Who invented the gegenpress tactics? Who exactly is the genius behind this demanding but effective tactics?
Footy Area takes a dive into history to find out who invented the gegenpress tactics.
This tactic has now become synonymous with the Liverpool team, and is still expanding to the rest of the world.
Note that like gegenpressing, there are many other philosophies in football today and they are constantly changing.
Other technically demanding tactics like the tiki taka employs a short passing style where the players are aware of position and understand the geometry of space on the pitch.
As coaches around the globe try to innovate many techniques in order to win trophies, we would be taking a look at who exactly created the Gegenpress tactics and refined it to the level it is today?
Gegenpressing has now become very popular in recent years, with clubs across Germany and England employing the tactics.
So here comes the questions; what is gegenpress? Who invented it? Which clubs use it? Footy Area will tell you all you need to know.
Meaning and rise of Gegenpress tactics
The word gegenpressing is German for ‘counter pressing’.
It is a very popular tactical approach that has been linked to Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool squads.
The gegenpressing philosophy is simply a tactics that requires pressing the opponents heavily.
And not just pressing for the sake of it, but with an additional focus and intensity of winning the ball when it is in the opponents own half in order to start a quick counter attack.
This tactics requires a lot of physical juice and stamina.
This is because the forward line are taught and instructed to strongly chase down the opponents defenders in order to force an error from them if they desire to play out from the back.
According to the Liverpool boss, Klopp would support his tactics by saying: “Gegenpressing enables the team to win the ball near to the goal.
It is so effective that after winning the ball, just one pass can lead to a very good goalscoring opportunity.
I can assure you that there is hardly any playmaker good enough to withstand a good gegenpressing situation, that’s why it’s very effective.”
The first duty is to start pressing immediately you lose the ball, so that you can regain possession before the opponents reorganize their shape and start moving according to their plan.
Klopp’s men, be it at Liverpool currently or at Dortmund previously, begin to crowd the opponent who won possession from them.
They swarm all over him immediately, intimidating him while also cutting off ball distribution lanes, so that he shrinks and surrenders possession back to them.
Another impressive thing about gegenpressing is that the team are already aware of those who are the weakest link in the defense.
These are those in the opposition who are not comfortable with the ball at their feet.
These type of defenders fall victims to the merciless attackers who constantly target them and feed on their fear when they are in possession.
Also, gegenpressing involves a careful assessment of risk taking.
While it is very important to maintain a highly intensive level of pressing the opponents heavily throughout the game, the players should also know when to draw back into a defensive shape in order to conserve energy.
After all, gegenpressing is won’t function anymore if the players are completely tired or prone to muscular injuries.
The gegenpressing tactics is most effective with a front three who are exceptionally fast, strong, and fit.
Additionally, they should also possess creativity to dish out an incisive pass whenever they capitalize on a defender’s error, or stab it home with clinical finishing.
Liverpool’s front three of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah are a perfect image of the gegenpressing tactics.
These are quick, creative and physically strong players who are able to chase down the opposition and capitalize on an error.
Infact, they have brought much success to the club in recent years, after winning the Champions League in 2019, and ending the club’s 30 year wail for a Premier League title last season.
Liverpool’s impressive high pressing is also a slayer of Pep Guardiola’s tiki taka technique with City.
Furthermore, although the tactic is heavily reliant on strong attackers, it is not just the front line that plays a part in the gegenpressing tactics.
The entire team must also be well placed to support the press from the forwards by closing down all the potential passing options for the opponent who is with the ball.
Part of the mentality behind this heavy pressing system is that it allows the team that presses to push further up the pitch.
This would then give them multiple options to hit their opponents hard on the counter attack which arises from errors due to high intensity pressure.
So, if the duo of Robertson and Alexander Arnold are pushed up while closing down passing channels, they can whip in dangerous crosses when the ball is won in the opponents half.
Who invented the Gegenpress tactics?
The gegenpressing tactics has been attributed to Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp, as it’s founding father.
But believe me when I tell you that he is just one of the newest users of the long-standing high pressing philosophy.
Although the German manager may have tweaked the technique in a way or two, there have been other notable managers who have achieved success using pressing.
We can all agree that the concept of pressing on football is as old as the game itself.
In the older days of football, the gegenpressing style was known as ‘closing down’.
This was long before Jurgen Klopp first used the word in his statement in 2015; “Gegenpress them to death” at a news conference in Germany.
Although he was the first man to mention the word, he wasn’t the one who invented the gegenpress tactics.
There have been other managers who have made the counter-pressing, high-pressing, gegenpressing, or whatever name you call it, a priority during their managerial careers.
