Pressing refers to the practice of chasing down the man on the ball wherever he may be on the field in order to win back possession. Basically, the nearest man to the ball will put pressure on the opposition to force errors, turnovers and to disrupt the opponents’ rhythm.
Certain technical, tactical and environmental considerations must be taken into account when attempting to adopt a pressing style of play. These include:
Climate, field condition and size – playing against an opponent on a small bumpy field may be conducive to pressing. Trying to maintain a pressing style for 90 minutes in a hot, humid environment may prove difficult for even the most fit players.
Fitness / ability level of players compared to opponent – it may be advisable to adopt a pressing style against a less technical or talented team or when the opposition has an inferior level of fitness.
Time left in the game / score of game – many teams opt to switch to a pressing style when they find themselves down by a goal or two with limited time left in the game. The idea is to push hard to try to pull a goal back as quickly as possible.
Playing at Home Vs. Away – many teams that play in a home and away format will opt to play more conservatively on the road, yet at home will press their opponents.
Style of play of opponents – certain teams like to maintain possession of the ball and build a rhythm to allow them to settle into a game. Pressing a team that likes time and space on the ball may make them uncomfortable, disrupt their flow and force them into errors.
Opposition reduced in numbers (red card) – depending on other factors (score, time in game etc) many teams find success in pressing an opponent that has been reduced in numbers. The numerical advantage, for obvious reasons, can wear an opponent down.
Certain situations within a game provide good pressing opportunities. These are referred to as cues.
(1) Ball is played in behind the opposition defenders forcing them to chase while facing their own goal. Many defenders are not comfortable being put under pressure while facing their own goal since even a tiny error can result in a goal.
(2) Ball is played to an opposition player who is not comfortable on the ball (technically inferior). Many times players will be forced into errors if put under intense pressure.
(3) Ball is back-passed to a goalkeeper. Since many goalkeepers are not comfortable with the ball at their feet, if he can be put under immediate pressure, the forward can sometimes force an error.
(4) Ball is played to a player that is isolated (no immediate support).
(5) The best time to regain possession is immediately after your team has lost possession of the ball. If a player can put the opponent under immediate pressure before his team can find their attacking shape or rhythm, many times possession can be regained.
Diagram (a) below illustrates a defender being pressed by his opponent after a diagonal ball has been played in behind the back line by player (A). The defender is facing his own goal and has no immediate support apart from the goalkeeper – a good time to press. Players (B, C) are close enough to press the defender and goalkeeper immediately, while players (C, D, E, F, G, H) shift their positions to make it difficult for the yellow team to find any gaps if they do manage to turn up field.