#FIFA Insight

Episode 1: Counter-pressing, crossing and the target man

FIFA, 28 Nov 2022


In episode 1, Technical Study Group members Faryd Mondragón, Cha Du-Ri and Jürgen Klinsmann sit down with Chris Loxston to share their initial observations of the first 16 games.

The tournament's matches are coming thick and fast. Some thrilling contests have already been played, and some goal-of-the-tournament contenders have already been scored. Basing their observations on the data collected for the first 16 games, the TSG identify the target man, counter-press and crosses as three technical elements featuring heavily in the tournament so far.

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Beating a high press with a long ball 
One way of beating a high press is to send long balls over the top to a target man.  Both Cameroon and England used this tactic to excellent effect, forcing the opposition to retreat towards their own goal. The examples in this part of the video also show the value of adaptability in attack. England normally prefer to build from the back, but against Iran, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford chose the right moment to play the ball long for Harry Kane, and his team were rewarded with a goal.

The need for speed 
Serbia lost their group-stage encounter with Brazil, but they put in an impressive performance and created plenty of chances. In this clip, they show the damage a quick transition can do as they exploit a sluggish Brazilian press to get a long ball to centre-forward Aleksandr Mitrović. The success of the move hinges on how quickly the players around Mitrovic react; within a few seconds of Serbia winning the ball, they have four players in the Brazilian penalty area, giving the defenders plenty to think about.

Counter-pressing with multiple players 
The "counter-press" – teams pressing the opposition as soon as they lose possession in an attempt to win the ball back high up the pitch – has become a popular defensive ploy in recent seasons. Again, speed is the key to success, as a quick transition is essential to stop the opposition from being the press. This in turn requires a burst of extreme physical effort, but that effort is often rewarded in the form of more possession and more goal-scoring opportunities. 

Organised energy: the secret to the counter-press 
The examples of the counter-press in this section all show the importance of short, intense bursts of effort in winning the ball back. As a rule, the better organised the pressing team are when they have the ball, the more effective their press will be when they lose it. If they are in a compact shape, they will be able to get on top of the opposition very quickly and win the ball back. This in turn reduces the distance they have to run because they spend more time in possession. 

Chances created from crosses 
The statistics from the early part of this tournament show that numbers of chances and goals created from crosses are both significantly higher than they were in Russia four years ago. One reason for this is the fact that the teams at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ tend to be very good at shutting down the middle of the pitch, forcing the opposition to push the ball out wide and cross into the box. In this respect, the tactics we are seeing now are reminiscent of the days of the old-fashioned centre-forward.

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