Training ideas: Red Bull Pressing Games

Patrick McLaughlin
6 min readJul 23, 2023

Across the Red Bull network of teams, aggressive pressing is the key component of their out of possession play. They are not looking to simply force the opposition to clear the ball, but rather to win it as high as possible, leading to shorter transitions when attacking towards goal.

The below is designed to help players work on their ability to press, with good coordination needed between pressing and covering units.

Layout

Rules

The playing area is split into thirds, with the two in-possession teams taking one end each, and the out-of-possession team in the middle.

At each end, a short goal area is added with a full size goal and goalkeeper, but this is out of bounds for the teams in possession.

The in-possession teams (Blues and Yellows above) look to retain possession, transferring the ball across the middle zone to each other. The out-of-possession team (Reds) are set up in a 2–2 formation, with two players pressing and two covering behind them in the middle zone.

If the Reds win the ball, the game becomes a 4v4 from the middle zone to the goal they were pressing towards (as shown below), with the Reds looking to score. If they do, the team that conceded will become the defenders and the Reds become one of the in-possession teams.

If the Reds win the ball, they attack towards goal in a 4v4

You can also switch the teams round if one of the in-possession teams passes the ball out of play.

Scoring

- Successful switch of play = 1 point
- Win the ball and score = 3 points

It is important that all four reds work together cohesively in order to have success. The pressing players should focus on their shape, actively forcing the opposition in one direction rather than just chasing the ball. When one player presses, the other should cover the middle of the pitch behind them, cutting off the passing lane to the defensive midfielder. The two covering players should mirror the ball, shifting from side to side as the ball moves. They should be as high as possible while still being effective — if they are too deep, any transition after winning the ball will be slowed down.

It is important for the pressing players to recognise when they can impact play and when they can’t, reacting to pressing ‘triggers’ such as: a poor touch, a slow pass, a player facing their own goal. They should also look to press over short distances, reducing the time the player on the ball has to react and making the press more effective. Pressing over a large distance following a firm pass and a good first touch is unlikely to lead to the Reds winning possession.

Coaching points

Out of possession

- Stay connected and press effectively as a pair
- Make play predictable — Force play one way
- Communication between units
- Use cover shadows to cut off passing lanes
- If covering players are too deep, transitions will take longer
- Decide when you can impact play and when you can’t

In Possession

- Exploit the overload — find the free player
- Be patient and wait for the right pass forward
- Weight of pass to break lines
- Quick ball speed
- Make the space big
- Open body shape — see three corners
- Try to split players with a pass

Variations

Change of pressing formation

A valuable adjustment to make would be to adjust the team’s pressing shape to a 3–1 formation. This better reflects most modern teams, who play with a lone striker. The striker must still work hard to limit the space of the in possession team, looking to force play in one direction. The covering players should stay connected, mirroring the ball as it is shifted from side to side.

The covering players should also recognise opportunities to ‘jump’ forwards and press, when the ball is close to the middle zone. This is particularly important when the striker has been unable to force play one way and the ball is passed into the defensive midfielder (as shown below)

If a pass splits the covering players, their team must win the ball and score twice

A classic rule that almost everyone will have used in a rondo warm up, but one that carries a lot of importance in game situations. It is vital that the covering players remain compact, forcing the in possession teams to play round them rather than through them.

Doing so makes the opposition’s play much more predictable, presenting the pressing team with more opportunities to win the ball and attack, with the touchline acting as an extra defender for the pressing players.

In a game scenario, allowing a team to play through the middle will lead to considerably more dangerous chances being created than if they are forced to play round the sides.

Requiring a team that has their covering players split to win the ball and score twice will keep it at the forefront of their minds, encouraging them to remain compact.

Small sided game

Layout

A pitch is set up for a 7v7 game and divided into thirds — the middle third is slightly bigger than the outside two. The lines dividing the pitch also act as offside lines and a red zone is marked out in the middle of the pitch.

Scoring

- Normal goal = 1 pt
- A goal after the ball has been passed into and out of the red zone = 3 pts
- Win the ball in the final third and score = 3 pts

The scoring rules encourage the out of possession team to press high for multiple reasons. As well as the reward for winning the ball in the final third and scoring, the out of possession team must protect the red zone in the middle in order to prevent the opposition scoring a goal worth three points.

To protect this red zone effectively, they will need to press in front of it, while effectively covering behind (as shown above). If a successful pass is made beyond the press, covering players should be ready to ‘jump’ onto a receiving player in the red zone, to prevent them from retaining possession.

If a pass is played down the line, a similar principle applies, with players pressing from the middle to protect the red zone and using the touchline as an extra defender. In this scenario, the out of possession team must also look to prevent forward progression for the opposition and should either win the ball or force the in possession team back into their own third.

To increase the focus on protecting the red zone, you could award a point every time a team plays into and back out of it successfully, regardless of whether they score or not.

When a team does win the ball they should look to score as quickly as possible, before the opposition have a chance to organise. To encourage this, a rule could be added rewarding a team for scoring within two passes or six seconds of winning the ball.

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