Cornell Soccer vs. The Pros: Pressing
Pressing has always been an aspect of the professional game. No manager in their right mind would allow the opponent’s creative players time and space to pick apart their defense. But, in the past few years, the way teams pressure has changed. Exemplified by Jurgen Klopp’s Gegenpresisng at Liverpool, it is not just the attackers who are pressured. Teams are expected to pressure together, from the front, making it hard for defenses to find their tempo.
However, at the Cornell men’s soccer game against Yale, I saw something entirely different. Neither team did much pressing, and when they did, it was only when they were defending. Very rarely did attacking players try to hassle or harry defenders, and when they did, it was much more of a solo effort than the combined team pressing, which is commonly seen at the professional level.
Of the total attacking presses by Cornell, where an attacking player made a real effort to make the defender uncomfortable and force a mistake, nine of the 11 presses were by individuals. Yale was only slightly different, with 10-of-14 presses coming from individuals.
It was surprising to see teams pressuring as individuals, but what really intrigued me was the low amount of overall pressure to the defense. Both teams were content to let the other squad build from the back, and, quite often, the Cornell and Yale center backs had the time and space of the pitch to dictate the play.
In the professional game, a striker’s work rate in pressing the center backs is now a crucial aspect of play. However, for Cornell and Yale, they seemed content to let their strikers roam around, waiting for possession to turn over.
To me, there are two possible reasons for this issue. The first is fitness based – the coaches must believe that the athletes at the college level, especially the attacking players, are best served saving their strength and energy for driving at the opposition defense. This seems unlikely, and even if it was the case, it seems silly, as there are unlimited subs, and a coach could refresh his attacking players every five minutes.
This leaves the second reason, which is the fact that teams can’t effectively press. Pressing from the front is a very hard thing to do well, and if there is any mistake, it can lead to an overload and a good chance for the team in possession. At the collegiate level, coaches must prefer to have their defensive position solidified and trust that the opposing defenders don’t have the necessary ball skills to open up chances for the attackers.
Of course, this did not work too well for Cornell against Yale, as the second goal of the match was scored by the Bulldogs’ left back, who Cornell backed off, and the lack of pressure on the flank defenders allowed the Yale right back to put in the cross that led to the third goal. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see such a marked difference between the pro game and the collegiate game, and it will be interesting to see how Coach Smith approaches the tactics involved in pressing when he has more time to recruit and build his team.