Who is the best pressing team in Europe this season?

Introduction


According to spielverlagerung.com, pressing can be described as “a process in which the
defending team intends to pressure the opponent which possesses the ball. The idea behind this
is to give the opponent less time to create plays and ultimately force the opposing team into
turnovers.”


Albeit it is difficult to determine exactly when pressing became as ubiquitous in the football
world as it is now, there is no doubt about its relevance today. In this article, the goal is to find
out which European team is the best at pressing this season. In order to fulfill this goal, the best five teams of each top 5 league this season are considered. They are compared by the quantity and quality as well as by the location of their pressing.


The quality and quantity of the pressing


Two fairly simple metrics are used here: PressAttp90 and SuccPress%, which are abbreviations
for pressures attempted per 90 minutes and successful pressure percentage, respectively. By
taking into account PressAttp90 it can be seen which team pressures their opponents the most.
SuccPress% helps to determine the pressing’s quality, since the number of successful pressures
is divided by the total amount of pressures.

pressing graph 1
pressing graph 1


After looking at the PressAttp90 value of each team, it can be seen that Wolfsburg, Tottenham, and AC Milan have the highest frequency of pressing. Wolfsburg applies 166 pressures in an average game, this is about 30 pressures more than the average of the teams considered here. On the lower side, more defensive teams such as Villarreal or Atletico Madrid can be found. They average less than 130 pressures per match. Leverkusen also does not apply a lot of pressure, but contrary to Villarreal, they are successful at
pressing, this is underlined by their pressure success rate of about 37%. Their counterpart is
Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, only manage to decide a bit more than a quarter of their
pressures for themselves.


An interesting discrepancy between the leagues can be noticed here. Bundesliga teams are at
the upper end when looking at their SuccPress% value, while teams from the Premier League
do not fancy a high frequency of their pressing. As solely the 5 best teams of each league are portrayed here, it is intriguing how the underperformers or other interesting teams of this season look. Hence, Barcelona, the
Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Leeds, Atalanta, and Gladbach are displayed in the following table.

pressing table 2
pressing table

Leeds are the best of these teams; they are applying the most pressures and winning most
of them. On the contrary, Barcelona looks disappointing here, they average 100 pressures per
match which is, compared to the other teams, an extremely small number.

The location of the pressing

Here, it is differentiated between pressing in the three-thirds of the pitch. There is the
defensive/deep press, the midfield/middle press, and the attack/high press. In order to get a
percentage, the amount of pressures applied in each of the thirds is divided by the total number
of pressures.

pressing table
table

The larger the red part of each team is, the higher the percentage of the pressing in the defensive
third of the team. This means that West Ham (bottom left) press the most in their defensive
third and therefore execute a low press. Their counterpart is Bayern; they are the most
offensively pressing team, about 35% of their pressing takes place in their offensive third.


Again, there is a correlation between the location of a team’s pressing and the league they play
in, which can be put down to the playing culture in the different countries. It could already be
seen in the previous graphic that Bundesliga teams tend to be good at pressing, and the new
graphic shows that they play a very offensive style of pressing. Premier League teams, on the
other hand, do not execute a lot of their pressing in their offensive third, the blue part of 4 of
the 5 English teams in this graphic is pretty small. Of course, the exception is Liverpool, one of
the pioneers for pressing in the modern game.

General trend of pressing this season

These graphics would look completely different if the stats of last season were displayed. Due
to a tighter schedule and therefore less rest between the matches, teams tend to press less in
order to save some energy and establish a more sustainable style of playing for this though
the season. Looking back at the last season and talking about the current one, Bayern Munich’s Leon
Goretzka mentioned this topic: “What you can or must certainly think about is whether we need
to change our way of playing a little bit. Because the pressing we’ve been playing for the last
few months to get through a season like this without any breaks becomes difficult when you
play every other day.”

This is also backed by data. Taking the Premier League as an example: 19 of 20 Premier League
teams are applying less pressure than last season.

(https://theathletic.com/2249701/2020-
/12/09/premier-league-pressing-less/)

Conclusion

There are interesting patterns that can be observed when comparing the top team’s pressing
stats. The most remarkable one of them is the correlation with the playing habits of each league.
To answer the question in the title, it can be stated that it is certainly of the Bundesliga teams.
Wolfsburg put on the most pressure, Leverkusen has the best success at pressing, and Bayern
press in the most offensive manner. A concrete answer is difficult since it is hard to determine which metrics are of higher relevance. Therefore, it is necessary to look at which team has the most complete pressing.
Leverkusen can be excluded after taking into account their low frequency of pressing (126PressAttp90). A team that does not press a lot is not able to be considered the best pressing team in Europe.

This results in a comparison between Bayern and Wolfsburg. In an average match, Wolfsburg
pressures 30 times more than Bayern. Albeit Bayern win more of their pressures (35%), Wolfsburg is not far behind (34,4%). Bayern’s high press leaves them at 34,8% of their pressures in their attacking third. This is much more offensive than Wolfsburg; only 24,7% of their pressures take place in the attacking third. This is logical as their coach favors a middle press. It can not be said that a typical high press is better than a middle press as both of the variations have advantages and disadvantages. But it can be said that Wolfsburg is better at their system, which makes them the best pressing team in Europe.

Leave a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest