Pressing Masterclass by Louis van Gaal

Michels was known to be a burly, surly man. Never a smile. Never a kind word. A disciplinarian. But in his final days as a coach (1988 and 1992) he suddenly emerged as a charmer. An amateur opera singer and a funny guy. He softened up a bit and the world was witness to it.

Louis van Gaal always said Michel was his great example. And like Rinus, Van Gaal is now working on his last (??) trick and guess what: the stern school teacher has become funny, open, generous and warm. What age can do…

The Dutch started their fore-checking – as we called it back then – in the 1970s and it has always been part of the game plan, albeit never continiously. The Germans called it gegenpressing and there are different terms to explain what it is and how it works.

Van Gaal calls it Total Pressing and after the Turkey game he complimented his team: “it is remarkable what they have done. They played total pressing for 90 minutes! And my subs did the same thing. They came into the team and the flow was never paused or anything. I am very proud of my players.”

When asked what Total Pressing is, he was quite brief. “Simple, you play the high press everywhere on the pitch.”

Van Gaal’s Total Press can be seen in two typical situations: when Turkey has the ball or when Oranje looses possession. “The turnaround was managed perfectly,” Van Gaal added.

Look at how the first goal happened. Where the German coaches never seem to care too much about the opponent, when they start the press, Louis is different and ordered his men to play man-to-man in the situation of a press. Three players focus on the ball but the rest of the team (Mempgis, Klaassen, Frenkie) all make sure they cover a Turkish option, making it even harder for the Turks to find a way out.

Van Gaal’s total press concept is more based on the Argentinian school of Bielsa and Pochettino than the German School.

Look at the actions on the other wing.

The Turks are put under pressure on the flank and a bunch of Orange wolves immediately focused on putting all relevant opponents under pressure. This is how Oranje was able to suffocate all potential counter attacks.

Every time Turkey had time on the ball, the options in the centre of the park were covered off, forcing them to go to the wings, where the pack of Orange wolves would immediately force them to turn over the ball.

Optically, the press didn’t appear aggressive. This is because Van Gaal didn’t want to pressure the goalie. This would force him to go long, and Van Gaal wanted him to build up from the back. Interestingly, De Boer played 4-3-3 in the Turkey away game and statistically, it seems our press was more successful in that game. The Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) was only 8,4 in the De Boer managed match, and 13.1 in the Van Gaal led game. This image below explains it somewhat.

De Boer instructed Malen to stay close to the right CB forcing the Turks to build up via their right full back. He became the free man.

And it was left back Wijndal’s task to pick up that right back while left central defender Blind was going to take on the Turkish right winger, which resulted in a one v one situation in our defence.

What you see here, is that Wijndal repeatedly was high up on the pitch, sprinting towards his man. This aggressive variant meant that the Turks couldn’t really use their passing game to build up. Under De Boer the Dutch were more successful breaking up the passing, than the Van Gaal Oranje team. But… this forced the Turkish goalie to go long and both Yilmaz and Karaman won five aerial battles for the ball, and this resulted in danger as Oranje played 3 v 3 at the back. In other words, the Turkish coach found a way to undo De Boer’s battleplan.

And it would immediately be “all hands on deck” as our defensive organisation was immediately shot and our midfield couldn’t track back fast enough. The 3rd and 4th Turkish goal both came from a long ball up the park and with our defenders and midfielders unable to deal with it.

Van Gaal learned the lesson. He took way less risk on the flanks with the press.

This moment above shows Turkey trying to play out of the Dutch pressure. A couple of differences with the De Boer tactics come to mind. In the win over Turkey, we were able to pin their midfielders. Van Gaal didn’t want the Turks to shift the game from left to right. This would give Oranje good opportunities to put pressure on their flank and outnumber them. The second difference is the position of our left winger. Where Malen pushed on the central defender, it is here Bergwijn in that role but he is covering the right back and the right centre back by positioning in between them. The third difference being Memphis’ role. He was positioned in front of Soyuncu and not behind him. Memphis didn’t mark him, but simply stopped the pass into him. Turkey was forced to build up using Demiral, a lesser passer.

