If we travel to the United Kingdom, specifically Liverpool, we find one of the two great clubs in the city, the famous Reds, which are one of the powerhouses of English football, having 6 UEFA Champions Leagues/European Cups and dozens of leagues in their showcases. and local cups, to mention a few. Despite this rich history, Liverpool FC had a cross bearing since 1992 that had been made the mockery of their rivals – the Reds had failed to win a Premier League since the creation of this championship. Situations have changed in the last couple of years, Liverpool have reached two UEFA Champions League finals in a row, winning one, and have finally managed to lift the Premier League trophy. This change in the recent history of the Reds is all down to the philosophy of one man Jurgen Klopp, creator of gegenpressing.
What is Gegenpressing?
The translation of gegenpressing from German is something similar to counter pressure which, in part, describes what this tactical strategy consists of, which can be summarized as an aggressive pressure carried out immediately after the team loses the ball in order to recover it as much as possible and as fast as possible, thus surprising the opponent when they are poorly positioned on the pitch. Despite the fact that Klopp has been strongly related to this style, which at some point he called Heavy-Metal Football, there are other important managers who use it, such as Pep Guardiola, who usually calls it the 5-second rule, which is the time after losing the ball where the pressure must be maximum to regain possession, after that time, in case of not achieving the goal, the players take their regular markings.
Another manager who has implemented gegenpressing is Joachim Low with the Germany national football team who has taken advantage of the work of some of his players at club level to use that form of pressure. Gegenpressing converts football matches into a dynamic similar to that of a basketball match where counter attack is played, where players move from attack to defence and vice versa constantly, leading to a dizzying and not very restrictive pace of play.
Historically, Gegenpressing shares certain principles of the highly regarded Total Football practiced by Ajax of the 70s and the Netherlands national team in the 1974 FIFA World Cup and of Soviet football of the 60s, which are all styles that involved all players to play roles that they were not inherent within their positions.
Is Gegenpressing a Good Style of Play?
Reviewing what has been mentioned in this article, the answer would seem to be markedly positive. However, it is important to consider a couple of factors that surround gegenpressing that end up being quite important in the final result of the strategy and consequently, of the game.
In the first place, a great physical preparation is required because constantly applying that pressure during a football game can be exhausting and the consequences could be felt in the second half and gegenpressing would be a double-edged sword in that case. Due to the high pace of the game that must be maintained to put it into practice, it is necessary for the players to have good ball handling at high speed, hence Klopp implemented the Footbonaut at Borussia Dortmund, to improve the performance of the players at that speed that at the same time complicates the opponents because, normally, they are not used to that rhythm of play.
On the other hand, applying this type of game also depends on the opponent and their ability to react to this type of pressure since there are players who handle themselves better in this type of situation than others, for example, performing gegenpressing on a player like Toni Kroos can backfire, as rivals who pressure him are leaving German teammates unmarked so with his technique and vision, he can pass the ball and dismantle the pressure in one move. Otherwise, if the player does not have this technique, there the chances of gegenpressing taking effect are much higher.
How is Gegenpressing played?
The teams that use gegenpressing do so each with their nuances, so in this case we are going to use this current Liverpool side to explain how this strategy works within a tactical scheme. Klopp uses a 4-3-3 formation with Brazilian Allison as goalkeeper, Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, Matip (when not injured) and Robertson on the defensive line, Fabinho as the defensive midfielder alongside Henderson and Wijnaldum, and the offensive trident of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino.
Because Salah (left-handed) plays as right inside forward and Mané (right) plays as left inside forward, their natural profiles lead them to move towards the centre of the attack which leaves space on the wing for full backs (Alexander-Arnold and Robertson) to go on the attack simultaneously making these two players one of the Reds’ main offensive threats despite being defenders. Normally in football, full backs take turns to bomb forward while one or the other maintains a more delayed position. At Liverpool, both can go up simultaneously due to one of the three midfielders going back to form a back three, in case the opponent has two strikers pressuring their defence. In case the opposition only has one striker, one of the midfielders is not required to go back.
The Defensive Side
On the defensive side, Liverpool has two stages: first when they use gegenpressing and the other when they retreat like most teams in the world, in this case forming a line of 4 defenders and another of three midfielders with the 3 attackers putting pressure on the rival defence. Gegenpressing used by the Anfield club is selective, which means that they do it only when the ball is on the feet of a player who is considered less technical than the rest and may be affected by that pressure. It is also done in certain areas of the pitch, with the case of Liverpool being very common for them to do it on the wings because lines of the sides of the pitch serve to enclose the rival player who has the ball, limiting their options and margin of action.
The results of gegenpressing are evident in the career of Klopp himself, as well as other managers who have it as part of their game strategy. However, as already mentioned, it can become a double-edged sword that can leave a bad impression on the team and make it vulnerable to a counter-attack. It is also important to keep in mind the physical aspect as well as the training time and dedication that gegenpressing requires, to be properly assimilated by the players at the level that it is natural to apply that pressure.