In modern football, scores of teams have adopted a brand of high-octane, high-press football. Many sides now press their opponents high up the pitch, aiming to regain possession, or at the very least disrupt attacking sequences as close to their opponents’ goal as possible.
More and more, press-resistant footballers are in greater demand. Their combination of attributes makes them perfect for inviting pressure and either muscling their way out of it or finding a way out with a pass.
This means most press-resistant players are good dribblers and have a good appreciation of space. Defensive midfielders, in particular, are manifesting this more and more across Europe’s top five leagues.
Here are a few press-resistant players who would add a new dimension to Manchester City:
Combative, progressive and a formidable presence in central midfield, Thomas Partey is the embodiment of a Diego Simeone player.
The 26-year-old completes over 2.0 dribbles per 90 across all competitions this season, as well as winning multiple tackles per game.
Atletico Madrid’s Ghanaian midfielder is a high-volume, high-output player. In the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League Group Stage, Partey averaged 10 passes into the final third per 90. For comparison, Rodri averaged 14.3 per 90 while enjoying much more possession.
These passes into the final third not only open opportunities for the more creative players in a side but they ease opposition pressure. His performance against Liverpool in the Champions League knockout stage is a good example of how to beat the press.
Former Arsenal youth product Ismaël Bennacer is one of Europe’s most effective press-resistant midfielders. Signed by AC Milan last summer after excelling at Empoli, Bennacer would not come cheap but would certainly add a combative, energetic edge to City’s core.
Bennacer routinely gets through three-or-more successful dribbles per 90 and does so at a staggering eighty per cent success rate. This places him among the best and most efficient dribblers in Europe from his berth as a defensive midfielder.
Combined with his innate tenacity off the ball, Bennacer can be described as a composite, modern-day Gennaro Gattuso out of possession. He may not be the tallest or the quickest and will not contribute to build-up in the same way Rodri or Ilkay Gündogan can, but he is a player you would much rather have on your team than against you.
Press-resistant players tend to be deep-lying central midfielders, but Emi Buendía scores highly in duels won and dribbles completed from the right-wing.
Norwich City’s Argentine winger has been the club’s Player of the Season. His brand of industrious wide play and persistent work-rate in defensive phases has been commended by opposition managers. No attacking player in the Premier League this season has made more tackles than Buendía.
In City’s current set-up, Buendía could play anywhere on the right flank, and could be a valuable squad player. Given the emphasis Guardiola puts on his wide players to have an influence on proceedings, Buendía’s enterprising dribbling would not go amiss.
With Norwich expected to be relegated at the end of the season, City would likely have no trouble in releasing him from his contract at Carrow Road.
Brought through the La Masia youth academy at FC Barcelona, Traoré is outstanding when it comes to dribbling and duels.
The former Barcelona, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough winger has been transformed from a wasteful, runaway train to a somewhat controlled, homing missile. At 24, Traoré has his peak years ahead of him and his physical attributes make him an incredible force for any opponent to match up to.
His dribbling ability is no secret, but he is also relatively efficient when it comes to his tackling; winning more than he loses.
If Traoré were to play in a more possession-dominant side like City, his dribbling output may reach unprecedented levels. Still, his final product needs polishing but under a coach like Guardiola, Traoré would hardly be better placed to hone himself.