And another example of the changes, you can see above. Blind in the left back role stayed in his zone, instead of Wijndal in the away game who abandoned that zone. In combination with Virgil’s aerial strength, the Turkish long balls never really got us in trouble.

Another example. No pressure on the ball, but all passing avenues were shut tight, with Wijnaldum even in front of his man. The only player we wanted to have the ball was right footed left back Muldur.

On that ball was played, the wolf pack would kick into gear. Berghuis covering the forward ball, Memphis covering their libero and Wijnaldum ready to knick the ball away too. There simply was no escape.

At times, the Turks came up with a solution. In the above situation, Demiral drops further deep to make the space between him and the right back to big to cover. Interestingly enough, Davy Klaassen recognises it and points to Bergwijn to drop back. The result: Demiral still can’t build up from the back and is forced to play a risky ball.

Here you can see how fluid we played. Klaassen, Bergwijn and Memphis are now the forward three while Berghuis drops in to support the midfield and Wijnaldum tracks back to support his defenders. Daley Blind has taken over the coaching role from Klaassen and instructs Bergwijn in his movements. Demiral plays the risky ball and Oranje gets possession back because the distances between the players were spot on and the passing lines were interrupted.

Just before the break there was a situation where Blind simply had to step up. Memphis pushed onto Soyuncu and Bergwijn pushed onto Demiral. The midfield was marked so the goalie went for a risky pass to the right wing. Yilmaz had drifted to the left side to give his team options so Blind abandoning his zone was not a highly risky move. Van Dijk moved into the role and allowed Blind to press their right back.

That what was standard under De Boer versus Turkey was just an exception in the Van Gaal tactics.

The important thing for Van Gaal is, making sure the right opponent gets the ball. The goalie, the worst build up player and/or the full backs. The left back of Turkey ended up as the player with the most touches and the lowest pass accuracy. In the away game, he had been the player with the least touches.

Van Gaal didn’t play one v one over the pitch and didn’t let his team hunt for the ball constantly. When the weaker players were on the ball in a particular zone, he would order the press. The players asked for clarity, he said before he started his role in this international break. It seems he gave it to them. That he was able to prep the team according to his principles in a week’s time is quite remarkable.

( data via Opta, images via Instat, thanks to Pieter Zwart of VI Pro)

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  1. Great piece of an analysis. The strategy and tactic are apparent, and the execution perfect in the game. I was truly impressed with how much a good coaching can impact on a team performance. In fact, I shared this article with my friends and telling them to watch the replay to learn on LVG’s Total Pressing.
    I haven’t been so optimistic and impressed with the NT for a long long time. 😊

    1. Excellent analysis. This also clearly gives a clue on the selection process of players. LVG needs players with a football brain. Players who are gifted with their feet and their football intelligence. This is why some players will be considered over others who may seem more skilled on the ball.

  2. Excellent analysis. This is what make Van Gaal a good coach “The important thing for Van Gaal is, making sure the right opponent gets the ball.” He did his research to know who is the weak opponent and make sure the team has a game plan before the game. The analysis cover very well the pressing plan, if you watch the game, you could see they have a plan when having the ball also. The players now pass the ball a lot quicker because they agree and practice a game plan before. They do not need to look around like 20s to decide who is available for a pass.

  3. For the Berghuis haters. There is a company doing statistical analysis of the game and the players. The SPR rating. It’s an the algorithm developed to evaluate the performances of football players.

    It goes from 0 to 100. I might post more about this in the coming weeks.

    The interesting thing, is that there are 3 Dutch players in the Top 40. The Rating is based on a number of things. Messi is #1 currently, Neymar is #2 and C Ronaldo #3. The best position Dutch player is Virgil Van Dijk at #21.

    The second best is Memphis #32 or so and the third best Dutch player is….drum roll…. Steven Berghuis, #44.

    There you have it.

