Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and the importance of ‘gegenpressing’ (Jonathan Wilson, 16 October 2015, The Guardian)
Who is the best playmaker in the world? While others squabble over individual players, Jürgen Klopp has no doubt. Nothing, he believes, creates more chances than gegenpressing.
It is his faith in that style and his ability to instil its principles in his players that allowed Borussia Dortmund to compete with far wealthier clubs. The system was able to negate the fact Bayern Munich were able to afford better individuals. The hope at Liverpool is he can have a similar impact in the Premier League. [...]
“The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it,” Klopp has said. “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.”
In itself, perhaps that is not a particularly revelatory insight; where Klopp – and Pep Guardiola, who was also a pioneer of gegenpressing – were innovative was in how they took advantage of that realisation, pushing high up the pitch and co-ordinating how the hunt for the ball was conducted.
Most importantly, the team have to be compact. If there are spaces when a team presses, then it’s relatively easy for the opponent to thread passes through the gaps. That applies both vertically and laterally – Arrigo Sacchi, who pioneered pressing at Milan in the 1980s, spoke of an ideal of 25m from the most advanced player to the back four, while there is also a requirement for, say, the right-winger to move centrally when the ball is on the left. At Bayern, Guardiola has one of the training pitches divided into zones to help players work on their spacing. At Barça he operated a principle of “one and three”: when the ball is lost, one man goes straight to the ball and three race to the scene to try to cut out passing angles.
A team also have to understand when to stop pressing: the ball cannot be hunted relentlessly, partly because to do so is exhausting and partly because once that initial moment, when the opponent has gained possession has passed, it is not that difficult to hit a long ball into space behind the pressing defence (which is one of the reasons goalkeepers such as Víctor Valdés and Manuel Neuer, who can sweep behind their defence, are so valuable).