How to Exploit the High Pressure Defense

By Stevie Grieve

Valencia entice pressure to exploit the spaces behind the press.

Valencia came into the Emirates Cup with a new coaching staff, hired from Rio Ave in Portugal. New manager Nuno Espirito Santo and his staff already had the preparation done for this game as his last game in charge of Rio Ave was a Portuguese Cup Final 1-0 defeat to Benfica, where Rio Ave had some good opportunities to score but it wasn’t be a historic day for them.

Going into this game, they knew the spaces they would be able to find if they enticed Benfica to press like they usually do, so set out to pass into areas where Benfica would press, then find a way out to find players in the attacking midfield line between the Benfica defence and midfield line.

They looked for these spaces from the opening minutes, unfortunately losing a daft goal from a pass against a team mate, but from the 2nd half, with the injection of pace from Rodrigo on the left, and Andre Gomes positioning and speed of distribution in central midfield, they looked much more threatening, especially when the Benfica central midfielders were enticed to press in pairs.

Valencia Game Plan

Provoke high pressing from Benfica – Central pressure – release WM between lines

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When the ball is passed into a central midfielder, they will hold until the press is close, then release to the lateral central midfielder who will be looking to find the wide attacking midfielder who moves inside to get between the lines with the central midfield press beaten.

As Valencia know that Benfica will press in midfield and leave spaces behind the midfield line, they also know that it is important to pass when the player takes a step forward where his body can’t adjust to block the passing lane, while expecting that the defence will establish a line depth and width before Luisao moves out of the line to close down the space and the ball.

Wide Pressure on Full Back; Hit one of 2 zones and break quickly

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When the ball is being defended on the side, Valencia position players very deep and pass the ball back; Benfica will be attracted to the ball, opening the gaps highlighted above.

When the FB or CM is in possession from the pass back, they either go for the direct pass through once the press is made, or pass wide to the FB who passes into the WM moving inside the highlighted space, while the attacking CM will break from deep and look for a touch around the corner as the FB presses from behind. This will free the far side full back to support and allow the wide attacking midfielder to position inside and between the lines or on the outside of the full back, depending on where the space is.

Opening Minutes; Valencia entice the press then open the passing lane to get between the lines

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Here we see the wide attacking midfielder positioned inside, while the diagonal pass inside provokes the press. This is what Valencia want, and will quickly look to get the ball to the left and into the space.

Passing lane is open but isn't used

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We can see the WM has made his run and isn’t picked up by the wide midfielder, with an open passing lane. It isn't used as Guardado fakes and turns back, but the space created is huge.

Gomes times the pass – Valencia 1st goal

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We see Piatti between the lines, while the full back can push on due to the space available on the outside. Gomes could release an early pass but dribbling forward will entice pressure where he can exploit the space behind the pressure.

Gomes finds the killer pass

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As the pressure is made, Gomes has 2 passing angles; one which Bebe reads and tries to intercept the ‘safe’ pass. The pass he makes can be cut out but Piatti is in position to press instantly, while the pass he makes is also the one with the best reward and into the run of the full back.

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The ball is passed across goal and the rebound lands at Piatti who follows up to score.

Possession regain and penetration

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As Valencia win the ball back, Benfica are teased to press by the pass into the full back, who has Piatti available in the space they identified as being open, who can link with Guardado.

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Guardado is now able to break through the midfield and drive at the defence with support around him

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Guardado continues his run then is confronted by Luisao, fakes to shoot and cuts inside, then scores.

Overall, the game process employed by Valencia utilised the tactical preferences of Benfica and used them against them. The HT introductions of Gomes and Rodrigo gave Valencia the penetration and positional awareness needed to exploit the game plan.

By Stevie Grieve. (Follow on Twitter @steviegrieve)  Stevie is also the author Coaching the 4-2-3-1 and Coaching the 4-2-3-1 Advanced Tactics

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