Ten years ago people watched football, enjoyed wins and were sad at losses. We all knew the fundamentals of good defending and how teams were able to score goals but few people thought deeper. The skills of individual players tended to be the limit of footballing conversations.
Enter Pep Guardiola. In 2008, he became Barcelona manager and quite literally changed the face of football forever. We watched in awe as his side, featuring some of the best players to grace the field, passed teams to death. Death by football.
Now things were different. Watching a game took on a new dynamic, filled with intrigue. You didn't have to be with a Football Manager fanatic to discuss footballing philosophies or zonal marking. People were excited by nerdy statistics.
Klopp has termed his philosophy "Gegenpressing" the German word "gegen" meaning to counter. In other words, pressing is intense and organised and flips defending into counter attacking rapidly to catch the opposition defence disorganised.
Gegenpressing has been a buzzword in football tactics for the last five years and has garnered more and more attention in the media recently. Because of the success of FC Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, gegen- or counterpressing has been brought up as one of the main reasons for their titles. BVB, in particular, is defined by their style. However, the media often shows a lack of understanding as to what counterpressing really is.
What is Gegenpressing?
Gegenpressing means to press the opposition right after losing possession, i.e. to press as an organized unit the moment you transition to defense. The entire team hunts the ball and, in the ideal case, immediately wins it back from the opponent. The aim is twofold; to prevent the opponent’s counterattack and to win the ball. The English, and even the Spanish and Italians, call it counterpressing 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.
How does one use Gegenpressing successfully?
There are several prerequisites for successful counterpressing. The decisive factor is the overall positioning of the team and their playing style right before attempting to counterpress. The players must play as close to one another as possible so that they can press together as a unit right after the ball is lost – which is a given in short passing football. At the same time, they should not stick so close to one another that they neglect to cover enough space. Usually, a good layout in possession and a good shape behind the lost ball go hand in hand.
Some trainers use the basic rule of thumb to “occupy the fewest possible zones with individual players, but the greatest possible distance between the players within those zones so that they don’t occupy the same space” to make the positioning simple to understand; although, with a rule of thumb like this, some aspects are lost in terms of complexity.
Many teams also have problems deciding when to stop pressing, i.e. when do you stop pressing if you can’t win the ball back? When should you retreat? How long should you press and with how many players? This is particularly problematic because the position of the ball is always changing. Therefore, there is a commonly used theory – the five second rule. Immediately after losing the ball the team should press at top speed and with maximum intensity for five seconds.
If the team hasn’t recovered the ball within five seconds and there is no chance of immediately winning it, they should fall back into their defensive formation. Depending on the team, the number of seconds may vary. It is recommended that the strategic basics of Gegenpressing be coached in order to develop a flexible, situation-specific length of time for counterpressing.
It is also important that the team respond very quickly and with anticipation. When possession changes, the players should already be running; next, it is important for the motor response and cognitive reaction to accurately match the manner of the opponent winning the ball and the situation and the anticipation of the possession change. The player must always expect that possession could come, but at the same time assign to the situation a certain percentage and behave accordingly. The observation of the situation and the shape is important.