Counter-pressing – Bayer Leverkusen vs RB Leipzig


The counter-pressing (or the so called Gegenpressing) is growing in European football. This is a kind of pressure made after losing the ball, and unlike most of the teams that after losing the ball try to move back the lines and readjust quickly on the back, teams practising counter-pressing do exactly the opposite. After losing the ball, they get up on the field and try to get the ball back as quickly as possible. The pressure is immediate. The player closer to the ball applies pressure, surrounding the opponent and guiding him to a specific area more favourable to recovery. It will also be good for the team if the opponent tries the long pass, in depth, leaving it to the players in the back to recover it.

The highest on the field the ball is recovered, closer (in theory) to the success we are, because we are near the goal. This is also a good time to recover the ball because the opponent opens space in order to prepare the attack, space that can be used to get the ball back by the other team. This is physically very demanding. 

Risks are also high as if the pressure is overtaken, there will be a big space on the back and few players.  There are multiple ways to do it, for example: covering the space of the opponent in a specific area with numerical advantage, closing the passing lines or spaces to progress (some spaces can be, strategically, open); one player pressing the opponent holding the ball and putting others to pressure every player close to the ball through an individual reference strategy; closing multiple passing lines and opening a previously defined zone where the pass is intercept and the ball recovered. How teams pressure is related to how they attack. It can tell how the players relate to the ball after losing possession.

The number of coaches putting this kind of strategy into practice has been increasing, including some of the most famous in world football. From Klopp and Guardiola, to Tuchel and Sampaoli. The major reference of this strategy at national teams level is Germany, where Gegenpressing is the brand mark. There are coaches using this strategy to attack the opponent´s goal, immediately after recovering the ball, others use it to recover the ball quickly and start the positional attack.

Bundesliga is the main European league in regards to counter-pressing, with a large number of teams adopting this strategy, growing every year. A good example is Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen, or Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann (the new coaching sensation from Bundesliga). RB Leipzig is debuting in Bundesliga, led by Ralph Hasenhüttl. It was precisely this team who traveled to BayArena to challenge Bayer Leverkusen in November, where counter-pressing was expected from both sides. 

Bayer Leverkusen

To discuss this constant counter-pressing from both teams, we created multiple parameters in the observation system of VideObserver, in order to measure both team’s behavior when they lost the ball in the offensive midfield. Bayer Leverkusen showed really strong reacting to the lost balls as expected. At ball possession, when the loss occurred in the offensive midfield, they pressured the ball carrier immediately, regardless of the field zone (side lane or central lane), trying to create numeric advantage in the active zone of the ball, closing the passing lines and regain the ball.

They didn’t pressure individually but with a lot of players in the ball zone, trying to strangle the opponent with the ball. When they got the ball back (in most of the times they did it with pressure), they did it quickly, trying to attack the goal after that. 

Most of the players took part in this reaction to the lost ball, leaving few elements in the back. The full backs got up on the field to pressure, as well as the central midfielders and the wingers.

The defensive line was up on the field, making Tah (central defender) recovering a lot of balls. Being a team that puts a lot of players in the offensive midfield when attacking, there were almost always players available to react every time they lose the ball.

Lost ball on the right side with intense pressure in that same area, with Bayer Leverkusen trying to recover the ball, leaving space in the central lane and with the defense high on the field. The right back is up on the field to pressure with the midfielders.

High pressure after losing the ball in the last offensive third, putting 4 players in the ball’s active zone and the rest of the team up on the field. 

Intense pressure from the players in the attack after losing the ball at the central lane. The midfielder pressures the ball carrier, only leaving a passing line to the central back. Immediately two players step onto the opponent’s central back, making him put a long ball in depth with no criteria.

The dangers when the pressure is surpassed. 5 players were beaten by the opponent´s attack, with the defense in numeric inferiority. In this play, RB Leipzig draw the match.

RB Leipzig

As well as Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig used the same formula, pressing constantly after losing the ball, in offensive zones, although (a few) times they had preferred to get the lines down (like when they got in advantage). Always with a lot of players in the active ball zone, trying to create numeric advantage and the full backs getting up on the field and closing the inside when the team pressured the opposite side.

They get the ball back many times, few seconds after loosing it, due to a great intensity in the search of the ball and a great job from Keita (strongest player in the pressure) and the forward players. When they pressured, they left few players behind, taking some risks. The side wings on the opposite side of the ball were empty most of the time, as well as the space between the line of pressure and the players in the back.

A lot of pressure searching for the ball, giving numeric disadvantage for the opposite team. Central back getting up to pressure and the left back closing inside.


Numerical equality in a backward zone and 7 players surrounding the ball carrier in the central lane, trying to take the ball back. Defense is up on the field.

Immediate pressure in the central lane with 4 players getting quickly to the player who recovered the ball and making him play a long ball with no criteria.

Keita is really fast getting to the side lane in the last third of the field where they left Bayer Leverkusen in numerical disadvantage and recover the ball back. Ilsanker (right back) getting up on the field with the opponent right winger, putting pressure in the back if he receives the ball.

Ball Recovery

Many of the recoveries from both teams after losing the ball when they were in the ofensive midfield.

More recoveries from the side lanes, as well from multiple zone in the back due to the high pressure, that ade the opponent play a long ball without criteria, as mentioned above. 

It was a really strong game of counter-pressing, where both teams tried intensively to recover the ball. Many times they did it, quickly turning some defensive plays into offensive at higher zones on the field. On the other side, the quality from both teams getting out of pressure, and the spaces left in other zones due to the pressure with a lot of players, brought some troubles.  

By Rui Pinheiro