Counter or “Gegenpressing”, in its core, is a very simple idea. This type of football expects that the team, immediately after losing the ball, tries to press against the other team to prevent a counterattack. Instead of making the transition into a “normal” defensive organization, the players try to get into possession again.
When Jürgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool in 2015, he brought more than just a trainspotter-chic to the Premier League. The German also introduced a tactic known as gegenpressing. But what does this style of football entail?
Klopp might be the manager linked to Counter or “Gegenpressing”, but its history goes way back. Counterpressing is not per se a new concept, big Dutch teams such as Ernst Happel’s Feyenoord, Rinus Michels’ Ajax Amsterdam and the Dutch National team with Johan Cruijff as captain have already used these tactics.
It’s difficult to determine exactly when a systematic approach to pressing first originated, but it’s safe to say that the Dutch national team utilized the technique during the 1974 World Cup. So as it is a “Dutch” invention, it should be called “Tegenpressing” instead.
The plan behind Gegenpressing is that regaining possession will get you more chances in front of the goal. The idea is that more ball possession logically leads to more opportunities and hence, more goals.
Klopp, however, saw the beauty in eliminating the middleman and instead opted to use counter-pressing as an actual part of the attack. Jürgen Klopp said the following about his tactical choices:
“The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it. The opponent is still looking for orientation where to pass the ball. He will have taken his eyes off the game to make his tackle or interception and he will have expended energy. Both make him vulnerable.”
You need a certain type of players to be able to execute this effectively, what kind of attributes does a player need? Liverpool have some very good profiles to play the style Klopp wants to play. Gegenpressing needs players who can regain the ball high on the pitch. Players who just run towards the ball on the turnover are useless and will be unsuccessful when playing this tactic.
Unlike Guardiola, Klopp uses what in German is called “Umschaltmoment” or “switching moment” as attacking mean. For him, counter-pressing is the best playmaker and creates the best shots at winning the game. The German manager also has the objective to prevent a counter and of course Guardiola’s team can counter immediately too, but their primary goal and motivation for the use of counter-pressing are different.
Klopp has brought counter-press football to a new level in the Premier League. Liverpool’s counter-press is applied consistently, collectively and intensely. More than any other team does. Successfully so, Liverpool is currently in the first place and hasn’t lost a game yet. Is this the year Liverpool will finally win the Premier League? We’ll know by next summer. The club’s last league title win was the 1989/90 season.