It was five matches until the end of 2018/19 season of Bundesliga, before this match. Freiburg had 32 points, 11 more than Stuttgart who are 16th place in the table, so they could play this match without pressure. But, Freiburg were in a crisis. In the last four matches, Freiburg only managed to get two points and recorded a heavy defeat against Mainz (5-0).
On the other hand, it was a very important match for Borussia Dortmund. They are in the title race with Bayern Munich with the difference between the two teams a solitary point. After a heavy defeat against Bayern (5-0), Borussia Dortmund recorded a win against Mainz. Bayern played their match on 20th April and recorded a win against Werder Bremen, so the pressure was on Borussia Dortmund to respond positively. This piece will show a tactical analysis of this match and will analyse the different methods used by both managers to try and record a victory.
Freiburg started the match in a classic 4-4-2 formation. Christian Streich has usually used this formation, but he had experimented with other formations like 5-3-2, 5-4-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 3-4-3, 4-4-1-1, 3-5-2 and 4-1-3-2. Nils Petersen and Manuel Gulde were injured.
Borussia Dortmund also played in classic 4-4-2. But, 4-2-3-1 is the formation Lucien Favre has used the most this season. Dortmund played without a classic striker. Mario Götze and Marco Reus were two strikers. Paco Alcácer was relegated to the bench.
Dortmund’s defensive strategy – position oriented zonal marking system
Borussia Dortmund played a position oriented zonal marking system. Players were close to each other and moved as a unit. The midfield four was especially compact. Dortmund rarely pressed Freiburg’s defence as they looked to operate in the middle block. They pressed in situations when Freiburg’s player received the ball facing their own goal around the halfway point. But even in that case, they pressed but they didn’t insist. That included an individual press from one player. The player in questions would usually press one or two players before he backed away. Freiburg’s strategy was to play down the flanks because Dortmund’s defence was compact.
In the image above we can see Dortmund’s two compact lines with four players, so Freiburg couldn’t find a passing solution in the middle of the pitch. But wide areas were free. Wingers and side-backs occupied that area and left central midfielder Höfler played to the left flank. But, Jadon Sancho and Wolf closed down Freiburg’s players (Grifo and Günter).
In the situation in the image above, Freiburg manipulated Dortmund’s defence. The ball was on the right side of the pitch. Right winger Frantz was wide and he pined Dortmund’s left-back Abdou Diallo. Haberer occupied Axel Witsel, so Stenzel had Niederlechner as a clear passing option.
Freiburg’s build-up play
Usually, Dortmund didn’t press high, so generally Freiburg didn’t have problems with build-up play in the first third. Left central midfielder Höfler dropped deep to secure numerical superiority. Sometimes, when the ball was played back, Dortmund pressed Freiburg’s defensive line. But, in that case, the gap between the defensive line and other players was too big.
In the image above we can see an interesting situation. Dortmund pressed. But, the gap between the two lines was too big. Freiburg’s striker was between that lines, so Freiburg’s defensive players had that passing option.
Freiburg’s defensive play and Dortmund’s attacking play
Freiburg also played defence in 4-4-2 in the middle block. But, their defensive play was a little bit different. Their zonal marking was more man oriented. Their players had defined tasks. The wingers were tasked with closing down Dortmund’s full-backs whilst the Freiburg full-backs closed down the wingers. Finally, the central midfielders closed down Dortmund’s central midfielders. Dortmund’s strategy was to manipulate Freiburg’s players with movements and rotations. Dortmund played without classic strikers. Reus and Götze were the striking duo for Dortmund. Both of them played as false 9’s.
When Dortmund played out from the back, the near side central midfielder was in the half-space and the other one was in the central area. When the ball moved to the other side, a central midfielder would move to the other half-space, and the other one moved to the central area. Dortmund usually had six players in the first phase of build-up play (four defenders and two central midfielders).
