The counter-press is often used by soccer teams in an attempt to win back the ball following a loss of possession. It is a popular tactic used by coaches because it can stop the opponent from counter-attacking against your team. It requires athletic players and quick reactions to execute effectively. I was excited to provide more detail about this topic.
What is counter-pressing? Counter pressing is the tactic of applying immediate pressure on the ball following a loss of possession, it is usually a collective high-intensity pressure. The aims are usually to win back the ball, cut off support passes, and stop opponent counter-attacks. It usually takes place when one of your attacks breaks down.
It is the coach’s responsibility to inform a team of how they want to counter-press. Some different methods have evolved over the years of football. In the past, some managers have used the counter-press to allow their teams to get into a defensive shape to stop counterattacks, more recently teams have used to counter-press force the opponent into long passes or to simply win back the ball high up the pitch and attack.
What are the Aims of Counter Pressing?
Different coaches have different ideas about the aims of counter-pressing but some basic aims seem to be consistent with all coaches who apply this tactic. These aims could almost become coaching points or triggers to the players playing the game. I have summarized what I feel are the common aims of counter-pressing.
- Create Panic: When a team wins back the ball they are usually not ready to attack and thus require a period of time to get into an attacking shape, the pressure from a counters press denies teams this time.
- Win back the ball: As soon as the ball is lost a counter press helps a team to win back the ball quickly by swamping, rushing or forcing the ball winner into a error or rushed decision.
- Cut off support options: As soon as the ball is lost the defensive team look to cut off the support players immediate support options
- Buy time for the defending team: Whilst some players are counter pressing other players can get organized ready to deal with opponents attack
The bulleted list above offers some key coaching detail that coaches can use to simplify the idea of counter-pressing. The messages you provide to players are important, tactical information must be provided in a way that makes sense to the player. The terms and wording you use when explaining this to players should make the aims clear.
I think it is clear from the detail above that counter-pressing is reactive, hard work, and high intensity. It usually lasts for short periods such as 3 – 10 seconds or 3 – 6 opponent passes. Players must be willing to run at high speeds for prolonged periods, react quickly to turnovers in possession and make recovery runs over longer distances if pressure is not successful.
The coach therefore must make the decision based on the makeup of their squad if counter-pressing is a viable option for their team. Players would require the right level of physical conditioning and a strong mindset to run consistently. Training practices that mirror the idea of applying pressure, regaining the ball, and reacting quickly would be a common theme around your training ground.
What Types of Counter Pressing are there?
The first type is more defensively orientated to allow your team to recover quickly into a team shape whilst also applying some pressure on the ball. The considerations around this type of counter-press would be identifying the players who counter-press and those that recover into shape.
This counter-press would work by assigning the immediate 1 – 3 players around the ball the task of winning it back, stopping exit passes for the ball carrier, and making play predictable. The players not involved in this could retreat into a resting defensive shape.
The other players get prepared and ready to deal with the opponent’s attack. If the ball is won back the team can launch an attack or they should have some option to secure the ball. If the counter-press is unsuccessful the team will be in a solid defensive shape to deal with the opponent’s attack.
The second type of counter-press is a little more aggressive it relies on the attacking team to take up positions between opponents. This seems to be for two reasons, firstly to tempt the ball winner into playing a short pass to the players between the gaps in the defending team. This is so the ball can be intercepted cleanly and an immediate attack can be launched.
The second reason is to force the opponent into a long pass into space so possession can be regained easily again without having to make physical contact.
Looking more closely at this type of counter-press there seem to be other benefits to this as well such as the team who lost the ball does not have to lose their attacking shape too much. If possession is won back cleanly there should be short passing options around the ball because the players are marking spaces ready to intercept as opposed to the player to player marking.
A final type of counter-press is attack-minded. It works on the principle of the opponent being at their most vulnerable defensively when they have just won back the ball because they often immediately shift into a more attacking formation. If the ball can be won back during this moment especially in the attacking third of the field, chances and opportunities to score can be had without too much effort on behalf of the attacking team.
