Counter Pressing And The Fascination Of The Term

”If you lose the ball, the counter pressing is very important.

It is not a proposal, it is a law….”

– Jürgen Klopp –

As a part of my UEFA-A assignment I wrote about Counter Pressing, and how this ”term” could be used in practice. But I had to get a better understanding of it, so my headline for my assignment were ”Number of chances created after counter pressing” at the FIFA Wolrd Cup 2018.
I choose 5 teams that I would analyze, hereby; Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark & Spain, which ended up with 24 games.
And now I will share a bit of my assignment and “passion” for this form of playing football/soccer, with thoughts, ideas, inspiration and analysis from the FIFA World Cup 2018.


The word counter pressing is a well-known expression that have been used a lot the last couple of years. A way where your team are pretty much “assaulting” the opponents with a fast and aggressive pressure when the ball is lost – hereby, counter pressing.


First time I found this subject interesting, was when Jürgen Klopp was manager at Dortmund (which is a coach that I admire). He managed to get his team to be very offensive and aggressive, which created some very interesting and worth seeing matches – which he also brought to Liverpool, after my opinion.


It was here I saw, when the team lost the ball, the team had to work as fast as possible to make a counter pressing to win back the ball from the opponents – and afterwards try to create a chance/shot at goal.

This mindset, that when you lost the ball, you had to get the ball back again fast as possible, and, then try to make a fast tranisition from defense to offense within seconds. I found this so inspiring.


But it was actually first in 2016, when the danish Superliga team, Brøndby IF, hired Alexander Zorniger I began to investigate more about the counter pressing, or as it also is called “gegenpressing”.
His arrival in Brøndby IF, and Denmark, with his philosophy of gegenpressing were a new and aggressive style, where he used the sentence “create chaos, exploit chaos”.
This was an interesting point of view that I had not considered, before Alexander was hired. Therefore, my interest was also in how this aggressive term could be used, and how to use it correctly?


So, my purpose for this assignment were, to gain an insight into whether the counter pressing could be a tool / tactical situation, that could be used to end/decide matches at international level?

When does the counter pressing begin and when does it end?

The beginning of counter pressing:
The counter pressing starts in that moment where you/your team loses the ball. You/your team then afterwards have 3-5 seconds to win it back.


      The player/players nearest the ball begins an aggressive counter pressing on the new ball carrier.

      Players nearby the ball pushes forwards and positioning themselves to close down areas.

      Players away from the ball positioning themselves to mark possible receivers of the ball.

The ending of the counter pressing:

The counter pressing ends if the players/players don’t follow up, after the ball is lost, with a pressure within the first 3-5 seconds. After these seconds have past, the team will have to transition themselves from pressure to defense – maybe a ”tool” to slow down the opponents.

”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”

– Jürgen Klopp

These hypotheses were made before I started to analyze all the games. So after watching all the games, and nearly done with my assignment, I got my answers for these 4 hypotheses.

ypothesis 1

The higher the tempo and aggressiveness on the ball holder, the less comfortable the opposing team becomes in holding onto the ball.

Answer to this =
The opposing team must deal with the high pace, the high pressure, the high work rate and the following fast attacking.


Hypothesis 2

The higher the pressure on the opposing team’s side of the pitch, the greater the chance of achieving a finish or scoring opportunity.

Answer to this = With a high counter pressing on the opponents’ half of the pitch, it can mean, that when you wins the ball back, you are already positioned high up on the pitch, and can therefore be in a favorable position to reach the finish = shorter distance to the goal.


Hypothesis 3

It is more likely to stress the opposing team in the transition from We / Them to Them / We, thus being more likely to be disorganized in the back chain.

Answer to this = Opponents will have less time to switch from attack to defense – and possibly. being “caught” in the transition from the attacking phase to the defending phase. This may mean, that the team is disorganized in the back chain.
Likewise, by successful counter pressing one can interfere with the opponents’ transition and possibly counterattacks.

Hypothesis 4

There is a greater chance that the counter pressing  will succeed, if more players is sprinting towards the ball right after the loss of the ball.

Answer to this = By getting the players in sprint against the ball holder you can stress the opponent and possibly exploit that he has small spaces to play in. By being in sprint, one can push the opponent(s) to make mistakes and eg. exploit that he is facing the wrong direction, that he has failed to orient himself towards his teammates, or, that he is unprepared to receive the ball.
“Defend actively and move forward!”


What is Counter Pressing?
As mentioned in the introduction, counter pressing is where you/your team “assault” the opponents with a fast and aggressive pressure. But there are more to it than just that.
Counter Pressing is also a
collective and tactical situation, preferably carried out by one to several players, in situations where you are not in possession of the ball or in situations after a loss of the ball.
Pressing /counter pressing the ball holder is a very individual act by a player, with the aim of closing down possible passes and time on the ball. The use of pressure/counter pressing also means that several players work together at the same time to achieve a common goal, to get the ball back.


As mentioned, the press/counter pressing aims to close down space and time on the ball for the team in possession, which makes it difficult for the opposing teams to establish a successful build-up or finishing phase. This will help to create a greater chance for one’s own team to win the ball back with the use of counter pressing.

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Kristoffer Kvistgaard

UEFA A-licensed coach / Head Youth Coach @ Miðvágs Bóltfelag / Scout

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