Counter-pressing - taking advantage of transition

After a season that saw Liverpool back in the Champions League final for the first time since 2007, and in homage to their German manager, Jürgen Klopp, and Globall Coach’s Liverpudlian roots, this article will be focused on a key element of his approach – counter-pressing.

Counter-pressing became a popular buzzword thrown around in football circles after Klopp’s all action teams at Borussia Dortmund used it to great effect, winning two Bundesliga titles and appearing in the Champions League final back in 2013.

So what is counter-pressing? Essentially, it’s the act of applying pressure to the ball immediately after you lose it. 

The thought process behind the idea is a good one. The team that has just won the ball back has been defending, and before being ready to attack effectively, will need players to move into position. Counter pressing takes advantage of this transition period by pressing the man on the ball as soon as he wins it, while trying to eliminate his immediate passing options, making a penetrative forward pass less likely, and a turnover more likely.

Now, there are some key things to consider here. You can’t just sprint at the ball hell for leather every time you lose it. If you do, good teams will play around you.

The first key ingredient to consider when counter pressing is the distance your players are from the ball when they lose it. If your players are too far away, then you can’t counter press effectively as they will leave gaps behind them as they go to counter press. 

A good reference here is Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona teams. From a counter-pressing point of view, their “Tiki-Taka” style meant that they always had 3 or 4 players within 20 yards of the ball. Therefore, whenever they lost it, they were always able to apply immediate pressure and shut off the passing options of the man on the ball.

Finally, when counter pressing, your movements also need to be coordinated – one break in your pressing chain and the whole system can break down.

How to Train It
Having looked at what counter pressing is and some of the key principles, let’s look at how to train it.

Exercise One
To start with, a simple 4v1 rondo is a great way to build a counter pressing mentality into your players.

Exercise 1

Exercise 1

Here, the blues try to complete ten passes, while the red man in the middle tries to win the ball back and score into one of the four goals on the outside. When the man in the middle wins it, the closest two players must press together to stop him from scoring into one of the four mini goals. The other two players get into position to first block the next most obvious goals, and then begin to apply pressure too.

Watch below as the man that loses the ball presses immediately. His closest teammate first blocks the nearest goal and then steps to press with him. The two other players block the other goals, slowing down the man on the ball’s decision making, and giving the two on the ball time to win it back.

Exercise Two
Now, we take the same principles here of immediate pressure to the ball and shutting down passing options to a bigger area with more opponents. The rules of the game are the same – the blues try to keep possession, aiming for ten passes, while the reds try to win the ball back and score in one of the six goals.

Exercise 2

Exercise 2

Notice that the blues have two players centrally to help link and build possession, while also being in prime positions to help start an effective counter press if the ball is lost centrally. They can also drop behind the ball to help regain team shape if they decide they can’t counter press.

Watch here as the two closest players move in to position to stop the man on the ball from scoring in the most obvious goal. Notice how the blues move to take away his closest passing options. He then needs time to think where to play next, and in this time, the central midfielder is able to press him as he is turning and make a tackle.

Exercise Three
Finally, we apply these principles into an 11v11 game. Now it’s time to coach the players on when to counter-press, and when to take their defensive shape.

Watch here as the players are close enough to counter-press and win the ball back.

Watch here as the players are too far away to apply effective counter pressure, and so they drop back into their default 4-4-2.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or suggestions for future articles, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, by emailTwitter or LinkedIn


Jim Boardman