The Perfect Defensive System #4- Total Football + Gegenpressing


In this new series called The Perfect Defensive System,we invite you the reader to contribute posts on what you think is the best defensive system. This defensive system doesn’t need to be something which has already been implemented,it can be something from you imagination or from your tactics in Football Manager. So if you think you are better than Jose Mourinho at parking the bus,then send in your contributions to

Over a few months now, I have looked to develop my own style of play for the future game: one which is dynamic and fluid. In his book, ‘Teambuilding- the road to success’, Michels states that “you need to first control the opposition if you want to play and attacking style of football”. With my ideas on the future game being based around positional fluidity and rotation, an attacking style of football, I babe first needed to develop a defensive strategy. Here it is, if you have any queries, or have found any loopholes in the system, please let me be known by writing in the comments.

The strategy I look to play will implement to combine two contrasting systems: Totalfootball’s high pressure and Germany’s Geggenpress, (the counter press). To begin, here is what the side’s ‘base’ formation will look like:

unknown (3)

Lib= Libero
Rwb= Right wing back
Lwb= Left wing back
If= Inside Forwards.

So, the moment the team lose the ball, we will begin to use a high press in order to try and win the ball back as quick as possible. The skill level of the team will determine how long we press to win the ball back. For example, a top class team will press for around 8 seconds. If the team win the ball off the opposition, then obviously we will penetrate, as sides like Barcelona look to do. However, if the team do not win the ball back after the time allocated to press high and aggressively, then will then use a medium press, meaning each player will press to within 3-5 years of the opposition. This will push the opposition back. This is pressing to delay- delaying whilst the team setup in the Geggenpress formation, which will look like this:

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The wing backs have pushed back to create a back five. From here, we are able to begin the Geggenpress. The next step for this to work is for the team to tilt slightly. This creates small spaces for the opposition to move into the middle third, as well as for us to suffocate the opposition by reducing the amount of space the opposition have to operate in the middle third. The tilt will look something like this:

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As you can see, the right wing back and right Libero have tilted slightly to suffocate the opposition. The box is the space we won’t the opposition to move into, the tilt contributes to this happening. Once this has happened, we press and win the ball back in the middle third, and look to counter attack.

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I will now show how the system covers all defensive principles of play.

The defensive principles of play:

1. Press or delay
2. Support
3 Balance
4. Compactness
5. Discipline

– The press or delay is covered by the high pressure to win the ball back followed by the medium press to delay, allowing the team to get into the Geggenpress formation.
– The support comes from the effective pressing; by pressing aggressively and as a team, then the support will always be there.
– The balance comes from the 3+1 base whilst in possession. When attacking, the 3 liberos and one CDM will sit back to provide balance to the team. This is similar to what Marcelo Bielsa does.
– The compactness comes from the Geggenpress formation; a five at the back and 3 midfielders close together will keep the pitch compact, but with enough room to allow the opposition to move into the part of the middle third we want them to so we can win the ball back
– The discipline comes from the press, when and how to press (triggers) and also the tilt; when to tilt.

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Like I said at the beginning of the article, I would appreciate it if you’d leave a comment with any feedback, positive or constructive, to help me to improve this defensive strategy.

6 Responses

  1. Great idea Alex.
    But I have a few doubts:
    – I didn’t get the tilt formation clearly, I don’t see any difference between the Gegenpress formation and the tilted formation. Could you please highlight the tilt??
    – What is your definition of a ‘libero’. As per my definition it means a sweeper. What’s the point of having three liberos at the back if they all are just sweepers?

    1. Thanks for the comment, I will try my best to cover the tilt and the job of the Liberos in the team.

      -So, the tilt is actually a part of the whole Geggenpress system. As you would know, the Geggenpress is all about winning the ball in the midfield and then counter attacking at pace. The tilt is designed to create a small bit of space in the middle third for the opposition to move into. For example, if we want the opposition to move into the left side of the middle third, then the RWB and Right sided Libero will move closer into the middle to suffocate the opposition. Meanwhile, the midfielders will cleverly drop off to allow the opposition into the middle third. Once they’ve moved into the space, we press them.The RWB and Right Sided Libero, having moved in, have to cover less ground to further suffocate the opposition further. If you still have any issues, feel free to let me know and I will write an article on the tilt.
      -In addition, after reading Matthew Whitehouse’s book “Universality”, for me the Modern Libero will be just as good technically as any other player on the field. Think about Jerome Boateng being the prototype of the Modern Libero. The job of these three whist we have the ball is to offer angles and be an outlet for those with the ball. Also, based on their more advanced technique, when in possession they will have to look to drive into the midfield in order to create an overload in the midfield. Also, when we are in an advanced attacking position, the Liberos and holding midfielder will sit to create a 3+1 base, like what Bielsa does. I understand that wanting to sit back but also look to drive into the midfield are contrasting ideas, so let me explain. When a Libero moves into the midfield, the holding midfielder will slowly drop back to become the new Libero. The Libero who moved into the midfield becomes the new holding midfielder: this is what my system is all about, positional fluidity, and this is just one example of players moving/changing positions.

      I am currently looking at relationships between positions and what positons can rotate with which. If you have any other concers/questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.


      1. Hey Alex… after going through your reply, I found your idea of 3 liberos very innovative and amazing.
        I understood the tilt too.
        Am being a bit greedy but as a student I have two more requests:
        -Am more eager to know about tilt. If time permits you, please do write an article on tilt. Also if you could share your ideas on where the tilt can be applied, not only the above example but elsewhere across the pitch, it would be interesting.
        – In the formation mentioned in the above article if you could place out your ideal dream team to play it, it would really complete the article.

        Thanks for your patient reply and Cheers,

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