West Brom fans can get ready for some high-intensity football from Valerian Ismael

“No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-press.”

Valerien Ismael
Valerien Ismael

Those were the words of Jurgen Klopp when asked to explain his footballing philosophy.

And it is that style Albion fans will now be getting used to following the imminent arrival of Valerien Ismael as boss.

The French-born 45-year-old, who has German citizenship, is due to arrive at The Hawthorns any day now.

He’s not come cheap, with Albion set to pay £2million to buy him out of his contract at Barnsley. But his success at Oakwell isn’t the only reason they are willing to part with the cash.

They are also eager to land Ismael because he brings with him a very distinct style of play.

Counter-pressing is all about playing high up the pitch.

It’s a high-intensity tactic that sees you put the opposition under relentless pressure whenever they have the ball.

To elaborate on Klopp’s definition, when most people picture a goal being scored, they think of a winger or playmaker picking out a striker with a cross or pass.

Klopp and his counter-pressing disciples, though, believe forcing the opposition into mistakes high up the pitch is actually how you create more chances.

And that is how Ismael plays.

It’s a very different style to how Albion ended last season under Sam Allardyce.

The Dudley-born chief is happy for his teams to press in spells. But he puts a greater emphasis on his players re-grouping and getting back in their shape once they lose ball.

At Barnsley, it was clear both the defenders and midfielders were under instruction from Ismael to get the ball forward as quickly as possible.

And once it was there, they pressed in a similar way Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds press to force mistakes high up the pitch.

Ismael, it is understood, doesn’t like his brand of football being described as direct. He calls it ‘vertical’ football.

And Barnsley did get it down and play some decent, one-touch, stuff at times.

It is understood Ismael was a bit more direct – sorry vertical – at Oakwell because of the players he inherited.

It is believed he has assured Albion’s board – with more technically gifted players at The Hawthorns – his style will be more pleasing on the eye.

Everything, though, will be based on that high intensity, pressing philosophy.

There will be times when that brand of football has fans at The Hawthorns on the edge of their seats. Every supporter loves watching their team make lung-busting runs and win the ball high up the pitch.

There will be other times, though, when that style frustrates, occasions where the opposition deals with those balls forward comfortably and manages to play through the press. But ultimately, Ismael’s style is exciting and entertaining enough to get behind – so long as it gets results.

Formation wise, the 45-year-old played with a back three and wing-backs at Barnsley. He did mix things up in the final third – with Ismael switching between 3-4-3, 3-4-1-2 and 3-4-2-1 systems.

But it is perhaps good news for Albion that the EFL have confirmed teams will again be able to make five substitutions next season.

Due to the intensity with which Ismael likes his front players to press, he would often rotate them around the hour mark due to fatigue. At Albion, though, that shouldn’t be a problem – with the club rich in quality forwards.

But Ismael will have to sign at least one and-and-out striker to complement the likes of Grady Diangana, Callum Robinson, Matt Phillips and Karlan Grant.

One big thing Albion’s soon-to-be appointed boss has to prove is that he can get results with a side who are heavyweights in their division.

The budget and squad at his disposal means the Baggies should be competing for automatic promotion next year.

Ismael’s success as a manager, though, has been with teams who were largely seen as underdogs.

Barnsley were never expected to gatecrash the play-offs last season, especially as they were 21st when the took over.

While Austrian side LASK, who Ismael enjoyed success with in the Europa League, also overachieved based on their budget.

That underachievement bodes well if Ismael gets Albion up. First, though, he has to do it.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News