In Jonathan Wilson’s Pioneering reds to the Reds: Why Jürgen Klopp’s pressing is a perfect fit for the age, Wilson takes us on a trip through time, witnessing the evolution of pressing. From Valeriy Lobanovskyi to Ralf Rangnick and how the pressing family tree spans into different leaves after that.
One of these connections between parent and leaf is one between Rangnick and Thomas Tuchel. A manager-player connection during their time at SSV Ulm. And it was at that time that Rangnick did that famous interview on ZDF where he explains on a tactic board how his four man defence and pressing operate. This seems normal now, but at that time in a country in love with three man defences and liberos, it was revolutionary.
Tuchel took over from Juergen Klopp at Mainz after a stint with the youth team. The tree was growing more links by then.
From a senior career accumulating sub 100 senior club appearances to the Champions League final. Tuchel with a sprained ankle and a fractured metatarsal sat down on an ice box in Marcelo Bielsa fashion, watching his Paris Saint-Germain side harry RB Leipzig to suffocation.
Leipzig who have their own Rangnick connection and Julian Nagelsmann who himself has his own connections with Tuchel — feels like something out of Netflix’s Dark series.
It would have made more sense if Leipzig were the one causing problems for PSG when pressing them, but it was the other way round.
The exclusion of Mauro Icardi raised a few flags before the game, but come the end of the first half. Everything made sense. Tuchel implemented a cohesive pressing scheme where even the €222 million Neymar Jr and the €145m+€35m Kylian Mbappe had to put in a shift.
The interchanging of markers was impressive from PSG and it wasn’t limited to Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera and Leandro Paredes. Neymar featured regularly as well.
Leipzig’s shape in possession saw Angelino pushing forward in a left wing back role as Konrad Laimer occupied the right side. That meant leaving the rest of Leipzig’s defence in a three man shape. PSG’s front three matched them, while Paredes picked up Marcel Sabitzer. On the wings, Juan Bernat marked Laimer and the interesting side was the other one. Ander Herrera played a dual pressing role, covering both Kevin Kampl and Angelino, depending on Leipzig’s available passing angles.
When there were no passing angle into Angelino, Herrera picked up Kampl. Angelino is completely free here but he couldn’t be reached directly and a pass in any direction to reach Angelino would result in PSG adjusting their pressing shape to accommodate.
In this scenario, Dayot Upamecano decided to play a pass inside into Kampl who was nearer to Paredes than Herrera. Paredes was triggered forcing Kampl into a poor first touch, losing the ball to Mbappe. The attack continued and Mbappe was put in a 1 v 1 situation by Herrera’s through ball but the result was only a corner kick.
A similar situation could be seen here. Herrera again focused on Kampl, completely ignoring Angelino as there is no passing option into him. Up front Mbappe is jumping on Upamecano, forcing him into a decision. The cohesiveness of this pressing scheme is in how the other PSG players are already starting their press before the pressed opponent has the ball. Paredes is closing up to Sabitzer in case the vertical pass was played. Meanwhile Neymar is sprinting ferociously towards Nordi Mukiele.
When Mukiele received the ball from Upamecano, his passing options are limited because of Neymar. He only has the option of Laimer.
Laimer, who is pressed by Bernat, has three options according to his body shape. A quickly whipped ball forward, a simple pass in-front of Mukiele or a pass into Kampl. The second and third option are taken out by Paredes. The Argentine’s horizontal movement across towards Laimer brings him closer to option two while blocking passing lane into Kampl, removing option three. Laimer goes with option one and PSG collect the ball.
Herrera’s dual role made him cautious when there is a passing angle into Angelino. If he followed Kampl here he leaves Angelino free and only Thilo Kehrer can press him. Had that happened the domino effect means leaving Christopher Nkunku free and three quick passes from Leipzig puts them in a dangerous position. Herrera holds his position correctly while also being aided by Di Maria who can press Kampl inside the pitch.
