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Talking Tactics

Season trends: High press more popular than ever

Adrian Clarke 30 Jul 2020
Mohamed Salah against Brighton's Dan Burn

Adrian Clarke says the new goal-kick law has given teams extra incentive to lay traps and seek to win the ball in the final third

Adrian Clarke looks at trends from the 2019/20 season.

High press

A number of Premier League sides pressed from the front more aggressively this season.

In a clear tactical trend, 12 of the 17 teams who stayed up increased the number of times they regained possession in the final third.

This noticeable change in approach is likely to be partly influenced by the new goal-kick law, which allows goalkeepers to pass to a team-mate inside their penalty box. 

With more teams looking to pass the ball out from such a position, managers are laying pre-planned traps in a bid to win the ball in dangerous areas.

Continuing the trend

However, the new goal-kick law is not the sole reason behind the rise in pressing, or counter-pressing, in 2019/20.

Over the last four seasons we have witnessed a steady increase in the number of times possession has been turned over in advanced areas.

Possession won in final third
Season Ave. team total
2016/17 132.8
2017/18 141.3
2018/19 145.1
2019/20 154.3

For many managers, the importance of transitions is growing all the time.

With the fashion to play out from the back showing no signs of decline, there are certainly better and more frequent opportunities to steal the ball high up the pitch.

There is now a braver mentality off the ball, with teams being more willing to press higher, rather than automatically dropping into a low defensive block.

Picking the right moments to close down can often be the key to victory.

Who’s changed most?

When Marco Silva and Mauricio Pochettino left Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, both clubs' pressing significantly decreased.

Now playing under Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho, they regained possession in the final third 21.1 per cent and 17.7 per cent less often respectively in comparison to the previous season.

Advanced turnovers last two seasons
Poss. won final third 2018/19 2019/20 % increase
Liverpool 186 252 35.5
Southampton 158 212 34.2
Brighton 108 144 33.3
Man Utd 110 142 29.1
Leicester 122 151 23.8

On the other hand, inspired by Ralph Hasenhuttl and Graham Potter, Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion were far more proactive in their pressing.

They each jumped by at least a third when it came to advanced turnovers.

Brendan Rodgers’ influence at Leicester City was notable too, as was the more youthful and energised style of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United.

Meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp's famed use of "gegenpressen", or counter-pressing, helped Liverpool to the biggest rise in final-third turnovers.

The champions had backed away from the frenetic style with which they closed down opponents with relentless energy early on in the German’s tenure.

This season they reverted to that high press with outstanding success.

Liverpool's pressing in action

In 2018/19, only three Reds players won possession in the final third more than 20 times, those being Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane

But this season Jordan Henderson and full-backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold joined the front three more regularly to steal the ball back in advanced positions, doing so 28, 25 and 20 times respectively.

Liverpool are once again the best in the business at this aspect of the game, and their title triumph underlines how effective a well-coordinated press can be.

Other managers will doubtless be seeking further improvements of their own in this area ahead of next season.

Also in this series 

Part 2: Season trends: Tackles tumble behind closed doors
Part 3: Season trends: Quality on rise as midfield takes focus
Part 4: Season trends: Wolves pioneering formation shift

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