits to pressuring the ball without support in behind. If they don’t stop forward progress of the ball it leads to the ball being advanced and chances being conceded. In those situations, it’s best just to concede the space, keep play in front of you and delay until you get a better defensive shape that allows you to more effectively put pressure on.

2. The amount you need to pressure is subject to the scoreline and time remaining. Pressure by nature expands the field. If you get drawn out to put pressure on an opponent you are, by definition, making the field bigger and giving them more room to play. While having a concentration of players help, as per above, you are still increasing their opportunities to play through you with passes because you’re giving them more space. If you are losing and chasing the game, you need to take these sorts of chances as they game goes on. If you are winning, especially narrowly, you want to force the other team to break you down. You can afford to sit deeper, take space away and make the path to goal dense with defenders. You definitely don’t need or want to pressure the ball deep in their end and stretch the field.

3. Pressure does not mean go win the ball. That’s a common mistake. It can mean that but it can also mean to delay or stop immediate forward progress by the other team. When strikers put pressure on an isolated outside back, they are trying to very quickly dispossess that player and create a goal scoring opportunity before other defenders come to help. Strikers can afford to do that because if it doesn’t work, the opponents still have to get the ball 80 yards down the field to be dangerous. Often though when a midfielder or defender applies pressure they can’t afford to throw themselves into a tackle if the ball is in a more advanced position. Rather, if they are sensing that their opponent is one pass away from a goal scoring chance, their job is to delay and take away that option for as long as it takes for their teammates to get into a recovery position and nullify the threat. They do that by overplaying the channel that the dangerous pass needs to go through and getting in a position to block the pass.

Here’s a couple of quick TacticBoard diagrams to illustrate.

Pressuring in the attacking third:

1. The opposition centre back (blue) passes the ball to the left back.

2. As soon as this happens, the two strikers and the right mid (in yellow), as a group, put immediate pressure on. One striker goes straight to the back and tries to strip the ball away while the other cuts off a one touch pass back to the centre back. The right mid cuts off a quick outlet pass to their left mid.

If only one striker had committed to pressuring the ball then the left mid would have had the option of quickly playing out to the left back or back inside to the centre back depending on which option was cut off and which wasn’t.

Dropping off

In this situation the opposition centre mid (in red) is playing a ball wide to the left mid. We will assume that the striker tracking the ball across is not in a position to stop the left mid from taking a touch and playing the ball with the second touch. We will also assume that our right back (in blue) is in the same predicament.

With a striker poised to make a run off the centre back into the space behind the right back, it makes no sense for the right back to rush forward and put ‘pressure’ on the left mid. The ball is simply going to be played in behind the right back as they will not be able to get close enough to stop a forward pass (as per above). The best solution for the right back is to recognize this early and drop off. If done quick enough it may force the left mid to re-assess and maybe not play that ball as it’s now maybe seen as a low percentage option. If the pass is still put into the space shown, the right back at least has given themselves a chance to compete for it. If they’d pushed up they’d be completely out of position and in no position to defend against the penetrating pass.

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One Response to “Pressure!”

  1. Kurt says:

    Wow – you must have been on the windy, cold turf watching u11 last night! It was my “A” team v. a “B” team. Within 2 minutes “A” were up 2-0 and the “B” team didn’t have a prayer. But you know, “B” applied exceptional spirit and work rate. They did exactly what you are talking about – “pressure!” The had no hope of stringing 2 passes together but got huge cheers when “the ball was kicked to the forward who then turned and tried to run as fast as possible toward goal.” They were “rewarded” by taking a 4-2 lead with 25 minutes to go.

    Although I am pleased my “A” team was able to get through it. They learned some extremely valuable lessons. Eventually having to fight back from 2-4 and get a result. Which they did. They learned many many things and will be better for it.

    But for soccer as a whole – no I am not pleased that is how the opposition played. I know the coach and he is a great guy. But, I know, his team has good enough athletes there to make excellent soccer players if the players apply themselves – and I know they had the training at younger ages for a fact. So either coach doesn’t believe they can be, or the coach himself doesn’t have faith in his own ability to develop the players to be as technical as their physical gifts suggest.

    Which is the ultimate shame in Canadian soccer eh? The “A” kids are given benefit of “top” coaching (I have a laugh at myself there!) while B kids get whoever turns up. This is no one’s fault except those with the coaching ability who don’t volunteer their time, I suppose. For the record, my “A” team trains jointly with the “B” and “C” kids three days a week, and for the first half of the year rotated all the kids to have different playing and coaching experiences through games – exhibition, tournament, and league. They all intermingled. As a result the “B” kids play a very strong technical game and the “C” kids do their very best to also do so because all the boys demand to each other “don’t kick it away!”. They police themselves. I would encourage all clubs to have this kind of joint training. It’s worked wonders. A lot of parents are not happy with the game-squad-rotation but they will see the benefit in years to come!

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