Ball Possession vs. Total Pressing

One of the key aspects that we as coaches have to recognize within the first few moments of the game is the type of defensive approach that our opponent is applying. This can be - in general terms - one of two different styles:

The first option is a brand with a clear organized defensive structure. A team who is positioned in a compact manner with little existing space between each player. They allow you to keep possession of the ball while waiting for a mistake to occur to recover the ball. The overall objective of this approach is to expose as few vulnerabilities as possible while remaining patient when the opposing team is attacking. It is commonly referred to as Block System.

The second style adopts much more of an unorganized and risk taking approach. It is a defensive idea that is caracterized by high intensity bursts and relentless willingness to recover the ball as fast as possible. Teams who apply this defensive style look to chase down the opposition players forcing them to make a mistake in order to recover the ball. This is known as Pressing.


Of course there is more than one way to defend, and teams who play at a higher level can often times combine the two styles depending on; where the ball is, what phase of the game is occurring at that moment (defensive phase vs. defensive transition), or most commonly the scoreline.


Training holds great relevance when preparing tactically for the match during the week. It is essential that we provide our players with offensive solutions against both defensive styles. They need to understand the key tactical concepts that will be required during the match when playing against a team who defends using the Block System or against a team who prefers to Press. You would typically emphasize patience in attack and having maximum ball security when the defending side is willing to sit back and wait for the mistake. By contrast, it is of most importance to create dynamic movements and give constant support to the teammate in possession of the ball when encountering a team who is pressing with a high intensity. In this article we will focus on the key elements needed for the latter situation.


Players who possess a high technical ability are of great importance when you want to keep the ball against teams who aggressively pressure the ball. Technical actions have to be performed with even more precision when there is less space to control and pass the ball. These aspects reach their maximum point of difficulty when one of the most determining variables in soccer is taken into account: time. Carrying out any type of action in football requires a prior decision making process on that action. Therefore, the less time you have to perceive-decide-execute, the more difficult the game becomes. That is why it is crucial to have players with a high technical capacity as well as possessing an excellent understanding of the game. This will allow our players to search and find solutions for the demands of each game.


The other fundamental aspect that exists when you want to maintain possession of the ball against a team that presses you, are the constant dynamic offensive movements to create "passing lanes" for the teammate who finds himself with the ball. The ideal way to perform this type of support is by giving a diagonal passing option to the right and left of the player in possession. In this way, small triangles are formed around the field that allow you to generate situations of numerical advantage. It is also of great importance that our players appear in a position to receive the ball - with the correct body orientation - behind the opposing players who are running forward trying to press. This is defined as playing "between the lines". Creating, occupying, and taking advantage of these spaces will give us more options to succeed in this type of situation.


I leave you with some short clips of real game situations in which a team looks to keep possession of the ball while playing against an opponent who exerts total defensive pressure. Certain moments are displayed where you will see the key concepts that have been previously stated: playing between the lines and creating diagonal passing lanes. Playing out of that initial pressure can be a challenging situation as it requires players to think and act with minimal time and space. This is why the best players in the world are the ones who can find different solutions in any given scenario and play their way out of trouble with while making it look easy.





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Guillermo Hamdan Zaragoza

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