The image above shows Freiburg’s defensive strategy. They played in a 4-4-2 formation. The ball was passed to Dortmund’s right-back Wolf and Grifo (Freiburg’s left winger) were ready to close him down. Also left midfielder Höfler is slightly higher than other midfield players because he was ready to close down Witsel.
In the image above we can see how the central midfielders move around during build-up play. Axel Witsel was in right half-space area and Delaney was in the central area. The ball was played to another side. Delaney moved to the left half-space area and Witsel moved to the central area.
Strikers and wingers were given a lot of freedom. They switched positions and moved all over the final third of the pitch. Dortmund’s aim was to find pockets of space in the middle of the pitch or in the wide areas. They used quick passing combinations and switches of play. They also tried to pin Freiburg’s players and disabled them to apply their man oriented zonal marking system.
The image above shows how Dortmund find a free man in a wide area. Guerreiro pinned Günter (Freiburg’s left-back). Reus, who dropped deep, pinned Grifo (left winger) and Witsel pinned Niederlechner (left striker). Akanji had an easy pass to right-back Wolf.
In the image above we can see how Dortmund find a pocket in the half-space area. Jadon Sancho pinned Freiburg’s left-back and left centre-back and Götze pinned Freiburg’s right-back and right centre-back. Delaney was between two central midfielders, so the right central midfielder was insecure about his position. He didn’t know whether to follow Reus or to be near Delaney. Akanji played the ball to Götze and Reus used Schlotterbeck’s blind side and ran behind him. Then Götze tried to pass the ball to Reus.
Dortmund used Freiburg’s zonal marking system against them. We can see one example in the image above. Höfler closed down Thomas Delaney and Grifo was prepared to close down Wolf. Delaney passed the ball to Wolf and then Grifo closed down him. But, Wolf knew that and he immediately passed the ball to Jadon Sancho. Marco Reus and Mario Götze dropped deep, so Dortmund had three players between the lines. Sancho passed the ball to Götze.
Both teams changed their press strategy
At half-time, it was 1-0 for Borussia Dortmund. In the second half, the teams’ strategies were a little different. Both teams were more aggressive, especially Freiburg. Freiburg often pressed with six players in Dortmund’s half. Dortmund also pressed higher in some situations and implemented man marking strategy.
We can see Freiburg’s new pressing strategy in the image above. Six players were in Dortmund’s half, but two Dortmund’s players occupied four Freiburg’s players and both side-backs were unmarked, so Weigl had an easy pass to Akanji.
Attacking play in the second half
In attack, Freiburg was toothless, as they couldn’t cope with Dortmund’s defensive strategy. The Black and Yellow army were compact in defence and denied Freiburg space to penetrate.
In the image above we can see Freiburg’s attacking problem. Left-back Heintz had a lot of space and he ran with the ball but ultimately lacked a good passing solution due to the strong shape held by Dortmund.
Dortmund played similarly to their first-half performance. They tried to manipulate Freiburg’s defence with rotations and movements. Also, after the second goal, Dortmund played the ball back and tried to provoke Freiburg’s press, which they tried to use.
Dortmund’s second goal is shown in the image above. Again, Dortmund used Freiburg’s man oriented marking system against them. Wolf was wide and Grifo was near him. Jadon Sancho was deeper than him and Günter followed him. Thomas Delaney was in the right half-space area where he marked Haberer. Marco Reus was between the lines as Julian Weigl passed the ball behind Heintz and Reus ran onto it.
Another example of Dortmund’s resilience where they provoked Freiburg’s press is shown in the image above. Six of Freiburg’s players were in Dortmund’s half. Reus dropped deeper and Günter followed him. Pulisic ran into free space and Reus passed the ball to him.
Convincing performance, but is it enough?
Borussia Dortmund recorded a convincing victory. They were the better side but is it too little too late to catch Bayern Munich? Dortmund’s xG was 2.34 and Freiburg’s only 0.47. Freiburg couldn’t deal with Dortmund’s attacking movements and rotations and were unable to unlock Dortmund’s defence.
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