Over the last decade or so — thanks to the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Luis Enrique, Arsene Wenger, and others — soccer (football, whatever) has become a much higher scoring game than it was in the past.
Instead of the 1-0 matches, the prior generation had grown accustomed to, the scorelines over the last decade usually read something like 2-1 or 3-2.
A prime example of this shift in footballing ideology is the 2017/2018 Champions League, which was the highest-scoring season in the history’s league with a rate of about 3.18 goals per game.
But what really, fundamentally, brought about these changes? Pressing, otherwise known as heavy metal football.
Between 1992-2009, the Premier League saw an average of 2.7 goals per game in one season. Since 2010, the average has risen to more than 2.7. This can be accredited to a different style of play, specifically attack pressing. It’s not exactly a new tactic, but it’s one that managers have been using more frequently. In fact, it has been used since the 1970s; however, there’s a slight difference as to why the tactic is more effective now.
Modern players are more fit and perform at higher-intensities. The players operate at two extremes. The current algorithm is quick sprints followed by low-intensity play. This is completely opposite of how soccer players performed in the past. Those players functioned at a more steady pace, so when they pressed on the attack, it was not as severe as the ones we see today.
The Biggest Supporters of the Press
Liverpool is the most notorious user of the attack pressing tactic.
Manager Jürgen Klopp is an avid believer in it, and his team’s standings demonstrate it’s success. Liverpool pushes it’s midfielders forward with the intention to win the ball further up the field, and once possession is won, to quickly send the ball out to the strikers. Opposing teams usually become overwhelmed and lose their formation in the process. This could explain why Liverpool’s James Milner leads the Champions League in assists.
The Non-Supporters of the Press
Though the tactic is designed to make plays, there is a downside. Attack pressing does create more opportunity for scoring, but it also leaves a weak defensive line. With the majority of players pushing forward, a loss of possession in midfield could rapidly lead to an advantage for the other team.
Despite the growing use of this trend, not all managers have adapted it. Manchester United manager José Mourinho has his team play with a more defensive approach. Mourinho has been criticized for this because not only do people think he’s forgoing the full potential of his players’ skills, but the stats speak for themselves. Manchester United scored only 13 goals in the Champions League as opposed to Liverpool’s 38.