Friday, 14.08.2020

Liverpool’s pressing system

The basis and main principle of Liverpool’s 4-3-3 pressing system is to keep the ball at the central zones, therefore preventing the be moved by horizontal circulation, which usually -if done well- stretches the defensive structure both in the vertical and horizontal axis.

To achieve that their system is both passing-lane and option-oriented: 1st line is closing passing lanes to prevent passes out wide towards the full-backs/wingers, whilst 2nd line is much rather option-oriented therefore their principle is to position themselves to have access to 2 players (defensive shifting’s decision making based on oppositional system, distances, ball’s speed). Meanwhile the last line, mostly the fullbacks also have the option-orientation: if the 2nd line can’t create optimal access to the oppositional full-backs, then they push higher up, leaving a numerical equality at the back. Ideally the last line stays in position to offer better access at the central zones for the long balls.

Basic pressing system against Barcelona at the first leg: 1st line’s passing-lane orientation, 2nd line’s shifting movements and option-orientation, Robertson & Gomez pushing up higher to close Alba-Roberto wide if needed.

Even if the opponents can find valuable central options or the wide areas, they have both shifting solutions/traps to prevent these, especially at the flanks.

Forcing the build-up into the trap, model from the 1st leg: LCB is closed down by RW/Salah & covering the outward pass, this opens up the vertical lane towards the CM,  who can then pass out wide to the LB. If the RB/Gomez can’t step out from the last line, then the 2nd line will shift horizontally to close the wide zone.

Shifting dynamics

Wingers are closing the outside angle, whilst the CF always tries to close the ballnear CM/or the lone DM, depending on the oppositional system. This dropping movement allows the ballnear CM/Milner on the illustration to shift a bit wider and control the passing lane vertically in depth, preventing him being too focused on the opposition. Since he is wider, he has a better access to the wide zones, if he has to shift out wide to close the oppositional FB. As the 2nd line is mostly staggered in a flat line, the DM has the flexibility to shift even to higher positions. Against a lone DM, usually there is no need to do that, since the CF/Firmino does an excellent job to constantly close that option with his cover shadow, allowing the 2nd line to be focused on closing down the depth behind. Against 2 CMs deeper (here vs. a 3-2 structure) the pattern is that the DM/Fabinho pushes up to close the ballnear CM, preventing him to turn after receiving. As the ball goes out wide the DM has time to readjust his positioning deeper.

Pressing Barca’s build-up, 1st leg: if the CBs receive the ball, the wingers/Salah & Mané moves to press them whilst covering the pass to the FBs. If the deep DM-LCM receives, easier pressure  frontwise + also better angle to press -closing the vertical options -the GK in case of a backwards pass. If the FBs/Alba-Roberto receives directly, then the CMs/Keita & Milner pushes out wide to press – they are already positioned a bit wider to reduce the distance.

Barca had some issues with building from depth, without effectively stretching the 2nd line, even though Pool’s basic setup opened bigger central spaces, which could have been exploited better. In that way pulling Rakitic deeper was a clever solution, since it pulled out Fabinho, opening up more space in behind at the centre. Pulling out 4 players can be an effective way to open valuable spaces for teams, who can build from long balls after goal kicks better & then collecting 2nd balls. This also allowed for Pool’s last line to stay in position, so even though Barca regained possession after long balls, the back 4 was in position to close any possible runs in behind, slowing down the possession.

A key player would have been Vidal though, who with a more central positioning could have manipulated the LCM/Keita then Milner, pulling him inwards to open up more space for the RB to receive. Since this option has been exploited only once, Barca basically struggled against the high-press. Although Pool had a solution for this as well.

Solution: shifting last line -› in this scene Roberto receives directly from ter Stegen, Mané drops deeper to close to force a backwards pass, which allows Robertson to push higher up. Optimally Pool prevents to do this shifting, since it leaves a 3v3 at the back, but without the optimal central connections and the width from Messi-Coutinho they couldn’t exploit that (e.g. direct passes, stretching the line wider), therefore van Dijk-Gomez could easily use their physical advantage after the generated long balls.

2nd leg changes

For the 2nd leg Liverpool made some key adjustments in their pressing approach. First of all, the CF’s/Origi’s main role was to guide Barca’s build-up towards their left side, to prevent their actions on their stronger right side, towards Messi. To achieve that Origi positioned himself to close towards Busquets with his cover shadow, which forced Barca to play is backwards from their side to ter Stegen and then build through Lenglet. After the backwards pass Origi immediately attacked the ball with a curled run, to close the access to the right side -plus, main principle: prevent switching sides, keep the ball in the initial zone.