    I will post the image in my next post

  4. Nothing, for me , exemplifies the enigma that is Louis Van Gaal like the relationship he endured with Robin Van Persie. Almost in one breath, RVP spoke of the genius of LVG and the utter ruthlessness of his man-management. “The match has gone exactly as the coaching staff predicted”, RVP quipped after leading the charge against Spain in 2014, in one of the sweetest comebacks of a world cup tournament. Indeed an absolute thriller that further cemented the brilliance of the Iron Tulip.

    For me, the utter genius of LVG remains etched in my mind from the Ajax team he built in the early to mid ’90s. I had never seen anything like it. Young, fit, inexperienced but technically gifted players whom you seemingly can’t pinch the ball off of. They look to control every facet of the game and would just harass an opponent to surrender with their press. It was football utopia for the purist.

    But then came the final against a great AC Milan team whom they’ve already beaten twice across two legs earlier in the competition. The encounter wasn’t exactly what I expected. Used to seeing Ajax dominate games against opponents, AC Milan had Ajax on the back foot for much of the game. Then come midway into the second half and the substitutions.

    I didn’t have the scope nor football understanding to appreciate the formation or tactical change that LVG effected. I just remembered that there were a couple of substitution and the game was turned upside its head. All of a sudden(and I mean twinkling of an eye) Ajax became the dominant side that I expected to see from start. They threatened a goal with every attack and Milan’s midfield was relegated to playing defence. In the space of twenty minutes, the borrowed robes were shed, Milan made to look ordinary, and Ajax emerged as victors, from a goal by no other than one of the substitutes, an 18/19 year old by the name of Patrick Kluivert. To think that all the unfamiliar pressure his team endured. The uncomfortable lack of control. LVG had a plan. “The match had gone exactly as the coaching staff predicted”

    “You have to go. Your time is up” RVP wrote in his book about a conversation he had with LVG in his final days at Man.United. RVP put up a resistance thinking that he had a bit of insurance with his contract still a couple of years strong. LVG swiftly relegated him to the reserves and took away his privilege of training 11 v 11. And it won’t come as a surprise with LVG if this was a spill-over from the 2014 tournament that he had become so enraged with RVP in the game against Costa Rica that he slapped him in its aftermath(according to RVP). Whatever anyone would say, LVG is worth the friction especially as (Jan points out) he seem to mellow down with age.

    Thanks everyone for the videos. Sometimes comically but I can see where the idea of the press emanates from😊

    @ Jan thanks for your analysis and how you got us going here. But back to Berghuis. These stats and data are very useful but not definitive. They will always be somewhat misleading because they are formed without insight of the true context of how a game unfolds. Especially in relation to a player. Players are not cyborgs and this method(again though useful) is not organic enough, not nearly nuanced enough, to tell the whole story. The over-reliance of Dutch football on these technologies might just be a weakness. Highest level football, after all the detailed preparation, is a game of moments and gut-instincts by top-level coaches to exploit weaknesses. Algorithm is not going to tell you that. When arbitrarily applied, it may not be of much help given the momentum and atmosphere of a game. The blunder by Advocaat in 2004 and FDB this past Euros might just be as a result of this aforementioned datas and stats. It creates this slew of scenarios and have ready-made answers regardless of what is clearly unfolding in front of you. This data, I also feel, because of its superficiality, fails to address the issue of balance. A giant issue and department that I don’t think Berghuis is of much help.

    1. Against Norway Steven Berghuis was involved in the goal of Klaassen.
      Against Montenegro Steven Berghuis set up Klaassen with a chance that Davy shot too high.
      Against Montenegro Steven Berghuis blocked shot came to Memphis who scored.
      Against Montenegro Steven Berghuis assisted Wijnaldum with his goal.
      Against Turkey Steven Berghuis pressured, blocked a pass, and help set up the 1st goal for Klaassen.
      Against Turkey Steven Berghuis assisted Memphis’ third goal.

      But yeah… Steven Berghuis isn’t of much help.

      1. @ Van den berg
        Re: toward your point of ignoring what is clearly in front of you.

