High Pressing: Block vs Duels



caption of a match between MCI and RMA, focusing on the attackers area

The idea of high pressing has gained a significant weight in modern football. It is a key factor for teams who want to be proactive in the game and dominate their opponent with the ball. But, is there only one way to press high? The answer is obviously ‘no’. Different coaches ask their players to press in different ways, based on their style and also the characteristics of their players. At Ekkono, we have been analyzing these approaches and categorized them into two styles: Pressing in Block and Pressing in Duels. In this article, we will explain the main characteristics of each style, their pros and cons, and show some examples of teams who press using each style.

Let’s start from the beginning, and talk about the objective. Both blocks and duels are implemented to recover the ball as close as possible to the opposite goal. in a high pressing. In this situation, the majority of our players are on the opposite side of the field. There are two main objectives in this episode: firstly, not let the opponent team lead the action in their build up. This objective might be even more important than the second one – recover the ball as high as possible. However, the team cannot recover the ball all the times, that is why not letting the opponents build up is a crucial point.

Talking about the two styles that are considered below, there are few common principles, such as being in a high position, taking brave actions, etc. Each coach choses one or another approach, based on their preferences, team and individual qualities of the players.


Pressing in Duels

This style, which is practised for example by Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool FC and Xavi Hernández during his first season at FC Barcelona, has as their main priority to force the ball possessor in the individual duel. The objective is to put as much pressure on them as necessary for them to make a mistake. The rest of the near passing options are also blocked in this style, having a 1-on-1 in the whole pitch.

One of the biggest advantages of this style is that it is easy to implement in a short period of time. It is mostly based on the players’ individual skills, and their ability to press. At the same time, it means that the players have to be in good shape and be able to repeat high intensity efforts. It is important, therefore, that the team chooses which moments to press, as it is a highly physically demanding activity, and it is not possible to press all the time.

Following the point mentioned above, this means there must be a preliminary research of the opponent’s team players profiles, to understand of the weak and strong sides of the opponents, and help the players in which moments are the best to press and be effective in the duels.

As any strategy, though, there are also drawbacks of this style. As the team prioritizes being aggressive and pressing high the ball holder and all the potential ball receivers in the near spaces, this causes a risk on the back line, which is usually in an equal numerical situation against the opposite strikers. This can lead to more dangerous situations if the first line of pressing is surpassed.

caption of a match between MNC and LIV, focusing on the attackers' pass options


In this example we can see how Liverpool is pressing 1-on-1 against ball holder and all the potential receivers.

caption of a match between MCI and LIV, focusing on the midfielders area


As their first line of pressing is surpassed, Liverpool faces a 3 vs 3 in their defensive line.

Pressing in block

On the other hand, we have the style of pressing in block, identified with coach such as Pep Guardiola, who has applied it in the last years at Manchester City. The main principle of pressing in the block is to prioritize the team structure while pressing. It means that the team should never lose structure and stay in line, keeping the block.

This system has a significant advantage: when the team recovers the ball, they already have a good structure to attack. Compared to the previous example of Liverpool implementing the duels, block pressing allows the team to be more secure and protected in the situation of losing the ball. Keeping the structure and not jumping (ruin the block) to press, the team would defend effectively.

One of the objectives of this style is to prioritize the short-distance jumpings and not follow the opponent players. Doing this, the team saves structure and benefits in both defense and attack, as this rule would help to save time and start an effective offense. Another advantage is, if the opponent surpasses the first pressure, it is easier to transition to a medium or low block with more players. It is also possible due to the keeping the structure of the team.

Of course, though, this style has also some disadvantages. The biggest drawback of pressing in block is that it takes time and effort for players to understand it, coordinate and be able to work out successfully. In this sense, the duels are much easier and clearer: every player knows who they should press. Another disadvantage is that the team is not able to apply the same intensity of pressing to their opponents, leaving them more room to combine through passing.

caption of a match between MCI and RMA, focusing on the attackers movements


Manchester City show in this sequence an example of defending in block, prioritizing the team structure. This allows some passes to Real Madrid.

caption of a match between MCI and RMA, focusing on the midfielders area


However, when this happens and Madrid is able to progress, we see that Manchester has a numerical advantage in defense and they play 4 vs 3.

As high pressing is the vital part of the game, it is important for coaches to understand the different approaches and to master them. And of course, we must understand which are the priorities of each style. In pressing in block, our team will prioritize the structure and avoiding team progression while in pressing in duels, our team will prioritize having the ball possessor pressed and cutting all potential passing lines close to the ball holder.

As we can see from the above, both styles have significant advantages and weak sides. Implementation of both requires working with individual and team skills, taking in the consideration the abilities of the players and the connection between the players. There is no general answer to the question “which style is better?”, as every coach has to answer themselves and choose what is better for the particular team.

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