Gegenpressing can be translated literally as counterpressing and it is basically a method that some coaches think to be a very efficient approach to hurt your opponents. Usually, a team either relied on numbers at the back when they gave the ball away and immediately retreated into their own half or they would press high when they didn't have the ball. The gegenpressing's innovation is that one's opponents are most likely to get hurt when they have just won the ball back and are therefore still looking for the right way to turn it into attack - which can sometimes lead to confusion and the unexpected opening of spaces.
A few weeks ago Barcelona and Villareal met at Camp Nou and showed just how useful and effective this weapon can be. This edition of Goal's Anatomy will focus on it in some more detail.
- 1. Normal defensive organisation.
This is in no way a surprising picture. Barcelona have the ball (Andrés Iniesta does, to be more accurate) and Villareal defend in numbers with everyone behind the ball apart from Roberto Soldado, in a not that atypical 4x4x1x1. There is quite some distance between Villareal's right back Mário Gaspar and the centre-backs and also a lack of coverage in between the lines, but that will be covered elsewhere.
- 2. Dynamic shifts
Numbers and layouts are, of course, nothing in football, because it's how dynamics work that make or break the lovely ideas one might have drawn on the board. In this case, Iniesta tries to connect with Luís Suárez via a long ball while Munir El Haddadi tries to make an inside run, as so often is the case. Notice the shaded circle where Sergi Roberto is almost by himself in one of the most important areas of the pitch.
- 3. Villareal win the ball back
Iniesta's hopeful long ball doesn't yield much as Víctor Ruiz heads it clear and the Yellow Submarine win the ball back. Villareal midfielders do a poor job of patrolling their midfield, as indicated by the shaded circle. Now would be the time where Villareal should start deciding how to turn this ball recovery into an attack of their own. Also, notice that there aren't that many Barcelona players around where the ball is lost at the moment.
- 4. Barcelona pounce while Villareal dillydally
While the Villareal players try to keep the ball down from Ruíz's header, Barcelona react extremely fast and immediately swarm around their opponents in the area of the ball, robbing Villlareal of the necessary time to decide on their next move. Roberto and Sergio Busquets get closer to Iniesta and, together with Dani Alves, force Villareal's mistakes.
Because Villareal were already thinking about transitioning into attack, most of their players abandoned their defensive (body) positioning and most of them even took a step or two forward. Compare, for instance, how almost every Villareal player had his feet facing their own goal in the previous picture and how, on this one, their midfielders are almost in line with the ball, rather than behind it.
Because most players were considering opening up the pitch (namely the right-back), spaces opened up all of a sudden where, in Barcelona's normal attacking phase, there weren't many.
Therein lies the beauty of the gegenpressing: By surrendering control of the ball for a few seconds, one can actually befuddle their opponents (sometimes) more easily than when having supreme control of the ball. By allowing the opposing team to win the ball back, one also allows them to lose their balance as they turn their inner chip into attacking mode, ergo making them less prepared to defend in case they give the ball away.
If used wisely, the gegenpressing can have devastating effects and provide a very useful way to tear more defensively solid teams apart in just a few seconds. You can see the whole play just below.