Since coming to Liverpool, eccentric German coach Jürgen Klopp has become somewhat of a darling of the written press. With his bubbly, likeable character and intensity winning over many onlookers, thoughts have since turned to the style he deploys at his teams, commonly referred to as Gegenpressing.
We speak exclusively to former Liverpool, Wigan and Watford academy coach Tim Lees about Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool and how he can make his system work at Anfield.
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Gegenpressing is the latest buzz word that the British media seem to have trouble understanding. For those that aren’t too familiar with the tactic, can you explain what it is?
“The media are obsessed at the moment with Jürgen Klopp and his pressing; they bring the topic up in every single interview and press conference. They like seeing a lot of red shirts running around very fast so they can talk about how well they ‘hunt in packs’ – the media had made their minds up on what they were going to see the second he came in.
“The thing is, they don’t understand what comes before the pressing in order to allow the press to be successful. Brilliant managers like Klopp adjust to the player profiles they have, if people think they are going to see Liverpool play absolutely identically to how Dortmund did then they are wrong. But that’s not to say similar traits and principles won’t be evident.
“Klopp needs time to recruit players that suit the way he wants to play, even if it’s just two or three. And most of all, he can’t be judged until he gets his key players back from injury. Especially given that the players who are or have been out injured will be key pieces on his chessboard to develop the style he wants.
“In short, the counter press refers to exactly that; getting pressure on the ball on the defensive transition as fast as possible. Winning the ball high up the pitch by stopping the opposition building their attacks. The gengenpress prevents the opposition from even getting into their build up phase, which means that Klopp’s teams are often in control of the opposition’s defensive lines both with and without the ball. Because of their aggressive positioning with the ball, they stop teams getting their desired shape in order to construct their own style – because they rarely get out of a counter attacking shape.
“You cannot have a team that employ gengenpressing, though, without being able to control the opposition with the ball and manipulate them into areas of the pitch that you want them. This is not necessarily tiki-taka type patience as it can be a more aggressive and direct style. But in short, you need to play as much as possible in the opposition’s half to get them in a low block where their striker is detached from their midfield line. Once they are in this position, it is about having ideal positioning with the ball – players in positions where they are impacting the game and finding spaces with the ball but also where they are able to prevent a counter attack should the defensive turnover occur.
“The subtleties in these distances are imperative and vital to regain the ball once it’s turned over and are circumstantial … it is extremely hard to get these across in a written article and much easier to show live or in analysis about this correct positioning.”
You obviously need a certain player profile to be able to execute this effectively, what kind of attributes does a player need?
“This is vital. A coach can establish the style with virtually any groups of players, but how successful and effective it will really be will defend on profiles. In my opinion, Liverpool have some very good profiles to play the style Klopp wants. You need players who get regains high up the pitch – not players who just run towards the ball on the turnover but those who actually regain possession.
“Roberto Firmino had one of the highest regain stats last season in the Bundesliga, Henderson and Milner possess excellent defensive transition profiles, Benteke and Sturridge also. Lallana played in a very similar style under Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton and it was one of his key components of such a style.
“In behind, you need defenders who can defend 1v1 aerially and bully strikers because a lot of their defending is on the halfway line stopping direct balls into a lone striker as opposed to dealing with slide passes and clever movement in a low block. Mamadou Sakho is excellent at this, where he can physically get in a fight with strikers and stop turns. Then you need players who are quick on the counter, which they have.
“I personally think that Sturridge will play more on the side to offer the threat with and without the ball. Obviously given my position that I was working for the club, I would not offer any criticism of the current squad but will say that any manager would be worried about the spaces around Lucas and will want Liverpool to retain possession for longer periods whilst having a better final pass to break the line when constructing against a low block. This is the type of situation they will face often especially at home.
“Their possession will improve in terms of dominating the ball and thus their positioning whilst in the construction phase which will mean that they defend less but are more effective when doing so.”
Do you think such a style can be effective in the Premier league?
“The gengenpressing style will be effective in any league in the world. It doesn’t matter how good a player or team is; if your positioning as a team on the pitch is dictated to and you have little time to make decisions when you regain possession, it is very hard to play against. The better Klopp’s teams dominate the ball in the opposition’s half, the more effective the pressing style will be.
“Klopp’s Dortmund team attacked the centre of the box and did so quickly, directly, with purpose and intent. They had very good movement ahead of the ball with players constantly trying to threaten the spaces in behind. Not like Guardiola’s teams who often have one player ahead of the ball and everyone else looking for control and patience. The difference is huge and personally I think Klopp’s style will be extremely effective in England.”
As a neutral looking at the Liverpool squad, who do you think will suit the famed Klopp style if he were to implement it?
“I think that he needs Sturridge fit as he will be lethal in Klopp’s style. Once Coutinho finds his form again, Henderson comes back, Firmino settles and Moreno reaches his potential – which he is starting to – Klopp has a squad that can be very exciting. Klopp is an outstanding man manager and he will get the best out of his players long term.”
By Sam McGuire. Follow @SamMcGuire90
With thanks to Tim Lees. Follow @timlees10