Pressing scheme from the 2nd leg: forcing the backwards pass to ter Stegen, then Origi immediately move to press, forcing ter Stegen towards his left foot. Shifting last line at the back, with Fabinho dropping deep in between the Matip and van Dijk.

Learning from the 1st leg, where Barca could effectively find the wide areas in some cases, they’ve changed their shifting dynamics as well. To create a better access towards the oppositional FBs (Alba & Roberto) the last line generally positioned themselves a bit wider in order to decrease the distances, which allowed Robertson & Alexander-Arnold to press the FBs as soon as the received a pass, whilst the whole last line was shifting. Although this wouldn’t have been achieved without changing the 2nd line’s shifting: in contrary to the 1st leg’s sytem, the DM/Fabinho stayed deeper in every situation to act as a free-man in front of the last line, plus as Matip pushed out wide to close the oppositional winger/Coutinho, he dropped deep to fill in his position. This also changed the ballfar CM’s/Milner’s role, who had to be option-oriented higher in between the DM/Busquets and the RCM/Vidal: push up if needed to close Busquets immediately from a diagonal angle -prevent change of sides-, or drop deep if the ball goes out wide to Alba.

Pressing trap on Alba: Origi again closing the right side with his cover shadow, whilst Shaqiri pushes up to attack Lenglet, closing the outwards pass to Alba, opening the centre. Key movement from Henderson: not pushing up too early, firstly focusing on to close the deep vertical passing lane, then pushing higher to press Rakitic as he receives. Leaving the pass deliberately open to Alba, who is then being pressed by Alexander-Arnold who pushes up from the last line, which shifts towards the ball’s side -plus Fabinho drops.
Model to press backwards passes from the mid-block structure: the CF/Origi closes the passing lane to the ball-far CB/Piqué, forcing the backwards pass to the ballnear CB/Lenglet, then presses him from a diagonal angle – but ball-far W/Mané also pushes up to close the CB/Piqué in case of a possible horizontal pass. Key -› defending Busquets: ideally he was being pressed every time by the ball-far CM/here Milner, to close him diagonally. This pressing principle also allows the ballnear CMs + DM to close the passing-lanes.

Closing the wide access means that the opponents have basically 3 ways to penetrate/focus on:

  • overload the centre -› to reduce the 1st line’s cover, possibly doubling the central-midfielders exploiting the option-orientation
    • e.g. creating the midfield box (2-2 staggering)
Spurs’ solution – using the midfield box to penetrate behind the 1st line, doubling Milner with Sissoko-Dele positioning deeper & causing orientation issues for Firmino, reducing the 1st line’s passing-lane coverage, opening the vertical lane to Sissoko.
  • double width -› stretch their shape, reduce cover at the wide zones, which could lead better on ball actions for the CBs (here 2 key principles: 1. CBs diagonal orientation on the ball, to exploit the central connections & pulling 1st line inwards, then exploit wide spaces. 2. CBs distance -› closer positioning to each other, to pull the oppositional Ws more inwards, opening up more space for the full-backs to receive directly or by patterns, like CB-DM-LB route)
    • e.g. wide 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 – with asymmetry + using false #9 positioning, since CBs are not following this movement out wide & FBs attention focus on the wide wingers
ManCity’s basic approach vs. Pool from january: both full-backs and wingers staying out wide to stretch Pool’s structure, plus asymmetric  positioning with RCM deeper, LCM more central, CF dropping wide. This asymmetry manipulates the 2nd line, pinning them in position to open spaces for RCM-CF to receive in the halfspaces.
  • both -› 4-2-2-2-0 – with this staggering possible to create a 5v3 at the back with the GK, which allows better circulation dynamics with using the wide zones as well to move Pool’s structure with the ball
ManCity’s goal kick positioning to create the 4-2-2-2-0: here the RCB moved inwards to the #6 position (possible to do the same with deep CM as well), RB dropped deep to cause shifting issues for the 1st line, whilst RCM has the option to move out wide, if needed – to stretch the 2nd line). LCM moves centrally pinning the DM, CF also drops deeper as a false #9 to manipulate the RCM, delaying his press towards the LB if he has to shift out wide.

Marko May 12, 2019 um 12:47 pm

What program/website do you use to create the illustrations?


IB May 12, 2019 um 10:41 pm



JEpp May 10, 2019 um 4:08 pm

Great write up. I appreciate the Position Acronym/Player Name labeling (eg. “RW/Salah”). Helps provide clarity.


eulencoach June 9, 2019 um 2:33 am

can’t stress ehough how much i love the labeling


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