Gegenpressing has taken European football by storm in recent years, gaining popularity as one of the most effective and successful tactical systems in the sport.
Jurgen Klopp is, of course, one of the key figures when it comes to the Gegenpress, or ‘Heavy Metal Football’ as his style is often referred to, but the Liverpool manager is certainly not the only flag-bearer.
Ralf Rangnick is one of the leading figures when it comes to counter-pressing football. Klopp’s mentor at Mainz, Wolfgang Frank, took inspiration from Arrigo Sacchi’s high-press Milan in the 80s and 90s, while Jupp Heynckes, Marcelo Bielsa, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel have all implemented their own version of a high-press.
It’s a system that requires great athleticism, fitness and intelligence, with players expected to close down high up the pitch, winning the ball back the minute it’s lost; essentially, countering the counter attack.
Of course, it’s more than just a rush of blood. It’s a calculated press centred on team synergy and understanding, knowing when to press together and when to sit back and keep shape.
If you’re interested in a full tactical breakdown of the system on Football Manager 2022, then click on the video at the top of this article, or read on below for our analysis on two the best Gegenpressing teams in football right now.
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When Thomas Tuchel walked through the doors at Stamford Bridge in January last year, Chelsea were ninth in the Premier League table and out of ideas under Frank Lampard. By May 29, they had finished in the top four, reached an FA Cup final and won the Champions League.
Tuchel’s implementation of a high-press in west London had a transformative effect on Chelsea overnight. Of course, there are many more facets to the German’s system, including tactical flexibility, obsessive organisational structure and the utilisation of wing-backs as attackers, but it’s a counter-pressing structure that really gives Chelsea their identity these days.
Tuchel took over from Lampard on January 26 at exactly the halfway stage of last season’s Premier League, so that gives us a perfect reference point to assess Chelsea’s pressing game before and after his arrival
If we look at Chelsea’s event count by a specific zone on the pitch in the first 19 games under Lampard last season, they made 36 defensive actions in the final third. By defensive actions, we are defining them in this case by tackles, interceptions and blocked passes. In the 19 games under Tuchel in the second half of the season, Chelsea made 62, nearly twice as many.
That tells us Chelsea were pushing much higher up the pitch and closing down opposition defences with more intensity, looking to swarm the final third and win the ball back as quickly as possible. In other words: countering the counter.
If we also look at Chelsea’s average positions visual from this season you can see just how high up their defensive line really is, with Reece James and Marcos Alonso firmly camped in the opposition’s half of the pitch, while Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Romelu Lukaku form a high-press attacking line. It’s the perfect set-up for Tuchel’s system.
Another example we can look at is Southampton. Ralph Hasenhuttl is a Rangnick disciple, with his trademark 4-2-2-2 a carbon copy of the German’s preferred set-up, as we’ve seen on occasion with Man Utd this season.
Often referred to as “The Alpine Klopp”, Hasenhuttl is of course a Gegenpress obsessor, though with limitations to his playing squad, they are obviously not as effective as Liverpool when it comes to pressing.
However, that hasn’t stopped the Saints mixing it with the best. They currently rank 4th in the Premier League for possessions won in the final third this season, coming in just behind Liverpool and Man City, and even outranking Chelsea.
When we look at Southampton in the 2017/18 campaign, a year before Hasenhuttl joined, Southampton made 74 defensive actions in the final third. In his first full season, 2019/20, they managed a staggering 109.
With Hasenhuttl at the helm, Southampton have gone from passive observers under Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes in 2018/19, to front-foot aggressors, Gegenpress lite if you will.
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