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Five Ways to Press in a 4-4-2

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

This week in our Tactical Breakdown series, we take a look at different pressing variations in a 4-4-2 system. We have written quite a few articles this year about the roles of center backs and goalkeepers in the build-up, and one could argue that a 4-4-2 pressing structure gives them the most amount of problems when building an attack. With immediate pressure applied on the ball, suddenly the risk rises and teams are much less likely to progress the ball as fluidly as they would like. However, as with all pressing systems, there are areas which coaches have to concede and, with the rise of midfield threes over the last ten years, many coaches are reluctant to lose a numerical advantage in the center of midfield.

As pressing systems have become more flexible, we could be seeing somewhat of a resurgence in the 4-4-2 press. Suddenly you do not have to press in a traditional flat midfield four with an open passing lane for the opposition goalkeeper to find the holding midfielder and break the press. Instead, maneuvering your diamond and pressing shape into different structures can lure the opposition into areas where you can win possession high up the field and look to counter quickly. That quick counter opportunity is a constant theme in this video and one which is perhaps overlooked in pressing conversations today. The more numbers used to win the ball further down the pitch, the less dangerous that initial outlet pass forward can become. But having two forwards dictate pressure and positioning suddenly changes the look of a counter-attack and provides a real platform to central overloads.

Below is an example of the work that we look at in the breakdown. It's probably the 'ideal world' for a 4-4-2 press where the top of the diamond matches directly up with the opposition holding midfielder, the wide midfielders can apply pressure to the full-backs, and the holding midfielder can rotate underneath depending on which side the ball moves to.

But what if the opposition adapt their shape? With five different variations explained in the video, coaches can keep the same principles but pose different questions to the opposition. You can watch the full session with the breakdown of each exercise on the video below. If you enjoy it, please subscribe to our YouTube page so you do not miss the next one.

This video was part of the launch of our new MSC eBook:Twenty Attacking Training Sessions, designed to help coaches connect the dots between philosophy, tactical flexibility and session design. The book contains twenty full session plans that are broken down into three phases: build-up, midfield progression, and goal-scoring. Each session will contain three exercises so there are 60 exercises overall! With his experience in the professional game as a coach and an analyst, Gary Curneen has designed these sessions to help bring out intensity, tactical understanding and game-like situations, that are enjoyable for both players and staff. Click here to get your copy.

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