        Berghuis had a horrible game against Norway and progressively got better against Montenegro and Turkey.

        I think he lost his first three balls against Norway and a few more after. I guess the data conveniently didn’t pick that up. Nor his faults in subsequent games.

        Truth is Berghuis is a lightweight and will always struggle in high tempo matches. Thus his lack of success in the EPL, a league I feel is the closest thing to international football.

        LVG will rue the day he settles on giving Berghuis the de Roon(pedestal) decision.

        1. In relation to Berghuis… .In the Netherlands both Berghuis and Ziyech are hailed as extraordinary players. The experts/pundits/ex players (Who may look at the game differently to us) reap praise over these two, having named them the Best of the Competition for seasons in a row. Ziyech had his criticaster at Ajax (too much loss of possession) but he himself never really took that on, as he would say that he takes a lot of risks, because when he doesn’t lose the ball, he creates a chance or scores a goal. Berghuis is the same. They lose possession a lot, as part of their game. Now, Ziyech is under pressure at Chelsea and at the Moroccan NT but in Holland, these kind of players (add Veerman to that list) are rated highly.

  5. @ Van Der Berg

    I hope to hear from you / you will be around when he plays in those high intensity games.

    May I ask where were you during Nations league and when he played vs Italy.

    1. Berghuis played 31 games for the NT. He scored 2 goals and assisted 11. Involved directly in 13 goals out of 31 games, that is not bad for a winger. He only played the full 90 in 4 matches.

      He didn’t play versus Italy away. The home game was a thrashing, with their 5-3-2 obliterating or 4-3-3. Lodeweghes was coach. Not much you can blame Berghuis for.

      In the Nations League, our boy had 2 assists.

      I think you’re being facetious.

  6. Im not much of a analysis guy as I know it will keep changing with different teams. but I wont underestimate van Gaal this time as compared to 2014. he has had his ups and downs but indeed he is a master tactician and he knows when and where to work his magic. he tactically roasted Şenol Güneş and he never knew what hit him. we have all seen the replication of playing 4-4-2 in a high pressing game. ajax vs Lille, Ajax vs Juventus. its nothing new. well its does show in the anaysis above by Jan how the dutch pressed them hard when they didnt have possession. also Şenol Güneş descion to start with 4-4-2 and with Orkun Kökçü in as Central midfield backfired because defensively he is weak. (fouls committed. Kokcu’s substitution at half time was also evident of this but by that time the damage had already being done. 3 goals down and with 10 men.

    if you go back to to the first leg, he started with 4-1-4-1 with two central midfielders and Calhanoglu as as attacking midfielder behind Yilmaz. well its worked better but then FDB is FDB

    1. @Wilson FDB was primary reason behind losses VS czec and turkey…i would have excused if we lost vs a better team..its all about his stupid coaching and poor selection of players,
      Vs Turkey at Turkey He played Blind as LCB where he could have had a wonderful Botman instead blind that would win aerials which lead to Turkey goals….then Game was destroyed by Tete,winjdal and De roon…Dumfries, Blind as LB,klassen and Berjwin played a huge upgrade role at 6-1 match…
      i belive selection of quality players are primary pillars to Build up..

      LVG has said ,some players are experinced in failure and failure methods ,he doesnt want that..Just look Malacia,Gakpo,Koopmeiners,Berjwin,Guus Till,Justin bijlow even klassen they were all ignored/benched by stupid FDB..(He is a great player and example of poor coach)…
      Now we need to Test Danjuma(he will cement the spot i am sure),then i want to see Botman,Noalang,Frimpong and karsdorp….plus Veerman…they all doing good and consistant for their teams…

        1. @Jan
          1-FDB went to 532 which most players didnt like and they had little expereince with it..
          2-His poor coaching
          3-Decsion to play De roon,omitting Berjwin from squad etc…
          my questions
          okay i agreed Malen missed but did we created anything other than that????
          even with out a red card we struggled and i ddint see a smooth victory….may be later on klassen or Luuk would have saved us….its all big :””””:if :::…””””….
          okay he decided to play 532 why did he play blind as LCB instead LB…Blind could have wonderfully contributed in offense than annholt and winjdal..Play Ake as LCB and Blind play LB..
          i think its his lack of vision on players…No wonder he signed Van der hoorn instead Virgil van dijk…its his Van der hoorn syndrome…i dont see anything else..