Peter Gulacsi falls into the trap and Herrera moves out to press Angelino. He is blocking one passing option forward here, the other player blocking another passing option is Di Maria who is following Kampl inside the pitch. Angelino has to go back and reset. The press broke down the attack.
Marquinhos was in position to sweep as well, but not only sweep the ball. Sweep the ball or the man.
The most constant theme analyzing this pressing scheme was how PSG neglected Dani Olmo, only blocking passing lanes into him but not wasting a man to mark him. It’s nothing related to Olmo nor his ability, rather the idea of if X isn’t accessible, then why care about X?
If the ball can’t reach Olmo from Leipzig’s build up, then it’s a waste to use Marquinhos to man mark him. The Brazilian played as a pressing sweeper behind the pressing shape, ready to pick up any man.
There was also flexibility in terms of pressing. Herrera here is too far from either Kampl or Angelino. Kehrer notices that the switch to Angelino is incoming and moves out to press Angelino.
Contrary to what is mentioned above, there is no gap this time as Herrera dropped to cover the right back position. In a role switch Kehrer pressed Kampl after pressing Angelino, forcing the midfielder into a poor ball resulting in a throw in for PSG.
During goal kicks, Leipzig wanted to implement a 3–2 setup by using Gulacsi and pushing one of the center backs (Upamecano here) next to Kampl. PSG adapted to this excellently. The front three maintained a narrow line, ready to press Leipzig’s center backs while covering Upamecano and Kampl in case Gulacsi plays a direct ball into them. Out wide Herrera and Bernat are in position to press Angelino and Laimer in case the ball was floated into them.
As the ball is moved across from Gulacsi towards Angelino through Lukas Klostermann, the PSG pressing shape adjusts. Herrera moves up the pitch to press Angelino, Di Maria moves wide to block the passing option into Klostermann, while Neymar drops on to Kampl to press him if the pass was played into him.
Angelino goes back to Klostermann with Kampl now completely out of the equation. There is no passing angle into Kampl, therefore Neymar is free to press elsewhere. Klostermann has only two passing options here, Gulacsi and Upamecano. Both are taken out by Neymar’s vertical sprint.
Neymar managed to block Gulacsi’s long ball but the ball hitting his hand denied PSG from an early opener.
Another goal kick with the same set up.
Right as Klostermann is receiving the ball, Herrera is sprinting towards Angelino and Neymar is dropping on to Kampl.
A mirror image of the previous situation. Kampl and Klostermann are crossed out as passing options. Angelino had to play a forward pass under pressure from Herrera and as always, PSG collect.
PSG’s second goal was a consequence of this imperious pressing scheme. The 3 v 3 is set, Herrera is positioned near Kampl but not too far from Angelino in case the ball switched to the far side, and Paredes centrally tracking Sabitzer. Di Maria starts the time bomb here, blocking the passing option into Klostermann while also pressing Gulacsi.
Gulaci’s time is running out and his body shape means that his ball will be played to the far side of the pitch. Herrera adjusts accordingly, preparing himself to make a move towards Angelino. Paredes’ movement here is the key. His movement up the field closes down on Sabitzer but also blocks the passing lane into Kampl. Now the three options that Gulacsi might have played the ball into are all out.
Gulacsi’s pass wasn’t into anyone and was directly played towards Herrera. Paredes collected, then a sublime back heel from Neymar put Di Maria in front of goal to make it 2–0 and probably end the game.
PSG scored a third in the beginning of the second half and the game drifted away after that. A Champions League final for the first time in their history awaiting the winner of the second semi final between Bayern Munich and Lyon.
Tuchel is a disciple of the pressing family tree. Each person on this tree has his own quirks. A mix between the styles of this tree and that of the possession football family tree is the current evolution. A hybrid approach that Juergen Klopp and Pep Guardiola reached to maintain equilibrium.
Who will break the cycle ?