TACTICAL ANALYSIS: THE GEGENPRESS

In this week’s Tactics Explained we delve into the Gegenpress, a pressing style rejuvenated under Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp. He made the pressing style famous during his time at Borussia Dortmund. At some point, Klopp’s playing style will undergo major analysis when he is the manager chosen in my Manager’s Corner segment. However, the Gegenpress has started to make headlines in the United Kingdom again and I have received numerous messages asking to explain the pressing style.

Initially, when Klopp started his career at Liverpool he was inundated with questions about his revered Gegenpress. Klopp saw it as a sign that the English media and wider soccer fan had forgotten their soccer heritage as the pressing style dominated the English game in the 1980s.

Pressing Systems

Different systems have demanded a high octane pressing style and the Gegenpress is a variation of such systems. The trend of pressing within soccer can be attributed to the Ajax and the Dutch national teams of the 1970s. These teams have inspired different pressing systems across the world of soccer. Marcelo Bielsa, Pep Guardiola and Unai Emery have all developed their own styles of pressing. Klopp is, undoubtedly, the king of the Gegenpress.

Within this blog, we have covered pressing a fair few times and that is reflective of the importance it now plays within the modern game. Pressing installs a mentality within the soccer player that defense must also be aggressive. The demands of pressing requires a player to have unrivalled athleticism and a high playing IQ. If one player fails to properly press with the correct positional integrity then the whole system fails.

At the core of any pressing system is to limit the options that the opposition has whilst on the ball. Intense pressure, coming from multiple positions, increases the likelihood that the ball-carrier will make a mistake. This leads to the pressing team winning back possession. Pressing the ball-carrier and pressing the passing lanes further restricts what the ball-carrier can do with the ball, thus creating a potent system.

If you had to simplify Gegenpressing into one sentence it would be; to win the ball back as soon as it has been lost. The theory holds that opposition is most vulnerable when they have won possession of the ball. This is because the side that has won the ball back would often be out of their original defensive shape. The Gegenpress is utilized as a means of regaining the ball back as quick as possible.

The image above demonstrates the pressing style that Klopp utilizes. As you can see, the players in red are pressing the ball carrier as a unit and are not pressing the passing lanes that are open to the opposition. This is the manner in which the Gegenpress works. Players from different positions immediately press the ball-carrier in a bid to regain possession of the ball in the quickest way possible. The theory holds that if the Gegenpress is applied correctly; the ball-carrier only has two options. To either pass backwards or to launch the ball upfield.

The Gegenpress is the reason why Klopp has garnered the reputation of being an aggressive manager that plays soccer at 100kmph. The reason why Klopp has this reputation is because the Gegenpress can only work when played at a ferocious pace. To increase the likelihood of recovering the ball from the opposition, the pressing team must have the athleticism to press as a collective. This is to maximize the amount of pressure that the opposition’s ball-carrier feels, thus increasing the likelihood of winning the ball back. The pressing team must press at an electrifying pace.

Klopp’s utilization of the Gegenpress has brought him widespread adulation across the world of soccer. After all these years, the fundamentals of pressing are still causing havoc upon the soccer field.

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