Borussia Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur | Spurs top the Group of Death

Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur | FI

The group of death provided us with another intense encounter featuring hosts Dortmund and visitors Tottenham; two teams well-known for their electrifying style of play and high tempo attack. The Germans came into this tie willing to turn around their disastrous form by at least aiming to give a good performance against one of Europe’s most harmonious squads. On the other hand, Tottenham also wanted to get back on the consistency track by securing a win that would keep them atop of the table ahead of the none other Spanish giants Real Madrid and pretty much guarantee a first-place qualification. The first match at Wembley ended 3-1 for the English team where they attacked and exploited Dortmund’s weak defending and organization against counter-attacks.


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Dortmund (4-3-3) | Manager: Peter Bosz

  1. Burki – 15. Toljan, 5. Bartra, 2. Zagadou, 29. Schmelzer – 10. Gotze, 33. Weigl, 23. Kagawa – 9. Yarmolenko, 17. Aubameyang, 13. Guerreiro.

Tottenham (3-5-2) | Manager: Mauricio Pochettino

  1. Lloris, 15. Dier, 6. Sanchez, 5. Vertonghen – 24. Aurier. 23. Eriksen, 29. Winks, 20. Alli, 3. Rose – 10. Kane, 7. Son.

Bosz stuck with his usual 4-3-3 that was used during his Ajax tenure. The regular back four with Weigl sitting in front of them as the crucial pivot. The interiors consisted of the dribblers Gotze and Kagawa chosen in the aim of breaking down the tough Spurs’ midfield. Guerreiro played as the traditional winger whereas Yarmolenko was deployed as a false winger/second striker alongside Aubameyang. Meanwhile, Pochettino seemed to be convinced with the formation that allowed him to hold Madrid in two matches at the highest level. The 3-5-2 suits the players’ energy, a characteristic Pochettino has made them sweat and toil to gain with the aid of his rigorous fitness training. The physical back-three is building chemistry as each game passes by, flanked by the two energetic wingbacks tasked with both defensive and offensive overload. The midfield trio of Eriksen-Alli-Winks featured in the middle with Winks being the surprise package this season. Upfront were free-roaming forwards Son and Kane tasked with moving in and out of the box to facilitate runners from behind.

Dortmund’s Strong Start

Bosz opted to start the match in full-throttle mode by applying pressure on Tottenham’s defense and midfield in the aim of preventing them to build up from the back. Dortmund’s three forwards upfront matched with Tottenham’s 3-man defence pushing them into laying the ball off to Lloris and pumping it high and away towards the sidelines or upfront; an occurrence that played to Dortmund’s strategy very well by winning the ball back and keeping Spurs in serious trouble.

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The press was conducted in this way:

  • When the ball is with the left centerback, he’s pressed by Dortmund’s left winger immediately.
  • The middle centerback is pressed by Dortmund’s striker
  • The ball-far centerback was covered by the striker’s shadow to prevent any switch of play via a ground pass.
  • The pivot is pressed by the ball-far central midfielder who drops to the middle of the field.

It would’ve helped if Spurs’ wingbacks dropped more towards their teammates to provide a passing lane to themselves and away from Dortmund’s pressure. This follows the idea of playing around the opposition’s block to gain access inside it when possible.

Another aspect of Dortmund’s attack is the positioning of their duo Aubameyang and Yarmolenko. Both of them were seen between Tottenham’s central defenders. Add to this the midfield trio behind them thus causing Spurs to suffer from central overload.

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This was usually done after a series of passes mainly down the left flank to drag Spurs’ players there. Consequently, the result would be weak central presence and that’s how Dortmund constantly exploited the central channels scoring the first goal of the game.

Spurs grow into the game

After the goal, Dortmund decided to fall back and defend the spaces leaving Tottenham to build up play from the back at ease, which proved to be costly. With the likes of Eriksen, Alli, Son and Kane Tottenham were able to break Dortmund’s block.

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Pochettino’s men were able to take advantage of what was a man-marking scheme from Dortmund in midfield, for example:

  • Rose would be occupied by Dortmund’s left-back Toljan.
  • Alli would be pressed by Gotze
  • Son in between them but located more up-field.
  • A simple move where Alli moves to his right and Rose moves to his left splits open a passing lane towards Son, who’s now in a dangerous position and can connect with Kane easily for a chance on goal.

Whenever possible, Spurs’ backline never hesitated in playing line-breaking vertical passes towards Kane and Son in the aim of keeping Dortmund at their back foot and getting in front of goal quicker. However, there’s a fine line between being quick and being reckless; when done improperly the vertical passes got back at Tottenham in the shape of fast counter-attacks that were difficult to handle since the players were scattered all around the pitch in their offensive shape.

Tottenham’s Pressing

At the start of the second half, Tottenham kept applying pressure on Dortmund’s backline which lead to Rose intercepting the ball, Alli collecting it in the left half-space, and giving it to Kane to score with a sweet strike.Dortmund 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur | 5

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Backwards pressing from the forwards also helped in closing down options for the ball-carrier leading to confusion and delay in taking a decision. One of the crucial factors that Spurs depend on is their collective pressing and energetic defensive display.

The impact of wingbacks

With increased spells of possession, Tottenham managed to move Dortmund’s players to one area in order to find either of the wingbacks with a quick diagonal ball, followed by runs into the box. This play wasn’t used in the first half because the Germans were applying their high pressure excellently closing down all options for Londoners. Two reasons why wing backs were dangerous when receiving the ball:

1- The nature of Dortmund’s 4-3-3; wide spaces are always exposed if the wingers do not track back.

2- Increased central presence for Tottenham that came with sustained ball possession left the wingbacks free from marking.

The third goal of the night came via a pass from Rose to Alli managed to stretch Dortmund’s defence as Bartra had to move to the touchline to mark the brilliant Englishman. Using his skill and dribbling, Alli broke from the double marking applied on him and reached the penalty box where Son was waiting for the cutback to slot it in. Credits to the South Korean for moving a few steps back away from his markers’ line of sight to slot it into the net.

A point worth noting here is the attacking mentality each wingbacks have; for instance, in the third goal the ball was on the left wing, after Alli broke through we saw Aurier making a run into the box making him available for any high cross towards him.

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In this way, Alli had three options to choose from:

  • A cutback to Son at the edge of the box
  • A low cross towards Kane near the penalty spot
  • A high cross towards Aurier attacking the far post.


Preparation and chemistry complement talent and that is exactly what Tottenham are enjoying at this point of the season. What we are seeing is the culmination of hard work from the manager, patience from the board, willingness of the players, and the extreme level of talent the players have. This result puts them at the top of the table with a secured first place qualification. Dortmund are now knocked out and will be playing in the Europa League, a confusing period for the Germans where they started the season brilliantly but now falling to consecutive losses in both Bundesliga and Champions League.

With Tottenham top of its group, a point to note is the level English teams are playing at in the Champions League; a competition dominated by Spanish teams in the past few years. Will this be the year England finally enjoys strong representation in the crucial stages of Europe’s finest competition? Well, the signs point towards it but mental strength is extremely needed to guard against complacency because, as we all know, football is a devil that can’t be trusted.