One of such men was Klopp’s own mentor way back at Mainz 04, Wolfgang Frank, who in turn drew inspiration from the former legendary Milan and Italy boss, Arrigo Sacchi.
Milan under the legendary Sacchi became the ultimate portrayers of the high pressing philosophy in the late 1980’s and into the early 1990’s.
With the heavy pressing mentality, the club won two European Cups and one Serie A title.
According to the popular Italian boss, he explained that pressing is a lot more than just chasing after the opponents, but it is more about the ability to “control space”.
Hence, controlling the match in the opposition’s mind was the key to his success.
According to his interview with Inverting the Pyramid, Sacchi said: “If we let our opponents play in a way they were accustomed to, they would grow in confidence, but if we stopped them it would hurt their confidence. That was the key: our pressing was psychological as much as physical.”
Another prominent manager who can stake a claim to being the perfecter of the pressing is the current Leeds United boss, Marcelo Bielsa.
Infact, due to the over demanding method of his own pressing game, his players are required to “run throughout the entire 90 minutes”, and has led most of his players prone to what we fans call the ‘Bielsa Burnout‘.
Another example is Guardiola, who coupled a formidable tiki taka mentality with a high-pressing intensity during his dominant reign with Barcelona.
Jose Mourinho also employed the high-pressing mentality at Porto, which forced the opposition into making errors and conceding goals.
Which teams have used the Gegenpress tactics?
Gegenpressing has been Jurgen Klopp’s primary tactics wherever he’s been.
When he started out at a struggling Mainz side, he led them from the relegated zone, into the top flight where they eventually finished in 8th position, and beat a few big teams.
And that was when the big guns came calling. The German switched over to Dortmund the next year and perfected his gegenpressing technique.
It was at Borussia Dortmund that his gegenpressing was tagged as a ‘Heavy Metal Football’ and it produced two Bundesliga trophies and a memorable run to the Champions League finals.
When he met Arsenal in 2013, Klopp said that Arsene Wenger’s team was “like an orchestra, but it’s a silent song. I like heavy metal more. I always want it loud.”
And since the German tactician took over at Liverpool in 2015, Klopp has transformed the Merseyside club into a true definition of a gegenpressing team.
Other world class coaches have now drawn further inspiration from Klopp into their own philosophies governing how their teams play.
One example of this is Jupp Heynckes who deployed a gegenpress tactic in his record breaking treble winning Bayern Munich team.
Furthermore, Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leibzig play a similar high pressing style, which his former team Hoffenheim also did.
What are the limitations to the gegenpressing tactics?
It’s only ethical of us to tell you the nemesis of employing the gegenpressing tactics after you have known who invented the gegenpress tactics.
As we already know, no tactics can be referred to as the ‘Holy Grail’ in football.
Every tactic has its nemesis! Now that we know who invented the gegenpress tactics, let us see which tactic can be used effectively against a high-pressing team like Klopp’s Liverpool.
We can all remember the dominance that tiki taka had on other teams when Guardiola employed it at Barcelona before it gradually wore off.
And hot headed managers like Jose Mourinho constantly cooked up strategies to neutralize it.
I am assuming you are already labeling Atlético Madrid’s boss, Diego Simeone as the nemesis of Jurgen Klopp.
We have to commend Simeone for his meticulous dismantling of the Liverpool team in last season’s Champions League round of 16.
The Atlético boss employed a strange kind of defensive style of play dubbed ‘Cholismo‘, which is an adulterated form of his popular nickname ‘Cholo‘, which means stubborn in Spanish.
Not that his Atlético Madrid squad was unduely rough or cynical, but they have now perfected the ability to build from the back.
Diego Simeone is known for employing some of the finest center-backs in the world. Hence, preferring to field clinical attackers instead of flashy ones.
He dwells heavily on the popular Argentinian ‘anti-futbol’ tradition (sit deep, play the offside trap smartly, scrap, scrape and bash, and look to absorb pressure before moving the ball forward quickly).
On that remarkable Anfield night, Diego Simeone frustrated Klopp so much that the German boss angrily called Atlético’s tactics an ‘anti football tactics’.
Klopp said: “It doesn’t feel right, I don’t understand, with the quality they have, that they play this kind of football. World-class players defend with two rows of four, and two strikers in front of them.”
Klopp was visibly angered during his post match press conference.
Simeone’s method might be labeled ‘crude’, ‘uninteresting’ or even ‘anti-football’, but it is a very disciplined method of football.
Achieving defensive discipline takes years of practise, and it is tougher to get than attacking harmony.
And as Liverpool look to expand their dominance in Europe and the rest of the world, ‘Cholismo’ could just be the biggest enemy to the beautiful pressing style.
An organized high pressing philosophy facing an impregnable defense could well be a tale for the grandkids.
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