Under Jürgen Klopp’s guidance, Liverpool has made it to the top of football and won the champions league after years of suffering and trophy less seasons.
Since the German coach took commands he promised the fans trophies in 5 years and he reinvented Liverpool into a restless machine that has dominated the premier league this year. With a comfortable point advantage it is only a matter of time before they lift the Premier league trophy after decades of absence.
Everyone enjoys the displays provided by the red team, goals and intensity are always on the rendez-vous. The front three seem to have grasped each other movements and developed a mutual understanding that enables them to be an unstoppable goal scoring machine.
But in this piece, I won’t be going over how Liverpool moves the ball to score but I am more interested on how they recover the ball once they lose it.
Gegenpressing is the buzzword associated with the tactic of pressing the opposition instantly after loosing the ball and trying to kill their advance as high up the field as possible.
The pressing tactic is widely used by teams in the last 10 years and it is emphasized bu the development of the physical attributes of the modern football player which made the tactic gain more popularity and strength.
The aim is to prevent the opponent’s counterattack and to win the ball. The English, the Spanish and Italians, call it counter-pressing and not “Gegenpressing”; in the end the opponent’s counterattack is pressured. In 2008, Jürgen Klinsmann spoke of “immediate ball recovery” and struck at the heart of the matter very well.
The Gegenpresing is not an easy tactic to implement. It is complicated and physically demanding and it requires hard training to master it. Yet if perfectly executed it is rewarding because of the points below.
The most disorganized a team can be is when it loses the ball. Attacking patterns shifts players position to get them closer to the oppositions final thirds which creates spaces that can be exploited by counter attacks.
In modern football, Soccer players have acquired hours and hours of tactical training and positional awareness that defenders and strikers tend to move to exploit spaces almost instinctively. Most teams can transition very quickly with the ball to exploit the spaces left behind the opposition players and counter attacking football have never been more used in the history of football.
Once a team loses the ball two options arises depending on coaches. Either they try to switch to their defending formation and get their block as close to their goalkeeper to protect it. Or, they try to press and recover the ball as high into the oppositions areas and stop their advancement.
The second choice is the Gegenpressing essence. It drives the opponent backwards and prevents them the chance of counterattacking . It increases defensive stability; excluding poor implementations, naturally.
Gegenpressing both prevents the opposition counterattack and makes it more difficult to be countered.
Even if you could consistently win the ball at a similar level to a good Gegenpressing by retreating, it would not avoid the loss of space and organization. after the ball is recovered you would be deeper and in a defensive shape.
The great advantage of Gegenpressing is that the ball is normally recovered in an offensive shape and in a higher position on the field.
A quick ball recovery ensures that you can revert back to your attack. In addition, the opposition will often fan out and open up space that wasn’t available before; this synergy ensures the third great advantage, the increased offensive presence.
3-Improved offensive presence
After the ball is won in high zones via Gegenpressing, you can counter against a team which has just moved into forward gear. They will be poorly shaped in an unsuitable Dynamic, because they want to establish a broad and deep formation out of a narrow one; while at the same time your team are compact around the ball.
While the pace of the opponent’s transitions is screwed up and your team is in a more advantageous shape, you can immediately attack the retreating opponent or circulate the ball higher up the field. It is not for nothing that Jürgen Klopp has called Gegenpressing the “best playmaker in the world.”
Talking about Gegenpressing can go on without mentioning one of the persons that made him famous. Jurgen klopp put Gegenpressing on the map since his days at Borussia Dortmund.
But he is not the only coach using in modern football, many coaches tend to rely on this tactic and what is really cool is that every single one of the models it to fit in his philosophy so while the general basics are the same, the application varies from a coach to another.
1-Jupp Heynckes’s variation
Jupp Heynckes used this tactics principles while coaching Bayern Munich and it was one bayern’s most leathal strategies that enabled them to humiliate the almighty FC Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate in the champions league.
The idea behind Heynckes pressing is to send one man to chase the ball while the other players move accordingly to press possible recipients of the pass.
Doing so most of the time, the opposition either tend to play long balls to their strikers. Those types of play are easily intercepted by defenders. Or, they play short to one of the players already marked which increases the chances of loosing the ball and making errors in critical areas.
2-Pep Guardiola’s variation
Pep’s football philosophy is entirely based on keeping the ball in his team’s possession which makes it only natural that he’ll try to press everywhere on the pitch to recover it as fast as possible.
The 6 seconds rule is a concept developed by Guardiola to fit the Gegenpressing tactics into his philosophy. It basically means that the players should press to recover the ball in 6 seconds after loosing the ball. If the opposition has players that can cope with the pressing and can hold on to the ball, the team should revert to its defensive shape after the 6 seconds time limit.
To retrieve the ball, Guardiola’s teams try to block passing lanes rather than attacking mindlessly the player with the ball. The tactic is mainly used because of the players that most Pep’s team has in their midfield as he tends to use technical players that can move the ball around rather than hound dogs that closes spaces and can provide high intensity physical work during the 90 minutes.
Another specificity of the pressing used by Pep Guardiola is that he doesn’t use it to counter the counters but to get the ball back and start building from the back. Unlike Jurgen klopp that uses the high position of his players to launch counters the moments the ball is recovered
3-Jurgen Klopp’s variant
Kopp’s method emphasizes a high intensity while attacking the ball. The whole team tends to collapse on the ball trying to win it as high as possible. This way they can launch counters the moment they recover the ball.
Pressing in the Klopp’s football dictionary is a way of attacking hard and fast the opposition and creating chances the strikers can exploit.
No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situationJurgen Klopp
Jurgen tends to set pressing traps for the opposition by surrounding the ball holder from all side driving him to play the ball into the most crowded area of the pitch that is the midfield where the midfielders are already on the standby to intercept any ball coming that way.
Usually Sadio Mane and Salah position themselves between center backs and fullbacks cutting the passing lanes between them. On the other hand Firmino drops a little back to cover the passing trajectories between the CBs and the CDM. This way the CB is tempted to deliver the ball into the midfield where Liverpool’s midfielders are ready to collapse on the player and intercept the ball.
It is important that your team makes the “first step” in Gegenpressing. If you fall back or retreat, the opponent can be proactive while your team becomes reactive. So, you have to follow the opponent’s choices rather than making your own.
The advantage of making the first decision and the first step is that you set the rules and can play specific structures. It also puts you in a better position to act and determine what to do next. The exact application is then only a question of implementation; the biggest advantage is the “first step.”
The opponent must contemplate during the ball recovery how to attack. This ranges from looking at the situation and searching for passing options, to the fact that he has to handle the ball first-time when receiving it – which is sometimes even more difficult and technically complicated than receiving a difficult and hard pass.
To get into a suitable position to handle this ball, (including making the decision) takes time and can be taken advantage of by a fast, aggressive counter pressing.
There is hardly any moment where an individual player is more prone to pressing than immediately after winning the ball. And that is the big secret to the success of Gegenpressing.
The Gegenpressing is an extremely useful tactics and Jurgen Klopp has perfected it but it doesn’t make the teams implementing it invincible. Not so long ago a defensive tactics mastermind named Diego Simeone managed to beat Jurgen klopp’s tactic’s of pressing and could get the ball from his defence to the strikers so fast that Liverpool were struggling to deal with the counters. You can check how in this article : Champions League 2019/20: Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool – tactical analysis