What is Counter Pressing?

“The immediate reaction to win back possession after losing the ball”

Which teams use this concept of Counter Pressing?

  • Barcelona, Bayern Munich & Manchester City under Pep Guardiola
  • Borussia Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel
  • Napoli when managed by Maurizio Sarri
  • Leeds United under Marcelo Bielsa

3 Key Principles

  1. Reading triggers of possession looking uncomfortable and insecure – these may be our team-mate is outnumbered by the opposition, they are near the touchline in reduce time and space, the pass they’ve received is poor (e.g under or over-hit), receiving touch is loose or stuck between the feet.
  2. Blocking passing lanes and options to limit the opposition’s chances of retaining the ball themselves.
  3. Multiple pressures around the ball – in front, side and behind.

3 Different Match Situations

Central Midfield Third

  • Player has received with his back to opponent and is under pressure unable to turn
  • He has pressure coming from different directions and out team’s possession looks uncomfortable and insecure.
  • Safety player – nearest team-mate needs to start moving towards the ball zone anticipating a loss of possession.
  • Defenders reduce their distances horizontally and push up the pitch to connect to the ball and also leave opposition strikers offside.
  • Our strikers can drop back to apply pressure from behind if the ball is lost.
  • GK can also squeeze up slightly to stay connected to the defensive line.
  • If possession is lost, we are able to apply an aggressive counter press in the first 3-5 seconds and we are also blocking and screening passing options for the opposition reducing the chances of them retaining possession.

Wide Attacking Third

  • Our striker has pressure from behind and is in a 1v2 situation near the touch-line.
  • Safety player again connects to the ball zone and looks to create 2v2 situation in case we lose the ball.
  • Midfielders slide across the pitch and look to block off passing lanes, closing the centre of the pitch.
  • Defenders and GK again push up to ensure team compactness.
  • If opponents do win the ball back, their options to retain possession are limited and if we are able to successfully counter press, we’re in a promising area of the pitch to hopefully create an attack towards their goal.

Central Defensive Third

  • Our central defender has the ball and has maybe taken a heavy, loose touch finding themselves in a 1v2 position against their 2 strikers.
  • The other 2 defenders connect horizontally, GK is ready to make a save if needed and the midfield unit drops back to apply multiple pressure in the event of the ball being turned over to the opposition.
  • Strikers also drop to ensure collective team compactness.
  • As before, if the ball is lost, our anticipation of a dangerous situation should limit their chances of creating an opportunity to score due to our compact distances and multiple pressure supporting players.


The 3 key principles are:

  1. Reading triggers of possession about to lost
  2. Blocking passing lanes and options for the opposition if they do win the ball
  3. Applying multiple pressure (in front, side and behind) and controlling the space around the ball
  4. The team need to have organisation and structure BEFORE the ball is lost if possession looks uncomfortable and insecure and then quick reactions in transition to counter press aggressively.