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. Both Klopp and Guardiola are known to demand this from their team, but what are the differences between the two approaches?
First, let’s give credit to whom credit due. 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. One year later, Guardiola joined the Premier League, bringing along his version of this tactic.
Both managers share immense similarities with each other. Both approaches are the result of the same philosophy of football. The two managers have committed to a style of football which is attractive, bringing football that makes fans want to come to the stadium. Football is something that needs to be entertaining and can never be boring.
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 actually be called “Tegenpressing” instead.
The idea is that regaining possession will get you more chances in front of the goal. This follows the thinking that more possession logically leads to more opportunities and thus, 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.”
When comparing the two, Klopp and Guardiola created a much different structure when implementing counter-press football. Guardiola’s teams, for instance, apply what in Spanish is called “Juego De Posición” which makes them very well positioned as collective to be able to counter-press. The positioning of the collective and the dynamic within it define how well you’ll be able to counterattack. At Manchester City, they often try to immediately force the opponents to long balls or intercept their passes right away.
Unlike Guardiola, Klopp uses the 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. Klopp 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.
Both Klopp and Guardiola have brought counter-press football to a new level in the Premier League. Manchester City and Liverpool counter-press more consistently, collectively and intensely than any other team since the Netherlands in 1974. Successfully so, many annalists believe the two teams are by far the best of England and also this year the Sky Blues and the Reds are the favourites to win the title.