Frank Lampard discusses the role of midfielders in a fashionable tactical plan…
Although the basic idea is the same as when an industrious striker such as David Speedie would earn big cheers from the Chelsea crowd in the 1980s for chasing down defenders and winning the ball deep in the opposition half, today’s tactical fashion for the high-pressing game is a long way from that lone individual effort.
Instead a well-rehearsed and coordinated plan involving many team members is now needed, and it has brought major success to several clubs in recent years. Chelsea have played a version of the tactic during the early months of this season and also faced teams deploying it too, but while the role of the striker and the more attacking midfielders in pressing when they haven’t got the ball is well recognised, what does it ask of the midfielders who generally find themselves in deeper roles?
Do they need to sit back as a guard against counter-attacks should the opposition break through the pressing line, or are they up the pitch putting pressure on too? Frank Lampard has the answer.
‘The team has to be compact,’ he says. ‘Whether you press high or low it has to be together, not just the striker running around on his own trying to press high.
‘All the lines have to be together because if one line gets beaten or broken, you all need to be in there or you will be exposed.The impressive thing is when a team like Bayern Munich or Barcelona do it, it is a team effort. Even the attacking players like Robben and Ribery, or Iniesta and Messi, they put in the work rate and sometimes they don’t get the credit for it because of all the positive things they do with the ball.
‘You can’t afford to have one passenger that doesn’t do it because then teams get out against you and there are lots of spaces behind. Occasionally you do see that with Barcelona when they play at home, but normally they are so good going forward they can get away with the occasional chance.
‘We saw it when Bayern Munich were against them last year, and with Real Madrid a few times. If you beat that press then they can be susceptible but when it comes off I think it is a good tactic.
‘Barcelona were the first to bring it in and they did it with players of great quality which is the first thing you need, plus an awareness and a work-rate. And others have followed suit.’
There was plenty of work in Chelsea’s pre-season on forward players pressing the ball and on how possession is moved up the pitch to them, with the moves visible from the first moments of the first game against Hull.
‘The pressing line has to be worked on very much and we tried to do it here a couple of years ago and if you are not quite getting it or haven’t quite got the personnel to do it, I don’t think you can say right, let’s press high because everyone is doing it now, it is the fashion and it will work,’ says Lampard.
‘It is certainly a process of working on the training ground and getting across a different idea.’
For the central midfielder with the ball at his feet, the popularity of pressing has an impact too with even the lower ranking teams who used sit back and allow their opponents time to build now trying to press high up the pitch.
‘You don’t get so much freedom on the ball in the middle of the park and you have to try to move the ball more quickly to those attacking players than you used to,’ notes Lampard.