Marcelo Bielsa didn’t invent the pressing game, Russian Victor Maslov is the man regularly credited with that achievement, but he has evolved pressing, taking it to new levels with his sides. Bielsa may not have won much with his “loco” pressing style, but he’s has a major influence on the beautiful game, particularly through influencing coaches such as Jorge Sampaoli, Mauricio Pochettino and Gerardo Martino.
New León manager Javier Torrente is another man to have been influenced heavily by Bielsa, with Torrente working as assistant to Bielsa during his spells with Argentina and Marseille. Considering this, Torrente’s an exciting coaching addition to Liga MX, and the question now is to what extent he’ll attempt to introduce a high pressing game to León.
Early evidence of a change in tactic
It took just nine minutes for León to score their first goal during the Torrente era, Germán Cano putting in a rebound from Elías Hernández’s shot. Interestingly, Elías’ shooting opportunity came as a result of León forcing Atlas to give away possession in their own half as La Fiera pressed high up the pitch.
Comparing the average positions of the León defenders during Torrente’s first game against Atlas with their average positions during other home games this season, when Luis Fernando Tena was in charge, shows they sat much higher up the field. This may simply be due to León having this match all but wrapped up by the 17thminute, when they went three-nil up, but it could also be evidence of Torrente introducing a higher pressing game.
Comparing the average position of León’s centre-backs during the game against Atlas and their previous home game v Querétaro shows a stark contrast, even though León won both games.
Conditions in Mexico make pressing difficult
When talking about Liga MX, I often discuss how different the style of play is to the big European games. Generally, defenders sit deep and don’t press high up the pitch, meaning there’s a lot more time and space for attacking players. This results in lots of dribbling, and flair players able to express themselves, which is one reason why it’s my favourite league in the world.
Many factors have created this style of play in Liga MX, but perhaps the most crucial factor is the playing conditions across Mexico. Many Mexican sides play at high altitude, with the thinner air increasing the physical demands on players, thus making a high pressing game physically impossible. High temperatures across Mexico, even during night time matches and especially during the Sunday midday kick-offs, also add to the physical challenges of playing in Mexico, perhaps forcing defenders to sit deep.
Heat and altitude in Mexico haven’t just impacted Liga MX, they also had a major effect on the 1970 and 1986 World Cup’s. Depending on a person’s age, when asking what their favourite ever World Cup was the answer is usually either 1970 or 1986. These two World Cups were characterised by open, attacking football, and no World Cup since 1970 has delivered as many goals per game.
It may just be a coincidence that both World Cups in Mexico delivered entertaining, attacking football, but it could be that the heat and altitude in Mexico made pressing very difficult, leading to attacking players having plenty of time and space on the ball. The time and space for attacking players in possession is a major reason why the two World Cups in Mexico were entertaining and are fondly remembered by football fans.
Javier Torrente got off to a great start with León, winning four-one over Atlas, and his side showed evidence of a high pressing game. However, the high heat and altitude that Mexican sides have to deal with week in, week out should make delivering a successful high pressing game very difficult for Torrente at León, particularly over a full season as fatigue grows within his squad. Whether or not he can do it will be fascinating to watch.