Training Pressing in the attacking 3rd as Speed Endurance Training

The ability to apply defensive pressure in the attacking 3rd of the field has been a hallmark of some of the world’s most successful soccer teams, including most recently, the German National Soccer Team at the 2014 World Cup. From an attacking standpoint, there is no easier way to score a goal from open play than when a team can win the ball back from the opposition and is already close to the goal. Developing a team’s ability to press is not an easy task, however. It must involve a combination of exceptional positioning and tactical understanding, in a concentrated and coordinated effort from a group of players.

Also of prime importance in the ability to press, is the maintenance of a very high intensity of running or sprinting, over a relatively long period of time (an ability which is commonly termed “speed endurance”). Training to improve speed endurance is challenging, because it requires athletes to push through a significant amount of fatigue in order to sufficiently challenge their aerobic systems enough to improve their capacity.

Furthermore, making this training specific to soccer, a task which must involve training on the field, with the ball, likely in some variation of a small-sided game, presents even greater challenge to coaches and fitness coaches.

An excellent way to solve the problems of both teaching / training a team how to press in the attacking 3rd, while at the same time developing and improving players’ speed endurance, is to use a functional small-sided game of “attacking 5” against “defending 5”.

Basically, this is a game which is functional in that it takes place in the same area of the pitch (the attacking 3rd) where the team intends to press in the actual game, and the “teams” are comprised of 5 attacking players (4 midfielders; 2 wide and 2 central, plus 1 striker) playing against 5 defending players (4 defenders; 2 wide and 2 central, and 1 defensive midfielder). The game must start with the coach playing a ball in to the “defending 5” team. As the ball travels, the “attacking 5” team must apply a high pressure defense, sprinting as quickly as possible to apply pressure to the ball/ball-carrier, prevent forward play, and look to arrange themselves in a position in which they can force the team in possession to make a mistake and turn the ball over. The primary objective of the “defending 5” team is to keep possession of the ball, play through the pressure, and score on one of two small goals placed near the intersections of the half line and side line.

While the game itself is fairly simple to set up and execute, the key to this training session is the intensity of the “attacking 5” when applying pressure. They must begin to press immediately, as the ball travels in to the “defending 5”, and their running should be done at close to or equal to 100% of their maximum running speed. If they are able to force their opponents to concede quickly, they may not experience a lot of fatigue. If, however, they take longer (approximately longer than 10 seconds) to win possession, then fatigue will become a factor in the session. The coach must encourage players to continue to play at the maximum intensity possible, up to a maximum of 45-60 seconds (this would be the upper limit of time during which an athlete can maintain a very high or maximum intensity of training).

Below is an explanation of the details of the pressing game for speed endurance, as well as a diagram of the session. Ultimately, if players are to become better at pressing in the attacking 3rd, they must train and develop a combination of excellent teamwork and decision making (when to press, and where to be when pressing) as well as high levels of speed endurance, which will allow them to maintain the intensity of running needed to effectively win back possession of the ball and generate more scoring opportunities.

  • Set-Up: play in attacking 1/3rd of a regular sized pitch, with 2 small goals placed close to the intersection of the ½ line and sidelines

  • Teams are comprised of:

  • “Defending 6”: 1 goalkeeper and 6 outfield players (2 wide defenders, 2 central defenders, and 2 central defensive midfielders)

  • “Attacking 6”: 6 outfield players (2 wide midfielders, 2 attacking central midfielders, and 2 strikers

  • Game starts with coach playing the ball in to the “defending 5”.“Attacking 5” must press immediately, as the ball travels

  • Play to a maximum of 60 seconds.Use a rest period of exactly 5 times the work period, and aim for a total work time duration of 4-5 minutes, with a total training time (including rest periods) of 16-20 minutes.For example: 12 sets of:

  • 20 seconds pressing

  • 1.5-2 minutes passive recovery between sets

Richard Bucciarelli is the Owner and President of Soccer Fitness Inc., a soccer-specific strength and conditioning company in Toronto. He is a regular contributor to For more information about Richard and Soccer Fitness Inc., visit