The Art of the Gegenpress
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on October 18, 2016
Upon his arrival at Anfield, Jurgen Klopp sat in front of the media for his first press conference. Sat comfortably in front of the infamous English press, looking like a seasoned veteran, he was asked to describe himself. After apologising for his bad English Klopp began. The answer he gave was an unexpected one, ‘the normal one’ he responded with a broad smile on his face ‘yes, the normal one’ allowing his laughter to fill the room. The truth is Klopp is far from ‘the normal one’, the pioneer of the gegenpress, a two-time Bundesliga winner and widely regarded as one of the world’s best managers. Klopp knows this, he has been labelled a character and like England’s number one, Joe Hart, he has been accused of showing too much passion, letting it fill him and influencing his decisions. However, you can’t deny Klopp has revolutionised football, his introduction of the press, ‘gegenpressing’, has proved to be very popular and adopted by many managers across the globe.
Gegenpressing also known as counterpressing centres around the aim of winning get ball back as high and quickly as possible. This prevents counter attacks from the opposing side, leaving them out of position whilst the pressing side retains its offensive structure thus giving them more time, space and numbers on the ball.
Gegenpressing revolves around fitness, paramount to the success of the tactic. Klopp wants his player to run themselves into the ground for ninety minutes, results we are starting to see now. The passion he inspires into his players is second to none, it’s easy to see why Milner, Lallana etc are prepared run a marathon for the German every match. Four games into the season, Liverpool have covered the most distance with 468.8km. Furthermore, Adam Lallana, a player to truly embrace the gegenpress, set a Premier League record for most distance covered in one game against Tottenham during a 1-1 draw. It’s not just running Liverpool have excelled in this season, the Reds top the shots, goals and passes thus far in the Premier League. Moreover, Jordan Henderson has led from the front. The Liverpool captain tops passes and pass accuracy, boasting a 90% completion rate.
The key to gegenpressing is the quick transition period from losing the ball to pressing the opposition to win it back. Jurgen Klopp’s teams are built around this principle, however, they have a slight twist. Whereas the great pressing sides of the 1970s such as the Netherlands national team would aim to win the ball and keep it Klopp’s sides look to score instantaneously. For example, Liverpool this season start the press with the striker, usually Origi, he is quickly joined by the right and left winger in the 4-3-3 system. Once the ball is won back, be it an interception or the opponents clearing it, instead of retaining possession the attackers will look to play direct and run in behind, so the player on the ball can pick them out. It’s almost like the old English footballing philosophy of fewer passes equals more goals.
Klopp’s use of the gegenpress is the most striking example in the Premier League, however, that doesn’t mean it’s the only example. Pep Guardiola has implemented gegenpressing into his Manchester city side like he did in his later years in Bavaria. Unlike Klopp, Guardiola’s philosophy is to press and win the ball high. His mentality is that he can prevent his team being counter-attacked and strangulate his opponents using relentless passing.
This season we are beginning to see gegenpressing introduced at the highest standard with Klopp given a full preseason to raise fitness levels and bring in his players to play his system. A team that revolves around pressing has never won the Premier League and the style is a complete polar opposite to what won last year. However, it is the tactic that has proved to be the most effective style this season with City topping the table, Liverpool in third and Tottenham, who have used it to an extent, in second. This year could be the first.