Put the pressure on!

When you consider that lack of pressure on the player with the ball is one of the primary reasons that goals are scored, and that goals are plentiful in small sided games, taking a few minutes to understand pressurising is time well spent.


team pressureTo be effective the pressurising player should be on the goal-side of the player with the ball at a distance of not more than two yards, diagram on the right. The pressurising player should always remember that his job, wherever possible, is to keep the opposition playing in front of him and deny the opportunity for the opponent to pass the ball forward… Players who are pressurising opponents should adopt a position which will allow them to turn quickly. It is important that the defender should turn through 90, not 180 degrees.”

In order to achieve this the defender will need to position him/herself slightly off of the attackers direct line to goal and stand sideways on. That is, the feet should positioned so that they are not facing the ball directly, but rather the space that the defender wants the attacker to move into.

Stay sideways onIn the diagram on the left the blue defender is showing the attacker to his right side. This makes the play predictable for the defender. If the attacker tries to cut behind the defender, the defender only needs to step back or turn and show the attacker into a channel on the other side. This also allows the defender to poke tackle with the foot closest to the ball, turn and block tackle with the foot farthest from the ball and if the attacker pushes the ball past the defender and tries to run onto it, the defender can easily step in front of the attacker and win the ball. These 1v1 moments are very much a cat and mouse part of the game. The attacker will try to use the ball as bait, some type of move or simply run past the defender. It’s up to the defender to exercise control and restraint and wait for the correct moment and only then attempt to win the ball.

Don’t recover too deep

tactics“Before a player can challenge for the ball he must recover either level with the man with the ball or preferably on the goal-side of the man with the ball. It is, however a mistake to recover too far beyond the ball into a position where the ball can still be played forward.”

By taking the path in fig. 1, number 9 will recover to a position where the blue player won’t have any trouble passing the ball past him. Number 9 will have to turn and run back again. The path in fig. 2 puts number 9 closer to the blue player with the ball. Now, even if he can’t win the ball he has a good chance of keeping the play in front of him.

Recovery Lines

recovery lines“Should a player be in doubt concerning his best line of recovery he should follow the following guide. Players on a flank should follow a line towards the near post, players in central positions should follow a line towards the penalty spot. Once a players reaches a position on the goal-side of the ball the line of recovery and marking or supporting responsibilities should be reassessed. Defenders who are outnumbered should also retreat towards their goal.”

It’s also a problem in youth soccer that children don’t recover far or soon enough, especially on the flanks. Often outside defenders follow an attacker who has beaten them rather then recover towards the goal. This results in their staying behind the ball, close enough for a Kodak moment, but not close enough to be of any use. Young players on the opposite side of the field often fail to recognize that there is a problem. The distance across the field removes them from any responsibility, so, they don’t start running until the ball, opponent and their own goal comes into view. (This is a popular moment for coaches and parents to get involved in the game.) Recovery lines resemble a funnel. The team needs to regroup and concentrate in goal-side positions. Remember the words of Coach Kit Carson, “Head ’em off at the pass.”

Challenging For The Ball

1) Start fast, arrive slow. The defender must make up the distance between himself and the opponent while the ball is in flight. This is the time that the attacker doesn’t have control and the defender can move in for an interception or tackle. If intercepting the pass is not likely, the defender should slow down just before getting to the attacker.

2) Intercept. When a defender is marking a player that is waiting for a pass it’s best to intercept the ball. This way the attacker gets no touch. The defender will need anticipate the situation and move into the line of flight of the ball before the attacker does.

3) Tackle. If an interception isn’t possible then tackling is the next option. The defender should consider an immediate tackle if; he has a free supporting player in a good position; he arrives at the same time that the ball does; the pass is poor and gives the attacker problems; the attacker has poor control; the defender can totally dominate the attacker. These decisions must be made in a matter of seconds in a dynamic situation and the defender must be careful not to commit a foul. (5v2 is a good game to teach defenders how to pick the correct moment when to go into a tackle.)

4) Force the attacker inside or outside. There are times to force attackers into the centre of the field, i.e. the winger wants the full back to play the ball into the centre. And there are times to force the attackers down the line. In these situations it’s important that the individual decisions are in agreement with the overall team plan. This is the same thing as reducing the passing angles.

5) Prevent them from turning. If the attacker has controlled the ball and is facing his own goal then the defender needs to be close enough to prevent him from turning. An attacker facing his own goal is much less of a threat then one facing yours. Also, turning with a defender right behind you is a very difficult task. The ball is often put the ball up for grabs.

6) Stay on your feet. Going to ground is a last resort, desperate measures for desperate times.

7) Launch a counter attack. The moment of winning the ball can present a golden opportunity for a counter attack. The opponents can be spread out supporting the attack and several may have moved ahead of the ball. The defence maybe in no position to stop a quick strike.

8) If you can’t win the ball, control the situation. Finally, if the defender has done everything properly but cannot arrive in time to intercept and a clean tackle is not possible, then he should contain the attacker and show him into the least dangerous space.

Team Pressurising

There are two basic philosophies for team pressurising, high and low pressure. The first is found in the playmaking style and is marked by an aggressive, force the error approach. The second is more useful in counter attacking play where time favours the defence and mistakes by the attackers are are guided and encouraged.

Teams that allow themselves to get stretched from end to end or side to side will have a hard time pressuring their opponents. When the opponents regain possession teams need to get compact and establish their defensive shape. The following will help team pressurising:

1) Staying within the plan. One of the first things that a team needs to do is to before they take the field is to decide generally how they want to play. While this can become involved at the minimum teams should have an idea how they will defend as a team. How far up field will the team defend? What will everyone’s role be when the opponents regain possession? How will the lines react to each other and the individuals in the lines? Without a plan it’s every man for himself, a sure way to disunity and disaster.
2) By the back players pushing up. This includes the goal keeper. Teams at the higher levels now flood the midfield. Playing with a sweeper ten yards behind the backs is “so 70’s” and obsolete. Back defenders that fail to rapidly push up allow big gaps between themselves and the midfield.
3) By the top players dropping back. The days when the forwards were all glory and no work are long gone. The forwards represent the first line of defense as well as the last line of attack. Teams that play with three forwards can pressurize must deeper then a team that plays with two.
4) By shifting across the field. The entire team will need to shift across the field to counter the opponents threats. This helps to minimize the space between players in each line. It’s normal to find the right back in the centre of the field when the ball is on the left flank.