In recent years, “pressing” has been the buzzword for defense in soccer. Whether it’s high pressing Jürgen Klopp style or low block Diego Simeone style pressing traps, every team does it. We often see the Chicago Fire stay in low blocks with pressing triggers, but lately these haven’t been working too well and it seems like the issue is a really basic miscommunication.
In multiple games this month I’ve noticed one or two attackers going all out and putting pressure on the opposition, only to turn around and see 20 yards of space between them and the next Fire player. This would be an understandable mistake if it wasn’t happening as often as it has been. Here’s two examples of recent issues with pressing:
During the broadcast of the first example you can hear Veljko Paunovic yelling to press up, and you can see him gesture for it as well. When FC Cincinnati beats the press and Nicolás Gaitán turns around, you can see his visible frustration.
The second clip is arguably worse, where Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic both make hard sprints to close down the Cruz Azul defenders but the Fire midfield doesn’t catch on. When the ball is played long you can see both Cruz Azul center midfielders with about five yards of space to themselves.
Neither of these plays resulted in much for the opponents, but the issue is how easy this makes it for opponents to break down the Fire. Pressing, no matter how you do it, is a high risk/high reward game. If you do it sloppily on a regular basis you will be punished.
One of the core principles of defending in soccer is that you do it as a unit, because it allows you to control the sacrifices you make for defending. High pressing sacrifices space between the back line and goalkeeper, low block defending usually means sacrificing possession. Both are done with a conscious effort of giving something up to gain an advantage somewhere else. If a defense isn’t cohesive it means they are unintentionally sacrificing multiple areas of space without gaining anything to make up for that sacrifice. It is much easier for the opposition to attack weaknesses if the defense they are up against isn’t all on the same page.
The weirdest thing about this issue is that it seems like a very simple fix. Either tell the strikers that they’re pressing too often or at inopportune times, or tell the rest of the team to follow the lead of whoever is highest up the field. If there are specific triggers that the players are looking for (backwards pass, pass to a specific player, etc), then somebody isn’t following the instructions set out by the coaching staff.
It’s understandable that these types of miscommunications happen from time to time, but it is not acceptable if they continue to happen every single game. At this point in the season it should be something that the team already has tightened up, but all the same it is something to watch out for as we head into the home stretch.