Tom Caldwell: What is a pressing trigger?

Credit: Pexels

The Gegenpress is one of the biggest tactical innovations of the last decade or so, but it has bought much more than just a singular style of play! Specifically, it has seen the rise of something called a Pressing Trigger! In short, it is a certain time in a match when a team is to press, but it is much more complicated than that…
The Basics A pressing trigger, is as I mentioned before, a certain time in the match where a team/player will press the opposition team. It could be when a certain player gets the ball, or when a certain position gets the ball, for example if the opposition are playing 2 centre halves, one of which is excellent on the ball, one of which isn’t as good on the ball. In this situation, a pressing trigger may be to press when the less technically adept player receives the ball, sending certain players to swarm around that player, forcing him to make a decision quickly in the hope he may make an error.


There are many examples of a pressing trigger, one of which, as I previously mentioned, is when a specific player gets the ball. In this scenario, player number 5 in red is known as a player who is less confident on the ball, and therefore, the blue team will look to exploit that:

As the play is set here, the reds have a goal kick and are set to play out from the back and try and slowly build an attack.

In the second image, the keeper plays the ball to number 6, a ‘Rolls Royce’ of a player, he’s so so comfortable on the ball and really, you might as well try and close down options and cut the passing lanes, which is what the blue side do, forcing him to either pass wide, to the fullback, who would have no passing options at all, or to pass it to the less technically adept number 5, who has better passing options open to 4, 8, 7, or 2.

Number 6 chooses to pass to 5, in the hope that he may pick out a pass to an open player.

Because the blue side know that 5 isn’t comfortable on the ball, this triggers a press, meaning that they look to close him down, put him under pressure and then hope to win the ball off him. In this scenario, every outfield player on the pitch is involved in the pressing trigger, whether it be tightening your marking to stop the passing options, or it could be a player like the blues’ 9, or 11, who both look to directly close the defender down. Closing the player down will either force him to rush a pass, meaning it may be less accurate, completely panic and boot the ball out of touch, or just for the blue side to win the ball back.

In the end, number 9 wins the ball off the shaky defender, due to him having no options to pass to as a result of their press which was calculated, and led to the easy turnover of possession as they engineered the play in a way that it would end up with a player who isn’t confident on the ball, and also leaving him with no passing options. This is an example of a player-specific pressing trigger! Example 2For my second example, I will show you something that I call a positional trigger, meaning that the pressing trigger is based on a player’s position, rather than on his footballing ability! This example shows a team who use a pressing trap that’s triggered when the opponent’s full back receives the ball, and I’ll explain why a full back triggering the press is a great option.

This scenario starts the same as the last one, with a goal kick for the red team, as they start to try and build an attack.

At this point, you will start to notice the first differences in the two triggers. In this one, the number 6, remember from the previous scenario, this player is confident on the ball and should pick out a good pass. And in this, he’s turned the opposite direction towards his full back. Aswell as this, the blue team who don’t have the ball are closing into a favourable position to try and turn the ball over, as you can see with virtually every player shifting to that side of the pitch, with some of them moving closer to certain players (Blue 9 is closer to Red 6).

In the third phase of this trigger, the blue attackers have seized the initiative of the play and completely surrounded the full back. What is unique about the full back pressing trap is a way they enclose the full back, using the sideline as almost a 4th pressing attacker, making him completely enclosed but meaning the attackers have to exert less effort in the pressing trigger.

As there is still a small chance of a pass being open to the goalkeeper, the number 9 is the player that goes to win the ball back off the full back, as he would then in turn be completely blocking off the passing lane to the keeper, and the full back’s only option would then be to either ‘Hail Mary’ the ball forward in the hope that one of his players wins the ball, concede a throw in, deep in his own half, or just to simply give possession away, allowing for an easy chance to be crafted by the blues, potentially resulting in a goal.

How to Beat a Press

Now as I told you what a pressing trigger is and how to execute one, I should tell you how you could work to beat one, the main answer being movement, and always having options open, but I shall demonstrate:

Firstly, the main thing I would look to if I were directing the reds’ build up is to set the players more like this, with the idea being that having the centre halves inside the penalty area, and the full backs higher and wider, would stretch the pitch a lot more than the previous scenarios, leading us to have more space and usually have a pass open. If that fails, there would be more space for the players to find, making it much easier to play out.

Then, I would give the ball to either of the two centre halves, preferably the confident, comfortable number 6 who would panic much less in this scenario, as the opposition start to try and execute their press.

After this, due to the lack of forward options for passes, I would give the ball back to the keeper, inviting slightly more pressure from the blue side, but in turn opening up another option for our defence!

Now because we invited the pressure onto us, baiting the opposition into committing players forwards to try and win the ball off us, there are a couple of options available for our confident centre half to attempt a pass to, including number 8, our box to box midfielder who should be able to pick a pass, or our pacey, explosive number 11, who may be able to carry the ball forwards for us to shock the opponent after they’ve banked on winning the ball high up the pitch, and failing to do so.

The number 5 in this situation, picked to pass to 8, who appeared to be in slot more space and then had a clear option open to the right back, who is making a marauding run down the wing!

And that is how I would look to beat the opposition’s press in that scenario, you can then look to build the attack, but that’s not what this article is on! Another key pressing trigger that is less easy to put into tactic board form is a mistake in opposition play, meaning that in certain situations, a press would be triggered when a pass is under hit, over hit or generally misplaced, or if a first touch was bad, a pass was tricky to control, or even if an attacker simply sees an opportunity to win the ball!
This is just the start of a very complicated area of the game, but I certainly hope this has helped you understand what a pressing trigger/trap actually is, and how best to use it, and play against it!

Published by Tom Caldwell

Denton Town FC social media manager, writer for CFB, Manchester City season ticket holder!

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