After Bayern Munich’s 3-1 victory over bottom club Hannover 96, Lucian Favre’s side could not afford to drop any points as they did in their previous defeat to fierce rivals Schalke 04. Werder Bremen had also lost their previous match to fellow mid-table side Fortuna Düsseldorf. Even if Borussia Dortmund won this match, they would remain two points behind league leaders Bayern Munich, who had a much superior goal difference.
This tactical analysis will show how Werder Bremen came back to draw against Borussia Dortmund.
Werder Bremen played in a 4-3-2-1 “Christmas Tree” formation, making three changes from their previous match. Niklas Moisander was unavailable due to suspension, Johannes Eggestein was relegated to the bench. Theodor Gebre Selassie was omitted from the matchday squad altogether.
Dortmund kept their 4-2-3-1 formation, and made two changes from their defeat to Schalke. Paco Alcácer and Christian Pulišić replaced Marco Reus and Marius Wolf, both of whom received straight red cards in the derby defeat.
Due to their injuries and suspensions (which included almost the entirety of their defence) Dortmund were forced to play a makeshift back line. Defensive midfielder Julian Weigl dropped into defence, moving young centre back Manuel Akanji to right back. Real Madrid loanee Achraf Hakimi was injured, so Raphaël Guerreiro took his place at left back.
Borussia Dortmund in possession
Borussia Dortmund dominated the first half, the away side had 58% of the ball. When building from the back, Axel Witsel would often drop deep to collect and progress the ball. Young duo Pulišić and Sancho would both come centrally to make space for the overlapping fullbacks, while Mario Götze would drift to the right to compensate for the limited attacking prowess of Akanji. Witsel and Thomas Delaney created a solid midfield pivot behind this six-man offensive unit. This attacking animation created attacking overloads in Dortmund’s favour, and posed problems for Bremen’s defence in the first half.
To combat said overloads, Werder Bremen would push their near-side fullback up to press the ball and tuck in their far side fullback. The main weakness of this strategy was a quick switch. Dortmund utilized this to give their fullbacks plenty of time and space, not giving Bremen’s defence enough time to shift.
Werder Bremen pressed Borussia Dortmund in a man-oriented fashion, often temporarily changing formation to ensure that there were no obvious passing options available.
Werder Bremen in possession
Like their opponents, Werder Bremen would drop one of their central midfielders (Nuri Şahin) into the defensive line whilst building up. This created a 3v2 centrally as Borussia Dortmund pressed in a compact 4-4-2 shape. When one of the back three was on the ball, Werder Bremen would shift to an unorthodox 3-3-2-2 formation, with the only main central midfielder being Maximillian Eggestein, who was flanked by the advancing full backs. Yuya Osako and Davy Klaassen played as a narrow pair behind a strike force of Milot Rashica and Max Kruse. Osako would alternate from playing alongside Klaassen or joining the strike force as Rashica drifted wide. Left back Ludwig Augustinsson supported the attack much more than his counterpart Marco Friedl. This was possibly an attempt to exploit Manuel Akanji’s lack of experience as a right back. Werder Bremen seemed to really focus their offensive play down this side as 46% of Werder Bremen’s attacks came down the left flank.
Borussia Dortmund, as mentioned earlier, defended in a 4-4-2 mid block. Werder Bremen would attempt to bypass the block by playing around it out wide via the fullbacks or one of the strikers or attacking midfielders drifting wide.
Second half changes swing the tide in Werder Bremen’s favour
Florian Kohfeldt made a double change in the 60th minute. Sahin and Osako were replaced by Kevin Möhwald and Claudio Pizarro as Werder Bremen switched formation to a narrow 4-2-2-2 while in possession. This formational change allowed the home side to more easily break down Borussia Dortmund’s block due to the formational likeness of the two shapes. This change allowed them to get more shots away as they created more space in between the Borussia Dortmund lines. One of these shots from substitute Möhwald went straight through the hands of Swiss stopper Roman Bürki as Werder Bremen halved the deficit. This goal gave the home side a massive boost and got them well and truly back in the game.
Just five minutes later, another substitute found himself on the scoresheet as veteran striker Pizarro netted to equalize. This time, no fingers will be pointed at Bürki, but his compatriot Akanji will not be so lucky, he failed to shepherd the ball out of play and left Pizzaro with an easy finish after the young defender was dispossessed in the box by Ludwig Augustinsson.
This match all but confirmed that Bayern Munich will win their 7th consecutive Bundesliga title. Borussia Dortmund may still have some hope as the Bavarian club’s remaining two fixtures are against RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt, two very tough games.
Florian Kohfeldt will receive many plaudits for his second-half tactical changes and substitutions, and he will no doubt be pleased that both of his substitutes scored. Werder Bremen also continued their remarkable record of scoring in every league fixture this season bar one (against Bayern Munich, of course.). As for Borussia Dortmund, it was yet another catastrophic loss of a lead, they’ve dropped points against Eintracht Frankfurt, TSG Hoffenheim and Schalke 04 in the league from the start of 2019 alone. It only rubbed salt in their figurative wounds that both goals were a direct result of defensive errors. The title has not been in their hands since their 5-0 defeat to Bayern Munich, but this disappointing draw does not bode well for the eight-time champions of Germany.