Gegenpressing at Liverpool – Could It Work?

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Gegenpressing has become a buzzword in football. It’s one of  those words that makes people think you’re a football hipster if you know what it means

“Why are you saying Gegenpressing? Why not just call it pressing?”

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the term now but for those that aren’t the term Gegenpressing in English means counter pressing. It’s a pretty simplistic idea with a foreign name and this is what makes it sound complex.

You press the opposition right after losing possession. The complexity comes when you have to synchronise this press as an organised team. It’s very much pack mentality, you squeeze, harass and corner the opposition with the end game being either ball recovery, or having the opposition have to play the ball backwards which stops them potentially counter-attacking and keeps them hemmed in.

There are various types of gegenpressing in today’s game but the three that are used more often is man for man, pressing the space and the chaos press (that’s my name for it, not the proper name). All three have benefits and negatives but below are examples of how they’d work on paper.

Gegenpressing at Liverpool

Man for Man Press

man press

Ignore the actual individuals listed and think of them as players. The main idea in this type of press is every player has a man they’re to press when the ball is turned over so there is no easy pass for the player on the ball and there’s a chance of reclaiming the ball. In this instance it’s the number 17 on the ball just in front of the penalty area. His options are to pass to the number 12 or the number 15, the centre midfielders, or the number 11 who is on the right side of midfield. The aim would be for Liverpool to have their players within 2/3 yards of the oppositions players so as soon as the pass is played they’re able to be on their allocated player in an instance.

It’s a disciplined tactic because each player has to be responsible for a man and if they’re out of position and the opposition are able to get the pass and turn then it voids the entire press, this down to the fact somebody else would have to come over to close that man down and leave their man.

Pressing the Space

space pressing

Once again ignore the personnel listen and just look at the positions.

In this sort of pressing set up you don’t press the man, the objective is to intercept the ball before it reaches the intended man. The idea is to win the ball back on the front foot and transition from defence to attack. For this tactic you need a pack mentality. You’re a cog in a system but it affords a little more room for failure as you’re always backed up by a teammate.

The key zones are those highlighted in yellow. The player in possession, the number 8, will be trying to hit the pass to players in those areas. The opposing number 14 is one on one with Moreno in this instance so if the ball comes that way it could leave Liverpool a little exposed. The aim of the press would be for Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Philippe Coutinho to shut down the passing lanes.

If the 8 tries to make the pass to the 10 then you’d see Henderson trying to step in to intercept the ball and then he’d be backed up by one of Lallana and Clyne who’d be filling in behind the play thus shutting down the pass from the 10 to the 11.

In my opinion this is what Brendan Rodgers meant when he said ‘dictate the space’.

The Chaos Press

chaos press

The third and final type of press is one I’ve labelled the chaos press. It’s easy to see why I’ve called it this. As you can see in the image above the idea behind this press is pretty much Primary School tactics. You hunt the ball down as a team in the hope of regaining possession as quickly as possible. Sounds good doesn’t it? It is if it works but if the player gets by the press it leaves you exposed and liable to a counter attack. It’s a literal head down and *charge* tactic and wastes so much energy.

Out of all of the pressing tactics I’ve looked at this is the most risky and less effective. It’s not efficient and the risk doesn’t represent great rewards.

Can it be replicated in the Premier League?

Many teams find it difficult to do this for a full 90 minutes because of the physical impact it has on your team. You’re effectively having your team play at full pace for 90 minutes and chasing the opposition as though you’re in the final minutes of a game and you can’t concede. However, you need a functioning team to carry out this tactic as you can’t carry any passengers. Each game is individually prepared for and you can refine the pressing triggers. A trigger is something that starts the press. It can be a player going into a zone or a certain player picking up the ball, you as a team want to isolate the weakest players and allow them the ball whilst ensuring the danger players don’t get it.

The Premier League isn’t the best technically and many of the defences are made up of players who aren’t comfortable on the ball, so a pressing tactic geared towards pressing these defences would lead to chances and goals. Much like it did for Liverpool in 2013/14. More often than not the better players are the attackers so if you stop the supply it nullifies their threat. Pressing the playmaker cuts the supply. It leads to a team punting the ball forward and there being a turnover in possession. It can certainly work in the Premier League.

Liverpool have the players to work in any of these systems. The likes of Nathanial Clyne, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Lazar Markovic and even Adam Lallana could work in a pressing system. New Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp may have to tweak full throttle football to adapt to the Premier League but he has the tools there at his disposal. I wouldn’t advise the chaos press but man for man and pressing the space are certainly tactics we could be seeing at Anfield in the near future.

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  1. knowing mentally erratic sturidge is,how is klopp going to cope if sturidge is asked play slidely wide inorder to accomodate benteke and where does this leave lucas and milner?

    • Mentally erratic?

      Sturridge coped just fine while being forced out wide to accommodate Drogba & Anelka under AVB – outscoring both of them, despite the fact that he was given the subordinate role

    • I THINK the point is Daniel was very unhappy to be pushed wide and it was one of the reasons he went looking for a new club.

  2. After a bad last season and 4 months off and not working with his own choice of players, I wouldn’t assume Klopp will use gegenpressing – especially when the whole world expects him too. His team are great tacticians and Man managers, they have much more to them than gegenpressing. ..I hope

  3. I read your article on Anfield index – “Klopp vs Rodgers: Playing Style Comparison” a few days before Klopp was confirmed and while I enjoy your take on gegenpressing, I’m a little disappointed you copied and pasted segments of that article onto this one. That is nothing short of lazy journalism.

  4. Counterpressing works by having more men in the area of the pitch that you just lost the ball in, and thus you shut down the lanes/men/ball locally (not mark/cut off all 10 outfielders) before the opposition have the opportunity to either launch a counter or re-organise following the turnover of the ball. It requires compactness in possession, vertically and horizontally, as well as good positional play, to generate the numerical overloads to run a successful counterpress.
    None of that happens in those diagrams, and thus it would be impossible to perform any type of counterpress in the above situations because:
    a) the centre backs are about 20 yards behind the halfway line, ruining the vertical compactness of the side.
    b) for some reason both sides are stretching the whole width of the pitch in neat horizontal lines at the moment the ball is turned over. Leaving aside that this rarely happens in real life, as both sides are usually disorganised at that point, hugging the touchline on both sides twice results in huge distances between players, and thus fewer players closer to the ball, making it harder to press.
    c) Playing in neat horizontal bands in possession not only blunts attacking play by making vertical passes harder, it makes for uneven positioning and space between the lines immediately available for the opponent to play into when they win the ball.


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