The makeup of this type of counter-press seems to be relatively simple to implement. Create a plus 1 at the back to deal with the opponent’s attacking threat. The rest of the team blocks a passing lane for the ball carrier and squeezes the ball carrier from multiple sides.
This is where it is hoped the ball can be won back because the ball carrier panics and tries to release the ball. The ball carriers teammates, in an attempt to support the ball, have taken a higher line defensively or stretched the field. When the ball is won by the counter-pressing team there is often space in behind and at the sides of the defending team.
The players upon winning the ball are expected to play a forward pass for a runner or be aggressive with the ball and get at the backline with aggressive dribbles. Clever teams can also implement this type of counter-press by playing longer balls into central midfield areas. As the long ball is picked up by the opponent the counter-press can begin as above.
This type of counter-press if implemented successfully usually presents a 3 – 6 second window of opportunity for the counter-pressing team to create a chance to score. If implemented correctly, it should provide a real attacking threat for the counter-pressing team and a defensive issue for the team being pressed.
Counter Pressing Practices
HOW IT WORKS: The first practice is set up to work on the main aims of counter-pressing in terms of creating panic, winning back the ball, and cutting off support options. Counter pressing moments can occur for both teams. The black and whites start as the attacking team and the blues start as the defending team.
The blues have two defending players chasing the ball against four attackers in one area. In the other area, there are two black and white attackers waiting to receive the ball and two waiting blue defenders. The blue defenders must position themselves anywhere in the central and outer white-shaded zones. They can press as soon as the ball enters their zone.
The black and whites make four passes in one area and transfer the ball to the other area to receive a goal. Two of the black and whites must transition quickly to support the ball from one area to the other. The blues must try to take advantage of the black and whites slow transitions. The blues must win the ball and escape into the furthest white end zone via a dribble or passing sequence.
When the ball is won by the blues all of the blues become active as attackers. The four black and whites counter press the blues and try to win back the ball. The two furthest black and whites defend the end zone.
HOW IT WORKS: This activity is more advanced in the sense that the players begin to work on the spaces they would in a game. It’s a half-pitch practice set as shown in the image it is a 10 v 8 practice in favor of the blues. This could be adapted to suit the age and pitch size of your players.
The practice starts with a blue attack they are trying to score in the large goal against the black and white defending team. If the black and whites win the ball they try to score in any of the three mini-goals.
When possession is lost the blues must counter press quickly to win back the ball ideally keeping the ball and winning it back in the same horizontal channel the ball was lost in. If the black and whites can escape the blue pressure and the horizontal channel the ball was won then score in a different mini-goal, they receive two goals instead of one.
If the blues can win the ball back in the same horizontal channel and score a goal within 4 – 8 seconds they will receive treble goals for this. If the blues win it back and score within 4 – 8 seconds they receive two goals. Any other goals count as one. Coaches can adapt the practice conditions to suit their player’s needs.
Counter pressing is an effective strategy for helping teams win the ball back quickly following a loss of possession its main aims are to create panic and pressure on the opposition denying them the chance to counter-attack offering the team who has won the ball limited passing options usually over short distances so the players who lost it can apply immediate pressure to the ball carrier or the first pass they play.
There are different types of counter-press some more defensive driven and some more attack driven. The coach should look at the makeup of their team and identify if counter-pressing is something they feel is suitable for their players. Counter pressing requires high-intensity running, quick reactions and recovery running. The coach must have players at their disposal who are capable of this.
Some sample sessions have been added so coaches can have a go at counter-pressing with their players. Coaches should try to adopt, amend and progress the practices provided to suit their needs and that of their players. I hope the detail in this article is useful and provides clear information, aims, and ideas around the concept of counter-pressing.
What does Gegenpressing mean? It means the same as counter-pressing as explained above but it is just the German name for it.
What coaches could I study, if I want to see counter-pressing in action? Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, are two coaches who like to implement this tactic.
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