Throughout last week, there was an odd advertisement by the Premier League going around. It was basically showing the agony of Liverpool against Manchester City in their first encounter this season, and in the end it asked, "How do you solve a problem like Manchester City?" Well, apparently Jurgen Klopp answered that question this Sunday very well by reviving his counter-pressing game. Although many teams had tried to squeeze Manchester City with intense pressing this season, Pep Guardiola's team was organized and versatile enough to punish them. Nevertheless, this time they crashed into an opponent as organized and versatile as them, eventually leading to panic and chaos.
Firstly, as I have written in this column many times, the only way to assure a fighting chance against City is to play as daring as them. It is almost obvious that all park-the-bus strategies against City are bound to lose or get a point with miracles. No weak sides in the Premier League were able to show a decent effort against them so far. As for the strong sides, they of course did not opt for sitting deep, but rather chose a strategy that ended Guardiola's glory days in both Barcelona and Bayern Munich - counter-pressing.
However, what these teams forgot was that in order to be effective in counter-pressing a team should not just rely on the chaos they create in the opponent's defense; the pressing should be as organized as build-ups. In other words, not every press means that a player's goal is to intercept the ball, but rather push the opponent to the next trap, which eventually leads to a mistake. This was the core idea of Gegenpressing, which Jurgen Klopp perfectly executed until Pep Guardiola discovered the remedy in Munich.
The counter strategy of counter-pressing is to have an organized counter-attacking strategy alongside the domination strategy. In Bayern Munich, center back Jerome Boateng used to send 60-70 meter passes to breach intense pressing, rather than getting strangled in build-ups. This direct approach severely reduced the efficiency of Gegenpressing, and Guardiola mastered it even further in Manchester City.
But Klopp had not said his last word yet. He came up with one of the most organized and rational pressing methods in history. It was more like a chess game; his players were pushing Manchester City's defense to play in a certain way and then made blitzkriegs onto less skilled center backs John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi. This was a tactic very well planned and executed with high rationality, meaning that Liverpool players already knew their targets and patiently shaped their press to strike in the best moment.
Hence, Klopp has made his move and created a solution for the Manchester City problem, now it is up to Guardiola to create a solution for the problem in his defense. Although City is still a more balanced and organized team than Liverpool, as the table suggests, they are going to be chased until the end. If this brilliant execution of Gegenpressing can inspire other teams in the Premier League, then City may have some problems.
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