Date: 16th April 2012 at 9:41pm
Written by:

Whilst there have been many things that have bugged me about Villa over the years, the one thing that has consistently irritated me the most, has been our inability to press the ball correctly.

There’s a lot to be covered on this topic and you could easily write a book on it but I dont want to go in to that much detail.

I merely want to point out some of the fundamental errors we make when we do, on the rare occasion, try to do it.

Ultimately, the aim of pressing the ball is to restrict the time and space the opposition (i.e the collective team not just one or two of their players) have on the ball, and to force them in to playing a long aimless pass that prevents them from building a passing move.

Firstly, and perhaps most simply, far too often we have one of our strikers with nobody else in support trying to press a defender who has numerous options available to him.

Exhibit a) Gabby Agbonlahor. If you play with a lone striker, as we do, you pretty much have to be resigned to the fact that the oppositions centre backs are going to have time and space on the ball. The striker needs to back off, sit in and prevent a clear central path for the defenders to thread balls into the midfield where either a striker has dropped off and found space or a midfielder has lost his man.

For example, Silva for Man City, Suarez for Liverpool and Rooney for United are excellent at dropping in to pockets of space and are often found directly by their centre backs this way.

If you are playing with a lone striker it’s the extra man in midfield’s job to make sure that if both strikers drop off then they’re covering the avenue to the second striker.

The extra man is not just one specific player, but is determined by which side of the pitch the ball is on.

This brings me on to my next point which is that you don’t just press the person on the ball, you need to make sure that ALL of his available options are within a distance that if he passes to one of them, you can make up the ground quickly enough to either intercept or have him under immediate pressure.

You don’t want to be so far that you need to sprint and then all they need to do is jig to get past you, as this defeats the purpose of the press.

If done properly, eventually they’re going do one of three things which is to either pass back to their keeper, who will pump it long – win; force a low percentage pass that you’re most likely going to be easily able to intercept – win; or be under enough pressure in a dangerous part of the midfield that they themselves pump the ball long.

Far too often today and in general we’ve had good pressure on the ball and some of the options, but we’ve let an advanced midfielder or forward drop in to space and we’ve gone from having them under pressure to having to turn around and chase someone who is driving forward at our backline.

Personally I prefer the Barcelona method of pressing from the front which is only made possible (in a very effective manner) due to the formation they use which is three up top.

They often win the ball in the opposition half which allows them to mount a lot of dangerous attacks. This also stems from the fact that they have so many players close together when they’re in possession that if they lose it they can immediately pressurise the man on the ball and a lot of the time, all of their nearest options, which results in a long ball, or a short pass that’s intercepted and leads to ‘mini-counter attacks’.

I’m sorry if I’ve bored people, I’m sure almost everyone already understands these concepts anyway, but I just thought I’d highlight this as it really annoys me and it’s a major part of why we’re so often ripped open at will by the better teams and sometimes even the average or poor teams.

The worrying thing is though, that either the manager doesnt understand these concepts (that’s my guess) and therefore doesn’t tell the team to apply them, the players don’t understand these concepts, or the players do understand them but can’t be bothered or aren’t fit enough to apply them.

In any event, it is worrying and frustrating given how much money all of them are paid and how much we pay to see them.

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