Intensity is one of football’s most popular buzzwords – but what does it mean?

You hear one word in almost every football-related analysis these days: intensity.

“It wasn’t a problem of formation but of energy and intensity,” said former Manchester United coach Ralf Rangnick after his side’s 1-1 draw with Newcastle last December.

“We lacked intensity on and off the ball,” said then-Aston Villa boss Dean Smith after his team’s 3-2 defeat by Watford last August.

“Our identity is intensity and the intensity we put into the game was really incredible,” beamed Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp after a comfortable 3-1 win over Arsenal in 2019.

But what exactly is intensity in football? And how is it on the pitch? Is it all about effort and energy expenditure? Is it about game speed and thus about thinking speed? Is it about applied aggression and suffocating the opposition?

“Intensity is my favorite word in football,” says Jamie Carragher, former Liverpool defender turned Sky Sports pundit, when asked by The Athletic. “If you were to ask me one word that best describes me or the teams I’ve played on, I would use that word: intensity.”

He says it’s different than working hard and different than pushing. “Intensity means being prepared for a football game both mentally and physically. I don’t think it’s about running around like headless chickens. There’s a plan for it. There is an organization for that. Intensity is one of football’s most popular buzzwords – but what does it mean?

John Verrall

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