Pressing Mechanisms: Focusing on cover shadows and pressing traps

This article will focus on the importance of cover shadows in the pressing movement and pressing trap possibilities in different systems.

The pressing movement requires a lot of factors – like high defensive-line, ball-oriented movements, proper usage of cover shadows etc. – in order to be effective. Because when you press, there are certain areas on the field, which are not under control, so you must cut the opponent’s connections towards these areas. And what is the best way to do that? With using cover shadows properly.

There are 2 basic and essential pressing concepts: vertical- and horizontal compactness. With vertical compactness you may tighten the space between the lines, and maintain an appropriate connection between the players -so they are able to help each other, if needed. A common mistake is that the defensive-line is too deep in a pressing situation, so for example the FB can’t step up and press – the opponent’s FB, if needed -, because he is too far away.

As most of the pressing movements force the opponent towards the flanks, it’s important to provide time for the FBs to adapt according to the pressing’s direction. With horizontal compactness you maintain an adequate lateral distance between the players, so there won’t be vertical passing lanes wide open, which may be exploited easily. Another aspect of the horizontal compactness is that you need to shift towards the ball in order to create a numerical superiority at the ball’s zone, so you may regain possession as soon as possible.


Example for a badly executed pressing movement. CF uses his cover shadow to close the right side of the pitch, but the players don’t make ball oriented shifts, therefore they don’t have a numerical superiority in the pressing’s zone – lack of both vertical-and horizontal compactness.

Liverpool’s orientation mistake in a pressing movement against Dortmund from yesterday. LCB can’t step up to close down the RW, as it would open up a huge space for CF to run into. Plus, bad usage of the cover shadow from the LW, a winger should always block the passing lane towards the halfspace in a pressing situation.

When pressing the opponent’s build-up, basically there are 2 options – but this may vary according to the opponent’s build-up system:

  • pressing the CBs with the winger
  • pressing the CBs with a CM

Against a 2 CB system I prefer, when the CM pressures the CB – and then behind him the DM takes his position -, but against a 3 CB system it’s better to press the wide CBs with the wingers (and then the FBs should step up).

Dortmund’s kind of ‘half-press’ against Bayern. LW attacks the RCB, but as the LB doesn’t step up, it’s easy to play out of the pressure. Orientation and shifting problem.
GIF: Bayern playing through Dortmund’s pressing. 

Examples of proper shifting, when the winger attacks the CB.

Bayern’s pressing against Dortmund’s 3 CB-system. As the DM drops their defensive shape forms a 5-4-1 -advantages already discussed here-,  therefore both the LB and the LCB may step up to close down their own man. LW using his cover shadow properly, as he closes down the vertical passing lane towards the halfspace, forcing the opponent to the flank -to RB. Plus important to note the high defensive-line, therefore these shifting movements are more flexible – vertical compactness. On the second picture we can see how Bayern’s passing lane oriented pressing system works.

GIF: Bayern’s passing lane-oriented pressing system.

Ingolstadt’s pressing system is very similar to the Bayern one, though there the DM is not as deep, but he does the same dropping movement, if needed. Here is an example about their system against Bayern. Although here the RW is open, but with the cover shadows they are trying to cut Bayern’s access towards the RCM-RW. Also DM could step higher to prevent the numerical advantage there, or LCM may move a little laterally towards the sideline, so his cover shadow would block RCM.

There is a new element of the pressing movement: the pressing trap. Without using cover shadows properly, you can’t trap efficiently, and that could be very dangerous. If you create a pressing trap, you must have adequate horizontal shifts to cut the opponent’s access in the ball’s zone. Vertically there are 3 forms of pressing traps:

  • Pressing trap in the centre
  • Pressing trap in the halfspaces
  • Pressing trap in the flanks : best area create a trap, because that’s when the pressing shape may be the narrowest – even being overcompact is not a problem -, as this grants the access towards the ball – plus the sideline acts as a defender as well

Horizontally 2 forms: if you press properly, you won’t have any players in the defensive third.

  • Attacking third
  • Middle third

The first of a pressing trap is that you let the opponent to build-up from the back -GK short pass to CB mostly – then you force them into a specific direction and area in where there is the pressing trap itself -a controlled area. The easiest way to force them anywhere is to use the cover shadows – to cut the opponent’s access towards the far side -, and to make a bait, so they will enter into the trap – easiest pressing trap bait is an open vertical passing lane or an open lateral option. Although you need appropriate spacing and access to the ball, because when you create a trap, the defensive shape may be overcompact, so there is a huge uncontrolled space on the far-side.

Here are some ideas of different pressing traps.

Pressing trap in a 5-4-1 formation. Leaving a vertical passing lane open, then cutting the LCM’s access towards his teammates.

Trapping in a 4-1-4-1. Again leaving LCM open, then closing down the passing lanes. 5 players participates in the trap.

Pressing trap in a 4-4-2, forcing a lateral pass towards the DM, then cutting his access.

Trapping the LCM in a 4-3-3 pressing shape.


An extra GIF: Bayern’s pressing trap-ish defending in a throw-in situation.

Pressing the opponent has been very popular lately, although without understanding it’s principles -the high defensive line, cover shadows, shifting etc. -, a pressing movement can not be as effective as it should be.



Add yours →

  1. Excellent analysis, pressing will be key to the new era of football.


  2. Awesome analysis!


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