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High pressing and playing out from the back: The evolution of a different way to win the Premier League?


It’s often been said that to win the Premier League, first and foremost, you need to be solid at the back. Well, this doesn’t seem to be the case now. Gone are the days of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea winning the league having conceded just 22 goals, or even Fergie’s Manchester United doing the same in 2008.

Since 2008, the average amount of goals conceded by the Premier League champions is just over 33 (33.28 to be precise). Manchester United even managed to top the table in 2013 having conceded 43 goals, which is really quite astonishing.

It’s clear that the emphasis has moved away from the ‘build from the back’ philosophy, and everybody is now obsessed with high-pressing attacking football. This often makes for exhilarating games of football, but why is it that the art of defending is leaving our game?

The Pep factor

Pep Guardiola, genius or fraud? It’s a matter of opinion. But what isn’t is the magnitude of his impact on modern football. The Catalan’s Barcelona side in the 2008/09 season is often regarded as the best club side ever to grace a football pitch. That side included Lionel Messi, Thiery Henry and Samuel Eto’o, amongst others who not only dominated Spain but also Europe after beating Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League final.

Guardiola’s philosophy during his time at Barcelona was based on a high intensity pressing game. Winning the ball back as quickly as possible, and when you get the ball, protecting it at all costs, even if that means taking a few risks.

The impact that this Barcelona team had on football around the world cannot be underestimated. People saw the way they played, the risks they took, the beautiful end product, and they wanted a slice of the action. It was no longer acceptable to win the Premier League by grinding out games — it had to beautiful, it had to be entertaining.

Do defenders need to be able to play?

Defenders used to have one job, and that was simply to defend. Deny the opposition from putting the ball in the back of your net, and as a defender, your job was done. Nowadays, that’s not the case. Fullbacks now have to have the pace and trickery of an elite winger (unless you’re playing in a Tony Pulis side), and central defenders are tasked with being the players who launch attacks.

For the purpose of retaining possession, a defender does need a certain amount of technical ability. However, it’s crucial that this idea of being a ball-playing defender doesn’t consume them and cause them to forget their principal duty.

Can pressing from the front and playing out from the back win you the Premier League?

The answer is yes, but only when it’s done properly. It’s no surprise that the one team in the Premier League currently doing this right are managed by an Italian. Antonio’s Conte’s Chelsea have managed to strike a great balance over the last few months. They play out from the back when they have the ball and press brilliantly when they don’t.

Conte’s team take risks in the right areas, but their defenders also defend. In N’Golo Kante, they have arguably the best pressing player in Europe, and Diego Costa understands how to ignite his team’s pressing game high up the pitch.

At the time of writing, Conte’s side are currently favourites to win the Premier League title this season and are seven points above the aforementioned Guardiola’s Manchester City. It would take a brave man to bet against them at the moment – in fact, a number of bookies are offering some excellent betting offers on them to win the league – many of which you’ll find here at Betting Expert.

This is evidence that playing a high-risk, gung-ho pressing game isn’t quite as simple in the Premier League as it is on the continent. Yes, you can be successful in England by pressing and having defenders who are confident on the ball, but in order to win the title, you need to blend that with some real defending.


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