  7. @ Jan FDB’s most fundamental and biggest mistake in that game was substituting Malen. Even with 10 players the game was far from lost and the NT still looked threatening. Introduction of Promes deflated the team and propped up the Czechs whose defenders suddenly felt liberated.

    He also could have totally tried to shut up shop and played on the counter instead of been stranded on an island of indecision.

    Not substituting the duo of Gini or de Roon at a reasonable time was a travesty. A player of de Roon’s quality has no business fluttering around that first 11 in the first place. Really doesn’t matter what the stats say.

    And back to Berghuis. The NT is not Feyenoord or even Ajax. The international stage is the best of the best in the world. Mistakes are more likely to be punished. We already have Depay(at the moment indispensable) who loses quite a few balls with his style of play.

    The last thing we need in the NT is another player in Berghuis who thinks his tricks and high-risk play will go unpunished. International football is not like playing Ado den Haag quality players. Berghuis is not Zidane and his risk to gain ratio is simply not worth it.

    As the great Van Hanegem said about him in relations to his struggles at Ajax, “Berghuis was spoilt at Feyonoord and allowed to do what he wanted. It’s not going to be easy now in Ajax” I paraphrase.

    If Ajax are finding it hard to reconcile with his risky playing style in the Eredevisie, I will always contend that Berghuis is, at least, not a right fit for the balance of the NT.

    Ronaldo awaits.

    1. It was Dick Advocaat who built the team around him at feyenoord and if you look back,though he overall thrived in eredivise, he never lived up to expectation in any big games ( Ajax,PSV) including in the europa. This is from where I have drawn my conclusions from day 1 about him being not a big game players. Leave aside internationals.You look at how Slot has come in and completely changed complexity of the team. You look at how all the players are playing freely now and including the impact of Alireza Jahanbakhsh on the right flank.. there is more balance now in the team compared to last season when he was the focal point of the team. This is the reason why I said, with more competitions, it will become evident whether there is a need to upgrade or not.

  8. Koeman is doomed the moment he chose Barca job. The ship is sinking. Laporta try to make him leave because they could not afford firing him. He should have stayed at NT. With him as the coach, they could at least get to semi final and then he could choose many options after that. He left without achieving anything and accept the working condition that Barca gave him.

    1. I never watched the game but perhaps you should look at it from the other side as well, has he shown that he is cut above the rest with the minute he has clocked and with respect to other midfielders. Fred, Mactominay, Progba,Bruno. I mean you look at Lingard, he was sent loan and has forced his way back into the squad after peaking at west ham. he needs to prove himself above his level best when given the opportunity and that probably when he will seek the Ole’s attention or change his mind set. at the end of the the day we are talking about epl level here

      1. If Ole does not want him, he could let him go. He blocked the loan. He proved his level at CL before, did he? He could fail to adapt to EPL, that might happen, but here is a different story, Ole does not know how to use him or have any plan to use him.

        As for the game, ManU got a red card, Ole subbed Sancho and VDB off to try park the bus for 60 minutes and failed. End of story, nothing related to competition. In general, Ole does not know how to use him, I watched a couple of games he started and it was terrible, he is out of form definitely.

        1. I remember how Greenwood made his way into the staring lineup. Ole used the europa games alot to test fringe players and that’s where Greenwood pounced on the opportunity and proved his potential. there will be alot of games, Failure in CL will also see them drop in El, plus there is FA games and Carabao cup games as well so you expect Ole to use him there. this explains why he didn’t loan him out and probably is aware of his potentials. other than that I cant see him getting minutes in epl games. its really crowded now with the return of Lingaard.

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